The worldwide pandemic resulted in a huge innovative leap, now marketing professionals need to get up to speed on the new digital tactics dominating the industry.
The meetings and events industry got a “crash course” in digital events over the past year, and there’s a lot of room for improvement for B2B marketers.
- Although companies continue to invest in events, most are unable to measure event ROI. Events help companies generate leads and deepen customer relationships, but most companies struggle to quantify the return that individual events — and their overall portfolio of events – deliver back to the business.
- The pandemic exposed many event technology modernization and skill gaps. Prior to the pandemic, most companies had little to no experience using event management software other than for registration purposes. Because event planners and marketers tend to operate in silos, in-person event planners struggled to adopt the virtual technology and digital practices that effectively engage remote attendees and deliver value to sponsors and partners.
- Companies are investing in event modernization to enable personalized experiences, drive engagement, and measure ROI. As respondents continue to plan virtual and/or hybrid events, they can access more insights to design personalized experiences and drive engagement. Higher levels of engagement deliver even more data, helping marketers to continuously improve event experiences and better measure ROI. Read the full study on the subject from Cvent and Forrester here.
For B2B marketing teams, 2020 represented a new era in hosting and marketing virtual events. The digital leap, necessitated by the global pandemic, revealed the power of online meetings and events and their ability to attract larger global audiences. As recovery continues, and social distancing rules relax, marketers are now starting to shift to hybrid models that incorporate the best of both worlds: taking the most successful elements of virtual, while also using in-person events to build relationships with their customers.
Looking forward, hybrid events will gain in popularity. The benefits of going hybrid, with the proper strategy in place, will help expand reach, offering a “choose your adventure” experience not possible for attendees a few years ago. For marketers, this increased engagement offers myriad opportunities.
Tomorrow’s Events are here, and they’re Hybrid
Marketers know that events are central to building customer relationships and driving revenue — and that’s not changing any time soon. In fact, events are going to be more critical to the marketing mix moving forward than they’ve ever been before. What needs to be addressed is for organizations is how to capitalize on these unique experiences in the years to come. Future events will combine the best components of in-person and virtual experiences, creating a hybrid event experience for attendees. In exploring how companies are planning for a hybrid future, Forrester notes:
“Events deepen relationships and drive sales. Meeting people face to-face in a setting that encourages social interactions and learning advances attendees’ knowledge and creates deeper bonds.” In the Forrester study, we discovered that “74% of respondents to their survey agree that events are the best way to deepen customer relationships.” Forrester expects physical elements to rebound quickly for this reason. “77% also report that events help salespeople close deals and uncover new business opportunities.”
With a new digital playing field, and expanded reach and engagement available, events will continue to rise in importance.
Digital in the Forefront
While in-person events are clearly the goal, digital experiences add another layer of complexity and opportunity. The fact, regardless of the circumstance, future events will be more digital. In the study, 72% of companies agree that future events will include more robust digital components. After physical distancing mandates ease, companies plan to host virtual and hybrid events as well as in-person. “The Golden Age of Events.” One Vice President of Event Production at a global investment firm stated: “I don’t think virtual is going away. I think that hybrid is going to be close to 80% [of events]. We have already requested budget to host hybrid events specifically.” For marketers, the reach and scope of hybrid events offers almost endless opportunities.
A Shift in Strategy
Pre-pandemic, the idea of digital events didn’t expand beyond the notion of a simple webinar. Most events were in-person with limited virtual engagement opportunities, leaving marketing and event leaders with less-than-optimal insights to improve experiences and measure meaningful results at scale.
As we wade into the future of events, organizations are finding out the hard way that they require more support for resourcing and executing hybrid events. As marketers and planners plot out their strategies, lack of experience with digital practices rises to the top of concerns. The biggest challenge faced is determining how to address the added preparation time, resources, and logistics required to add virtual components to in-person events, i.e., “two experiences in one.”
Collaboration is Key
Before the pandemic, it was clear that overall, marketers and event planners were operating in silos. While marketing and event management teams executed events jointly, they did so with different budgets and goals. 63% of the respondents to the Forrester survey reported marketing’s main involvement was generating leads, but this can create disparate attendee experiences when 66% of respondents report event management executes events independently from marketing programs.
Still, the truth is, most companies still fail to adequately track event ROI. Even though respondents stated that event ROI is the second most important KPI that they report to stakeholders, nearly 60% reported they were unable to track event ROI consistently or derive a value for it at all. The biggest challenge to hosting events during the pandemic for organizations is finding a technology vendor and/or event management partner with virtual experience. Several interviewees shared that their organizations had only used event management software for registration purposes prior to the pandemic and didn’t know about the range of digital capabilities available on the market.
Why Some Led a Digital Revolution
You probably already know the answer. In 2020, all companies faced pandemic-induced event disruptions. Because very few organizations had real experience with virtual events, this meant a rather steep learning curve. For those with the digital “muscle” already built, the pivot to virtual was a smoother transition. In the study, Forrester has created a maturity model to understand how a company’s experience with virtual events—and event management technology in general—shaped its event execution during the pandemic. One thing, above all else, pointed to organization success with virtual: collaboration. The level of collaboration between event-planning and marketing teams, and ability to measure event ROI effectively at scale.
Curing the Pains Caused by the Dreaded Tech Stack
There was some shared pain. It has been generally accepted that most found it burdensome to integrate event management tools to deliver their desired experience to attendees in 2020. To illustrate this challenge, Forrester interviews an Event Operations Director at a market intelligence company, and he shared that his firm rented technology for individual large events to learn what worked for their firm. The top of his organization’s list of capabilities needed to support future virtual and hybrid events includes the ability to integrate well with its existing tech stack, and they have a request for proposal out to secure a longer-term relationship with an event management technology partner.
More new thinking, with a bit of traditional thinking in the mix. As you approach your events moving forward, success means starting to think of virtual, hybrid, and in-person events as an actual program type—the way your teams now look at webinars. Webinars, like most of your digital channels, are scalable programs that you know how to run, powered and engineered by templates, consistent data capture, and technology. Virtual, hybrid, and in-person events run on event activity data, or data from session registration, attendance, feedback, appointments, and booth visits. As you expand your marketing mix and include virtual and hybrid events as a new program type, systematically think through the data points you want to capture for all your hosted and attended events.
In 2020, risk mitigation required marketers to replace in-person events with digital versions. Event managers were forced to set aside decades old habits in event management in favor of new online experiences. The resulting “digital leap” transformed an industry in just a few short months. As a result, marketers and event teams learned new and helpful lessons about putting digital elements into action to make physical events more engaging and valuable to attendees. But there’s still room to learn and grow. For marketers, the strategic partnership with their planning peers is critical for future success.
As these teams begin to anticipate and plan for the return of in-person gatherings Forrester’s in-depth survey of 505 event-planning and marketing leaders yields several important recommendations to help marketers prepare for a future of hybrid event models and experiences.
If you’d like to see how successful organizations are winning the virtual game, and would like to see where you stack up against your peers, download your free copy the new Forrester study, B2B Events Get a Long Needed Digital Makeover, a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Cvent.