In our brand-new insights paper, the Freeman Future Forecast: How Live Events Are Evolving, we talk about the opportunity ahead for us to reimagine live events and create a better experience for everyone, from attendees to sponsors to organizers.
Today, we’re adapting to new ways of producing events. Most are digital, using technology to connect people across the globe. As live events return, that approach isn’t going away — instead, it will be an integral part of any event.
Going digital has been an essential vehicle for people, organizations, and brands to make connections, learn new things, generate revenue, and create experiences together in a time when we cannot meet face-to-face. But research shows that 92% of virtual event attendees are frustrated, so there’s more work to do ahead.
Digital adjective [dig·i·tal]: involving or relating to the use of computer technology
What we’ve learned through this pandemic experiment is that the unique benefits of in-person events can’t all make the jump online. A digital event should not be expected to provide the same experience or be measured against the same metrics for a face-to-face event.
Over the past few months, we have heard the term “hybrid event” a lot in relation to the future of events, maybe too much. Which caused me to look at the definitions of each word.
Hybrid adjective [hy·brid]: having two different types of components performing essentially the same function.
Event noun [e·vent]: a thing that happens, especially one of importance.
Putting “hybrid” together with “event” seems like a contradiction, and it certainly doesn’t mean now what it used to before COVID. If it is important enough for it to be called an event, then it’s important enough to be a great experience, regardless of how you participate.
So instead of trying to make digital and face-to-face do “essentially the same function,” this is our opportunity to understand how to use each format for its unique strength to make the event impactful and memorable for everyone.
The past few months have taught us that just extending a few sessions or keynotes to a virtual audience isn’t a reinvention, and trying to duplicate the entire live experience online just isn’t possible. And it’s not smart — a new medium requires a new production approach and content strategy.
As we look at what’s ahead for our industry, we don’t know much. But we do know that goals have changed, technology has changed… the world has changed.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is that events matter. They are the tentpole in a marketing strategy. They are the stand-out moment when a brand or organization breaks through the noise, connects with a person, and creates a memorable experience that lasts far beyond that moment in time.
Great events are a touchpoint in an integrated marketing plan that gives strong support for business objectives. And when they’re done well, they propel businesses forward.
In the near future, events will begin to reflect the changing objectives marketers now face. Events will be smaller and more targeted. Sponsors and exhibitors will need new kinds of visibility. Attendees will have a new set of needs and challenges. That’s why instead of thinking about hybrid events, our focus should be on creating integrated experiences.
An integrated experience model combines the high touch, high value of in-person events with strategically scheduled virtual offerings, year-round streaming, and a tight content marketing strategy that supplements it all.
Integrated adjective [in-te-gra-ted]: combining or coordinating separate elements so as to provide a harmonious, interrelated whole.
There is no either/or in an integrated experience. It is a multi-layered engagement strategy that lets attendees participate on their own terms. If they want to attend an in-person event, they have a few options. If virtual events are more their speed post-COVID, they’ll have plenty to choose from. If their schedule means that streaming on-demand is a better fit, they can access it at any time. And underlying all of that, they get a steady flow of supporting content that helps them learn, drives interest, and connects the dots.
So we’ve got a great outlook ahead — but what does that mean for us in the present? Virtual events are, in many cases, our only option at the moment to reach attendees. There are many organizations that rely on events every year to communicate important information, teach new concepts, and collaborate on new ideas, so they need an option that works now.
Virtual adjective [vir·tu·al]: carried out, accessed, or stored by means of a computer, especially over a network.
The good news is that the virtual event approach is a convenient option that is driving participation. Our own benchmarks show that on average, online event audiences are 500% larger than their physical manifestation.
These digital programs help organizations and associations reach new audiences, target new geos, and test new vertical markets. Our clients have had great success with their virtual offerings, and we know that will continue.
But we also know that we cannot expect digital to deliver a duplicate experience to an in-person event. That means that we need to change our expectations, reformulate our success metrics, and also be willing to experiment our way forward so that when live events do return, we have a solid rubric of what works, what doesn’t, and what we want to try when meeting in person is an option.
That’s where true innovation will happen, setting us up for a brighter future with bigger impact for our messages, our audiences, and our experience of what an event really means.