If the last few years of disruption caused by the pandemic taught event leaders anything, it’s that the future is certainly uncertain. The marketing industry faced major turmoil when events shifted from in-person to virtual and now back to in-person and hybrid.
It begs the question: What’s working when it comes to event planning?
“The best events we’ve attended are where the value delivered by the event overlaps with the value provided by our company in some capacity,” said Sharat Potharaju, Co-founder and CEO of Beaconstac, an online platform for creating and managing QR codes. “Finding this overlap helps get us in the right rooms with the right audience, rather than blindly attending events that have little in common with our offerings.”
The expectation for marketers is high and, if an event doesn’t match the attendee’s needs, they’re more likely to move on to the next. Below, we’ll discuss the importance of:
- Updating event styles to create a fresh new experience;
- How to combine both physical and virtual event styles; and
- The proper way to budget for events in the current economy.
‘Making Over’ Event Styles With New Formats, Personalized Experiences
As 2023 approaches, the opportunity to revamp and create a fresh experience should be top-of-mind for event coordinators and marketers. Inviting in new ideas, such as fresh takes on delivering educational content and new, interactive formats, can enhance the overall event.
Eventbrite recently spotlighted some unique ideas for conferences and events, including:
- Campfire presentations, which start off with a standalone speaker, who then turns to the audience invite comments, insights and questions;
- Birds of a Feather, which involves a group of people with a common interest or area of expertise informally working together to discuss and alleviate pain points and challenges;
- Human Spectogram, which involves the presenter asking the group a few questions and then having individuals move to an area of the room to reveal their answers;
- A Solution Room that is designed to provide peer-supported advice on individuals’ problems and usually lasts 90-120 minutes;
- Lightning Talks, which are useful in keeping the audience’s attention while multiple ideas are being presented in a short amount of time; and
- Silent Disco Talks, which allow attendees to switch content tracks easily and quietly by switching to a new station on their headphones.
Another engaging new tactic is the use of QR codes to enhance an event experience and promote networking. This addition might seem minor, but it really can make a significant difference and provide unique data on buyers and prospects.
“A strategy we’ve embraced and seen success with is using QR codes to network with prospects at events,” said Potharaju. “This works because it gives us the flexibility to come back and look at analytics, which is difficult otherwise, especially at physical events. It also helps us integrate with our marketing CRM, set up email follow-ups and retarget prospects/connections on social media channels post-event.”
Businesses face mounting pressure to impress increasingly finicky buyers and prospects, as more than 70% expect personalized interactions. In addition, one in four consumers switched to a new product or buying method during the Covid-19 pandemic when a business didn’t offer a personalized experience.
“Event marketers can think outside the box to have their events resonate with attendees in unexpected ways by providing unprecedented personalization that matches attendees with the experience they’re seeking,” said Doug Baird, President at RainFocus, an event marketing platform. “One way to do that is by using first-party data and advanced algorithms to understand if an attendee is at an event for educational purposes, networking, generating leads, etc.
“Events are a channel to understand the attendee on a level where they’re offered experiences, they didn’t even know they needed or wanted,” Baird continued. “For in-person, virtual and hybrid events, this means recommending the right sessions and content from their initial interaction with registration through the entire event program and beyond.”
Leveraging A Blend Of Physical & Virtual Events To Reach Wider Audiences
According to the "2022 Demand Generation Benchmark Survey," more than a third of marketers cited virtual events/digital experiences as one of their top engagement tactics, while additional research found that 61% of marketers plan to increase their investment in digital events in 2022. While in-person events are making a comeback, virtual and/or hybrid strategies still play an integral role in amplifying the event experience.
“Virtual elements at in-person events are table stakes for companies,” said Alon Alroy, Co-Founder and CMO of Bizzabo.“In 2023, we will see the influx of virtual elements incorporated into in-person events to satisfy expectations and measure attendee engagement. Companies that fail to incorporate these elements into their event strategies will fall behind in collecting and optimizing attendee insights to better inform their marketing efforts.”
According to a questionnaire of more than 3,000 respondents held by Markletic, hybrid events are favored among B2B organizations. Specifically:
- 86% of B2B organizations saw a positive ROI from their hybrid events seven months after the event date;
- 34% of event organizers expect to invest more in hybrid events in the next few years;
- 21% of marketers said they are procuring a hybrid event platform;
- 57% of respondents said they would rather attend an in-person version of a hybrid event than the virtual version; and
- 25% of respondents stated they will host between five to 10 hybrid events per year.
“Virtual events have certainly proven their ROI,” said Potharaju. “As such, event leaders are looking to take the benefits of virtual events and translate them into physical ones. For example, we’ve attended events where the speaker or panelists are tuning in remotely from around the world, giving in-person attendees opportunity to connect with topic leaders. These hybrid events also extend to participants, helping to maximize event attendance and connection.”
Even though the lockdown is over, marketers aren’t throwing away their virtual event playbooks and only hosting live events. They learned to meet customers where they are by offering both methods to target and engage audiences.
“Marketers must leave behind binary thinking that pits physical and virtual events against one another,” said Baird. “When it comes to event experiences, marketers must focus on matching personalized content and experiences with individual customers in the format they prefer — whether at a conference center, through a screen or a mix of the two. Moving forward, event strategies will focus on engagement and impact rather than format, reaching attendees where they prefer to interact.”
Managing Event Budgets During A Down Economy
The current economy is working against marketers and challenging financial plans, making it harder for organizations to budget for events. According to Integrate’s “The State of B2B Marketing Budgets 2022” report, the top driving forces behind marketing budget shifts were due to inflation and economic recession. Unfortunately, this means marketers should hold off on booking that firebreather for their live event.
“When the pandemic began, innovation was abundant,” said Baird. “In today’s climate, we’re dealing with record-high inflation and deep-rooted fears of a recession. This means that if there is no real business impact of a service or product, it will fall to the wayside in the coming year. For event planners, it’s crucial to lean on creative solutions that provide an end-to-end customer experience that lends itself to real ROI and impact. By using the right platform, event managers can create and capture the full customer profile, manage and reduce costs by consolidating event technology in one platform that satisfies all event types and ensure attendees are engaged and moving further down the funnel.”
Heading into 2023, the major question is, how can marketers stay afloat during these economic times? The following steps from Eventbrite can guide marketers through these confusing times:
- Step 1: Go back to the basics by focusing on the main objective that is often a more cost-effective strategy;
- Step 2: Work out must-haves and nice-to-haves to figure out both fixed and variable costs;
- Step 3: Reduce costs where possible by determining areas that can be cut;
- Step 4: Secure lucrative sponsors that have a budget to spend; and
- Step 5: Rethink ticketing strategies by considering introducing tiers to generate extra turnover.
“With the market and the way inflation is happening right now, we're having to be very creative in regard to fitting in our services and actually being able to work with these budgets,” stated Victor Kippes, President and CEO of Validar, a lead management solutions provider. “Budgets on the brand side are super tight and things are more expensive. One of my biggest concerns going into 2023 and beyond is inflation and the cost of things going up while budget goes down.”
- Take an audience centric approach to your event planning. Consider what type of content target audiences are looking for and use that data to personalize the experience;
- Look to integrate more digital interactions into in-person events. Focus on how digital can improve the attendee experience during all three stages: Pre, at and post;
- Integrate event technology with marketing and sales ecosystems;
- Make in-person events more accessible and inclusive. Don’t neglect the attendees who weren’t able to or weren’t comfortable attending an in-person event; and
- Pay more attention to environmental sustainability when planning and executing events. Continue to make full use of virtual and hybrid events as they typically have lower environmental impacts.