While the way we engage through events has definitely changed over the past several years, the momentum for change (for hosts and participants) began well before that. In this first blog in our three-part series, we share how events have changed over the past several years, the current event trends and the customer journey.
Some of the biggest changes that we saw occurred in 2019 and before, including:
Budgets were transitioning at events from sponsored to hosted, whether they were digital events or physical events. Organizers wanted more control of the experience, the content, and the data.
Digital interaction became more attractive to audiences. Even at physical events, digital components were added or increased. Due to the changes in consumer lives, digital became increasingly important for people in their work lives as well as personal.
While these changes occurred in those pre-pandemic years, we have certainly seen an acceleration in the years that followed. And we continue to see shifts in what hosts and audiences want from their event experiences.
An excellent webinar, hosted by ON24, featured panelists sharing the event trends they have seen and some great virtual event ideas to try.
A webinar, digital event or digital experience are mechanisms to reach someone. How you create the mechanism will be different, based on your goals for the audience and what the audience’s goals are as well. This ties in with the current event trends that we're seeing. We can all agree that planning events right now is difficult, but there are other factors that influence our event planning decisions. For example, people are more concerned about including budget constraints and climate impact.
Event attendance (and associated travel costs) has become a big focus when considering where to cut costs. And as in-person events have been limited and business travel curtailed over the past two years, companies have been able to pause and really think about carbon neutrality and the impact of travel on the environment.
While travelling to physical events may continue to decrease, the good news is that digital event audiences are being treated to better experiences than what was offered virtually just a few years ago. Engagement rates have actually increased over the past several years, even with a dramatically increased number of digital events. This sets the bar high from a consumption standpoint where people are invited to attend more events and they're expecting more innovative approaches. Each experience must be crafted in a way that will resonate and organizers need to recognize that audience behavior will continue to evolve.
Hybrid Versus Digital Versus Physical
When deciding whether your event should be physical, digital or both (hybrid), planners should be able to answer these questions: What are we trying to do? What's our goal? Who are we trying to reach?
Hybrid is a great option if the goal is to reach a larger audience by engaging both digital and physical audiences simultaneously. Ultimately, having that multi-channel opportunity will create the best experience for your audience and the best results. And you don't have to employ only one approach to events—in fact, you really shouldn't because, ultimately, your events need to be created specifically for the audience you are inviting.
In addition, we can become so focused on the content itself, that we forget about what we are trying to extract from it. What am I trying to learn from my audience? As you plan your event, you must consider not only the content and information that you're trying to share, but also how you will gain insights based upon audience engagement.
The Customer Journey
The average number of interactions that customers are having with us before they make a purchasing decision has gone up dramatically. It starts with awareness of your products or solutions and moves through several stages to purchase, adoption and upsell. It’s really important that, as we're building out our marketing strategy, we embed as many engagement opportunities as possible into these experiences.
For every webinar we host, we should think about what stage of the journey we're trying to influence. Are they just learning about you or are they already a customer and you hope to encourage them to come back for more? Tools to consider when engaging include incorporating a Q & A and sharing your product roadmap in your webinars. In addition, adding a call to action, i.e., encouraging participants to subscribe to your podcast, webinar series or newsletter, can help build a relationship with the participants that goes beyond the initial event.
Be sure to check out part two of our series where we share ten excellent virtual events to try.