Virtual and Face to Face Events – Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Virtual event planners + face to face event organizers = best friends forever?
Since virtual events first hit the market, there has been a certain amount of tension between face to face event organizers and virtual event planners. In my previous article, “Ten Things I Won’t Miss About In-Person Events”, I even argued, tongue in cheek, that virtual events are superior to in-person events in several ways. In reality, hybrid events make the distinction between in-person and virtual activities somewhat artificial. As a result, virtual event planners and face to face event organizers have much more to gain from working together than by worrying who gets a larger piece of the event market pie.
Face to face event organizers – why should you care?
Drive ROI and satisfaction at your events – Event planners have known for decades that the more engaged customers are at an event, the happier they will be. And, since engagement is key to moving customers through the purchase lifecycle, driving interaction can have a significant impact on ROI. In terms of building personal relationships, humans clearly have a preference for face to face contact. However, in terms of engagement, it sometimes pays to move activities online. For example, in an online environment, game dynamics are easy to set up, which allows event organizers to reward customers and channel them towards desired behaviors. In addition, instant feedback mechanisms can allow event organizers to fine-tune their presentations in real time, online and in-person.
Build and develop customer relationships over time – As several virtual events have shown, events do not have to be a single point in time. Even if a hybrid event is anchored in an in-person conference, online activities can extend the life (and value) of an event for days or even months to come. For event organizers, this represents a unique opportunity to continue to build and develop customer relationships long after the last boxes have been shipped home. In order for this to work, virtual events cannot simply be an online version of physical events. Instead, virtual and physical activities must be seen as components of the larger event experience. For example, since not everyone has the opportunity to interact with key speakers at a conference, an event organizer might promise to hold a series of life online Q&A sessions, within the virtual event environment to continue the conversation.
Reach more customers – As the U.S. economy begins to show signs of improvement, many companies are (slowly) starting to increase their investments in travel and event participation. Despite this fact, there will always be several times more customers that can afford (in terms of time or money) to attend a virtual event than a face to face event. At a recent conference that I organized, we were able to triple attendance from the year before, just by adding a virtual event component. In the short term, this means more paying customers and in the long-term, virtual event attendees represent a highly qualified pool of future in-person event attendees.
Virtual event planners – what’s in it for you?
Scale your business and reach more customers – Virtual event attendance has grown considerably as companies have looked for ways to train their staff and connect with their customers in an interactive and cost-effective way. At the same time, virtual events still represent a fairly small percentage of the overall event industry. In addition, hybrid events represent one of the largest sources of growth for the industry in the past few years. However, in order to fully take advantage of the opportunity that hybrid events represent, virtual event providers must see face to face event organizers as indispensible partners. In fact, I would go so far as to say that one of the biggest trends that we will see in this market will be an increase in the number and depth of partnerships between “traditional” event organizers and their online partners.
Learn from the experts and build deeper customer relationships – Face to face event planners have made a considerable investment in developing deep relationships with their customers. Rather than see these relationships as “competition”, virtual event planners should partner with in-person event organizers to create win-win solutions that leverage the best of both worlds. Another area that virtual event providers can learn from face to face event planners is in the area of methodology, planning and organization. If hybrid events are going to reach their full potential, they must become deeply integrated into the planning process. This will mean making adjustments to the traditional event project lifecycle. Such a transformation can only occur if virtual event organizers and face to face event planners work together from the start.
Virtual and face to face events – making 1+1=3
Just a few years ago, it was possible to imagine the worlds of virtual and face to face events developing along independent paths. However, it’s clear to most observers that the future of the events industry is hybrid events. But, in order for this to become a reality, virtual event organizers and face to face event planners must come together to develop the processes, relationships and partnerships that will make hybrid events a standard way of doing business.
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