More than one in five Americans is fully vaccinated, and travel rates are soaring to yearlong highs, but virtual events are not going anywhere. Or virtual components of events, anyway.
There are at least three reasons for that, said Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO of Hawthorne Advertising. Those are the accessibility, personalization, and new revenue possibilities that adding virtual components to events allows.
The simplest reason to retain a virtual component to events even after the US reaches herd immunity: You can reach more people, and it’s easier for them to show up.
Previously, exclusively in-person conferences, even while providing strong experiences, were “almost inaccessible,” Hawthorne-Castro said.
Convenience has become a basic principle of retail and hospitality as digital techniques have taken hold, especially during the pandemic. Why should events be any different?
What’s more, once event providers make it easy, and possibly even cheaper, for attendees to join events, they get the opportunity to share their message with more people. And they may do so in a way that in-person events make less seamless (picture the corporate guy walking on stage to offer a brief message about the value of such and such company’s services). Virtual messaging can be more organic.
“It’s like a podcast situation,” Hawthorne-Castro said. “Podcasts can be powerful when there’s advertising within them.”
In the omnichannel era, the golden rule in commerce is to meet customers wherever they are. Hawthorne-Castro said this same personalization-focused mentality should drive events and that virtual components will help events rise to those standards.
Obviously, the first component to hybrid event personalization is letting people attend whether by plane or video conference. But virtual events can also be structured to offer a guest-tailored experience. One way to do this is by offering breakout rooms, or smaller virtual meetings open to attendees, alongside a main attraction, Hawthorne-Castro said.
All event attendees scroll through their phone at some point during a keynote presentation of no interest. Virtual events offer the ability to draw those event goers uninterested in the main attraction to smaller sessions.
This is also where sponsorships come in. Sponsors can run breakout sessions similar to the booths available at in-person conferences. This, too, could be an application where the accessibility and number of attendees at virtual conferences spurs a successful program.
New revenue streams
The dawn of virtual events spawned new revenue streams and content channels.
For example, a number of companies started subscription models, Hawthorne-Castro said. Subscriptions allow event providers to put content online and regularly engage potential attendees instead of luring them somewhere for a few days of interactions.
Not only could this bring in some revenue, but it could also drive stronger relationships with specific attendees. “You can even position it like being one of the first members of an organization,” Hawthorne-Castro said, adding that subscription providers could create tiers or special privileges for some subscribers.
As far as discovering extra channels is concerned, virtual content is also easily repurposable content. A recorded panel can be shared on social media or on a company’s website.
For these reasons and others, virtual events, or at least partially virtual events, will be a fixture of the business long beyond the dark days of COVID-19.