2020 has posed challenges for the world. Through the peaks and valleys, we all gained knowledge, experience, and adaptability. With the cancellation of in-person events and engagements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the experiential, conference, and exhibit industries turned their focus to Virtual Events. We innovated and evolved and acted quickly to serve our clients with their pressing needs to market their products and services through a virtual experience.
If you work with an experiential marketing agency — and we hope you do — there’s one person who is likely your hero at this time: The Vice President of Digital. At the center of innovation, providing virtual and digital enhancements to in-person environments, they lead the charge in providing brands enhanced platforms that will showcase their products and services through virtual activations. From strategy and design to going live, it’s the digital team who brought an integrated offering to the forefront.
Adrian Sanchez is that leader. We spent some time with him to gain a deeper understanding of; his experience, where we are now, as an industry, and where we’re going in 2021 and beyond.
Q: Adrian, happy new year! From your vantage point, what are the lessons of 2020
Adrian Sanchez: Happy new year! As we are all aware, COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the majority of 2020 events, which created the urgent need for brands to market their products and services through a virtual medium, hence the push for Virtual Events. Our industry, us included, quickly moved to innovate and activate quickly.
We learned that the same platform will not work for different events, and many considerations need to be made prior to the platform selection, such as market segmentation, audience acquisition, users’ demographics, event size, duration, and defining success in partnership with our clients.
Q: How do you select the best virtual event technology stack to offer to brands?
Adrian: In the past 12 months, many event technology companies have emerged, like cool startups aiming to secure their share in the events game. And with that came, a mixed bag of technologies, some very good and some others that were not that good.
The process of vetting these platforms has taken some time and has had moments of pain, but we all have learned our lessons. And, at the same time, successful platforms keep evolving every day with new enhancements and improvements that make them more approachable to different audiences.
Some of the technology winners include Unity (Virtual Reality & Immersive Virtual Experiences), BlueSky, Wowza Livestream Player, Vimeo Livestream Player, Slido, Meeting Pulse, Splash, 6Connex, On24, Jitsi, Bizzabo, and others. Those aren’t the only technology platforms in the market to help your event be successful, but they have demonstrated a proven track of success supporting events and having investments that project the expansion of their offerings in 2021.
Q: How does this process look going forward?
Adrian: This question is very common. How do I make my virtual and hybrid events successful? There’s an array of answers to this question. Of course, we all want to produce the most successful, engaging, and sustainable event, and the process should be similar to whenever you plan an in-person event.
The most important consideration that I communicate to our clients at MC², is to know their audience. Sometimes we jump right into the platform that we want to use without really understanding, who we’re serving, who we’re doing this for – and who our audience will be. Therefore strategy plays a key role as it has with in-person events.
Understanding who your attendees will be, their demographics, what they want to learn, where they are logging in from, what are their time limitations, and why would they attend my event. Start at a personal level and define how your attendee will consider this to be a successful event.
I agree with many when I’m told of virtual event burnout. After all, that was 2020 and for the same reason people will be more selective on the events that they attend, “why should I attend this event and what will I take away?”.
At MC² we always begin with a strategy, we partner with our clients and engage with their teams and partners in this stage to clearly identify how to measure success, ROI/ROO, and other metrics that will deliver the result that the brand is expecting from the event. After strategy, we internally continue with the other pieces of the puzzle: Creative, Design, Programming, Production, and Execution.
Research is a large part of our service to clients. According to a Bizabbo market study done recently, 93% of marketers surveyed plan to invest in virtual events moving forward. With this metric alone, it should be a clear precedent that to stay relevant in the experiential, marketing, exhibit, and event industries, we must invest the time in developing robust virtual platform solutions for our attendees.
Research is ongoing, on a daily basis. I obtain and carefully review all tools and platforms, modifications to our tech stack of offerings are always under evaluation to uncover all specifics necessary and ahead of time to ensure there are no surprises.
Q: What are best practices to follow?
Adrian: In 2020, marketers did their best to adapt to the immediate needs of the market, with B2B and B2C audiences. And with that, came the practice of duplicating the same format of an in-person event to a virtual event. We learned that this doesn’t quite work and there needs to be a strategic assessment on how to create a new virtual event strategy or plan.
With many different virtual events in 2020, many expected to continue into 2021, lessons learned point in the direction that events need to be shorter, very targeted with specific and custom content, have smaller groups of people attend different sessions with a high sense of personalization. As well as technology that supports the engagement and interaction with users/attendees. Giving a level of personalization and content customization will not only attract the right audiences to your event but will deliver a useful experience that the attendee will remember and return to again.
Think strategy first, then creative, design, and lastly the technology that will support your metrics of success.
Q: What do you and your team anticipate for 2021?
Adrian: 2020 was reactive, so let’s return to having fun with events in 2021 and at the same time give our attendees an experience to remember. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a robust strategy and plan prior to the selection of any event technology. People are burned out with virtual events and online experiences and I expect the following happening in 2021 to support successful Virtual and Hybrid events:
-More technologies will become available. More due diligence will go into selecting a platform for different audiences. Find the right partner to help you assess vendors and platforms.
-Existing technologies will be more customizable, less off-the-shelf solutions.
-Audiences expect more customization and personalization of events. Pay close attention to what your attendees are saying and not saying.
-More ways to interact and socialize online will be needed to please different audiences.
-Define the purpose of the event. For example, content distribution and networking may not work on the same event or platform. Split the events into micro-moments targeted for each goal.
-Attention span is shrinking and for the same reason, your content needs to be on target, to the person level.
-Think of smaller events between ten to twenty people. Mass content distribution is losing attendees so create as many micro-events as needed.
-Audiences are now used to virtual events and for the same reason, they expect to have the option to attend in person or virtually. Virtual events are here to stay, they’re evolving into Hybrid. Users will demand more options.
-Events budgets will be reduced and with that, we need to think strategically about how to use our funds in a more robust manner. It’s not canceling events but instead, it’s pushing us to spend budgets smarter. Leverage technology.
-When creating an event, many technologies and partners will be used. One-size doesn’t fit them all. We need to be creative on how to synchronize technologies to work together and integrate them into one seamless environment for the user to experience. Off-the-shelf solutions are limiting and will become obsolete if they don’t find ways to integrate with other technologies.
We all have had different experiences with virtual events in 2020. Marketers, technologists, producers, everyone has had to step up their game. Everything that you think you knew before, take it and disregard it. Be courageous about this and don’t be afraid to fail. Failing is the only way to learn and the goal is that you recover quickly and implement action plans post the learnings. We all have been there when the live stream stops working or an attendee can’t log in to the keynote presentation, it happens to everyone. The amount of learning that has occurred in the past eight months, is comparable to the plans we may have originally had for the next five years, we’ve compressed that timeline to reinvent our strategies for virtual events.
Find a partner that will help you not only vet new technologies but guide you through a holistic approach on how to create a virtual event. In hopes of going back to in-person events in 2021, we’ll still collaborate with digital solutions and our events will evolve to Hybrid solutions. This is new territory, but we have done in-person and virtual events now, so the next step is to match both solutions into a powerful, successful, and sustainable approach.
Digital has ingrained itself into the world of experiential, events, conferences, exhibits, and trade shows. There is no going back. There’s only forward. The integrated approach of digital and physical events is what the future holds for our industry. Getting it right takes; a strategic approach – that drives your business objectives forward, the right technology platform – for your needs, design, and creativity that enhances your brand and delivers value to your attendees, and flawless execution, across all communication channels. We’ve got this.
Thinking about planning a virtual experience? Drop us a line. Adrian and our team of experts will be in touch.