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The events industry has gone through some truly seismic changes in the past two years, with global adjustments completely re-shaping the landscape. This upheaval has thrown up some major challenges and obstacles, but has also opened up tremendous innovation and truly brand-new opportunities.
“I’d be hard pressed to identify another period in my professional career where we’ve had this much change, this much innovation, and this kind of ability to reshape and redefine a category and an industry,” says Mike Dietrich, vice president of product marketing at Cvent. “It’s such an interesting time to be leading a team of professionals in this industry, and to start to redefine what meetings and events look like as we come out of this.”
The unexpected resurgence of the virus recently demanded yet another pivot, which means for the short term, or the next three to six months, the industry and the market is going to be defined by continued extreme uncertainty, Dietrich says.
“These teams now need to be contingency planning and scenario planning, looking at the need to continue to deliver in-person experiences, virtual experiences, hybrid experiences, and maybe a combination of all three of them, and doing that on very short notice,” he says. “This profession has been heroic, in my opinion.”
Event planning and marketing professionals are essentially needing to leap into the breach and learn new skill sets, work in new teams and adopt new technologies – and grow more resilient and better prepared as a result.
“If there is a positive note to all of this disruption, it’s that this whole community has built muscles we didn’t know existed, technology has improved to better meet the need and skill sets have improved and matured,” he says. “There’s a playbook now, and unlike 2020, we’re going into this uncertainty with a bit more experience behind us about what works and what doesn’t.”
Here’s a look ahead at what event planners can expect, what’s most important to consider as the transition from virtual to hybrid starts to happen, and more.
Creating safe experiences
First and foremost on everyone’s mind is the imperative to deliver a safe in-person experience, both to the attendees and to the event staff and employees. This includes selecting the right venue and laying out the space, facilitating safe attendee interactions, and more. Given the health, brand, and financial implications for the rest of 2022, in-person event design and execution will likely be a C-level issue, Dietrich says.
Event marketers are also going to have to come to terms with the fact that the value exchange delivered through in-person meetings and events in 2022 is going to be higher. People will be making a very personal calculation based on their individual return on investment and comfort level in attending. That has profound implications for every part of the event journey, from the event’s value proposition to the content that’s delivered to how far after the event attendees can continue to get value from that event.
To go hybrid or not to go hybrid
However, the decision to host a hybrid event must be based on your goals and what you’re trying to achieve. In other words, a user conference, where a lot of the value can be networking, content, and information sharing, as well as to build pipeline and drive revenue, may be a good fit for hybrid.
But if the goal of your event is to get together a small, intimate VIP gathering to close a large deal, or product adoption by way of hands-on training, that goal may not be conducive to a hybrid event.
Marketers should avoid the one-size fits all approach — there are many ways to execute a hybrid event, ranging from lower-cost formats to events featuring the highest level of production and live streaming. Assuming all hybrid events are budget busters — approaching them with a cost-first mindset — can lead organizations to miss the potential value from the additional reach. Run the numbers, says Dietrich. Hybrid may very well make sense.
“We challenge our customers to look at the total value of being able to reach and engage a larger audience, and the incremental costs incurred by adding a virtual component to an event,” he says. “Often we find that the added expense to go to hybrid makes sense.”
It’s also essential to be able and willing to treat a hybrid event as one event with two experiences. Your virtual attendees can’t just be voyeurs to the in-person experience — it’s neither fun nor particularly valuable for them. If you do go hybrid, think deeply about the virtual content and how to deliver a full event experience.
And lastly, don’t underpower the production experience. The production value of your content, especially distributed out to a virtual audience, matters deeply in how your audience becomes engaged, stays engaged, and how it reflects on your brand.
The opportunity to extend engagement
Driven by the growing sophistication of the content and the digital tools that house it, marketers and planners have the opportunity to go beyond the confines of the typical start-and-stop dates of an event By opening up digital components and offering content and networking opportunities ahead of the event, you can engage your users before the event ever starts.
“We’re bringing the engagement that used to happen when you checked in and pulling that at least four to six weeks forward, to start building excitement and engagement with our audience well before the event happens,” he explains.
Once the event closes, the digital environment still remains active, giving more people the opportunity to engage with the content, share it, and continue to make connections with the network that they’ve built.
The explosion of tech choice
In response to the new challenges in the industry, the number of tools and platforms designed to help event marketers thrive has proliferated. But the wealth of choice also leads to decision fatigue, as users struggle to figure what tools they need, how to integrate them all, and how to use them to not only deliver a great experience, but to execute more efficiently.
Dietrich predicts a growing movement toward consolidation of the tech stack that drives meetings and events. He urges professionals to be thoughtful in their choice of tools as they build their tech stack, and to ensure they’re adding agility, not slowing them down.
The crumbling of silos
The trend before the pandemic was a breakdown of planning and marketing silos within organizations, and that trend has only accelerated since. Many companies are reorganizing to bring their marketing and planning teams together, especially as the event channel and the event programs become more inherently digital.
“We’re seeing the wonderful power of great event professionals and event design collide with the digital marketing skill set,” Dietrich says. “We’re seeing incredible advancements in not only what that means from the user experience perspective, but what it means for the ability of the organization to understand user behavior, mine intent and activity data within their events, and be able to use it to personalize and follow up with the audience in a much more effective manner.”
For more insights into the upcoming year in event planning and marketing, and how professionals can position themselves for success, don’t miss this VB Live event!
Register here for free.
- How marketers can prepare for the return of live events
- How to make hybrid events work better than ever
- Why webinars are an essential part of the marketing mix
- What trends and strategies will bump the needle in 2022
- Natalia Rybicka, Senior Director, Event Marketing, Attentive
- Mike Dietrich, Vice President, Product Marketing, Cvent
- Hayley Haggarty, GM of Events, VentureBeat (moderator)
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