Despite Zoom fatigue, a rapidly advancing vaccine rollout, and rumors about a mask-free future, international travel is still many months or maybe years away, and global audiences still need our creative solutions. It’s also impossible to know how the work-from-home world of the COVID-19 era will affect the live events industry in the future.
Events are immersive and live in person, but now that audiences have all learned to experience the world from their homes, it’s time to take a look at the new pathways audiences will rightly expect to be engaged.
We have been doing Hybrid Events for years!
Could you imagine a world in which the NFL decided that the Superbowl was only to be enjoyed by people in the stadium? Where event professionals argued that the real experience of the Superbowl is sitting in traffic, meeting the ticket-taker, finding your seat, celebrating a touchdown in the stands, and feeling the crisp winter air on your cheek. There’s just no way for you to get that experience if you’re not there, so you can’t be a part of it. You can’t even watch the game.
Now, an event no longer needs to be tied to a physical location to the exclusion of outside audiences. The truth is large events have had a Hybrid model for years. For instance, Blizzard Entertainment started offering a virtual ticket to their tentpole event Blizzcon in 2017. While only 30,000 people could attend the 6 stages of live e-Sports championships in Anaheim, the virtual ticket allowed for a much larger audience to connect with the event from home.
It’s time for the events industry to rethink at-home experiences. The broadcast and virtual presence at your live event is not a consolation prize, and it cannot be the last minute add-on to satisfy a checklist. Here are four reasons your event must have both live and virtual components: Reach, Cost, Permanence, and Measurement.
Reach - Experience Across the Globe
The world is trained up on digital. Everyone now knows how to turn their camera and microphone on and off; they expect that a speaker’s wifi may go down; they understand that the stream can be delayed before it reaches a guest’s computer. These barriers for entry into virtual meetings are finally and fully gone.
As we return to trade shows and consumer events and corporate training, we cannot take backward steps toward hyper localization and exclusion.
For a great example, check out:
“Lets Make a Deal.”
In the current incarnation of the show, Wayne Brady seamlessly interacts with both an at home audience and an in person audience all vying for cash, prizes and the deal of the day.
This new time means your onsite attendees can video chat with their virtual counterparts, watch the same keynote address live, text one another through your event app, and then schedule debrief time in a virtual meeting room connected to one of your breakout rooms onsite.
A virtual component to your live event builds on the digital skills and mastery your audience learned over the past year to continue connecting attendees across the world. A message, an experience, that can only interact with 10,000 people in a local setting can now reach an additional limitless audience, and not just through shared social media posts and impressions, but with true audience engagement.
Cost - Lower Spend. More Experiences.
People want to be in the same space and want to share the live moment of an event. And that will happen. But the stakeholders and the budget owners have taken a look at the value they took away from 2020, and they like what they have found.
In corporate events, the ROI for virtual versus live is clear: a huge budget savings on the venue and the set and the catering and the employee flights and hotels speaks for itself.
What did they lose in return? Many post show surveys taught us that attendees liked being able to see how companies reconfigured tentpole annual shows into a virtual format. The measurable KPIs for corporate events did not drop off, and in fact, employees who had been left out of annual onsite POA meetings and trainings were engaged for the first time in their careers.
In another category, 2020 rocked the trade show world to its core. While it will rebuild, meeting planners and their budgets must never forget that a virtual platform can host an entire show for thousands and thousands of attendees for the simple equal cost of assembling one 20’x20’ onsite with one of the major trade show companies. And, an added benefit, virtual booths never have to come down.
Permanence - No Tear Down. No Load Out. Less Waste.
Some experiences are better suited as a moment designed to become a memory. Exclusivity can be strategic, tying a message to a place in time and letting it fade away. “You had to be there.”
Now we don’t want to ruffle feathers, but what is the guaranteed value of building a $200K booth only for labor to strike it three days after its construction? Why gamble on social media buzz and industry chatter around your creative idea, when there is no longer a reason to limit audience reach to place and time. The virtual component of your event removes those two unfair restrictions on your audience and your ROI.
“I experienced that, too,” is better for brands. An event’s virtual component is where permanence and equal accessibility come into play.
Imagine company leaders calling everyone back to the virtual platform for a series of follow up conversations and meetings after onsite is complete. Consider how training sessions taking place in two hour intervals over the course of a week allow attendees to practice and internalize the learning more effectively they might with two eight hour days. And, even better, employees can be in the field the same day after training and certification instead of needing to travel home. Not only is this more efficient, but less costly and a whole lot better for the environment without all that travel, shipping, and the most valuable commodity, time.
Measurement - A Better Look at Attendee Behavior Than Ever Before
The best hybrid events will be predicated on data. An event app that runs onsite using the same platform that your virtual attendees access can provide a never-before-seen glance at attendee behavior. What areas of the platform attendees clicked into, what spaces in your onsite activation your attendees walked into, all in one database will allow you to learn insights like never before.
Who spoke to who, who engaged with what type of content, who responded a certain way to your surveys. Data, mixed and matched and then ultimately analyzed to understand an attendee behavior narrative, can be the most powerful tool in the event strategist’s arsenal.
This data piece is key to internal storytelling as well. Proving to company leadership and other stakeholders that their dollars are well spent with experiences is essential to continued live activations, and a virtual component allows this to have an exponential reach.
We have to keep innovating.
Events are essential for the human spirit. Connection is essential for the human spirit. At Gramercy Tech, we know as well as anyone how important it is to get onsite and shake hands and laugh, and let’s face it, complain about the project a bit, too. We came up in this industry as a company creating incredible experiential and bespoke headline-grabbing digital interactions for live events. This march toward a virtually integrated future is something we are so thrilled to see. For us, returning to onsite activations means we will be heading back home. And the virtual element allows us to finally expand our reach to its true potential.
We created our virtual capability alongside many of our clients, learning and growing and discovering how to create memorable online events together. As we approach the return of the onsite component of these events, we look forward to engineering the industry’s next phase.