In a time where live events and in-person large gatherings are not a reality due to the Covid-19 pandemic, events such as business meetings to conferences and even world-class marathons are making the leap to virtual.
There’s no doubt that the time has come for virtual events to play a larger role, but there’s no simple formula for the transition. Although Exhibit Partners has offered virtual solutions for many years, we, like other live event specialists, are refocusing our efforts to include more digital options.
For many companies, the biggest challenge is where to start. Through conversations with current clients and potential new partners, we have compiled a list of questions we are hearing regarding live vs. virtual.
1. Should I produce a virtual event or wait until live events can take place again?
If the audience that you need to connect with is small and in one geographical area, the likelihood is that you would be able to find a way to engage personally with them in the next six months. However, unless you are a group such as a board or committee that fits that mold, chances are that you should be considering some virtual or hybrid options.
2. What different types of virtual options should I consider?
Today, there is an infinitely larger array of options for virtual activation. Live webinars have been widely used in 2020 as in person gatherings came to a halt. Companies are relying on them for education of staff and customers, as well as for self-promotion. Additionally, employees who were furloughed and laid off, are using them as tools for further education and development of job skills.
Another existing, but still emerging technology is the 360 virtual tour. Whether being used to showcase a trade show environment in which a lot of time, thought and money was invested, or to provide a virtual tour of an office, factory or showroom, the virtual tour brings your audience into your space digitally.
Event microsites can replicate all the key functions of a live event. You can control who attends, how content is shared, the flow of the experience and of course, metrics are readily available.
3. What is a typical timeline for these options?
It is critical that your virtual experience is well-planned, as well as well-executed. In many cases, there is no second chance if there are issues with access, delivery or content quality. However, in this rapidly changing world, there is also a need for speed and nimbleness that often a smaller or independent agency can handle more easily. While every project is different, a starting point would be 2-3 weeks for video production or a virtual tour and 6+ weeks for a more complex virtual event.
4. How do I decide which option is right for me?
The first step would be to identify the type of event. Are you a participant in an organized event, such as a trade show, or so you plan to create your own event? Alternately, you could be in need of virtual content to use in everyday sales and marketing for your company. Once the goal and audience is identified, the rest will follow.
Many clients will approach Exhibit Partners with an idea of what they need or want, but we also have a flowchart style approach to narrowing down the options if that is not the case.
5. Is there a way to use physical assets that I already have?
Yes! Virtual tours are, of course, the obvious choice for showcasing existing facilities and environments, but other physical assets can be used in multiple ways - a professional looking backdrop for example.
6. How do we get our audience to engage with our virtual event?
On the surface, it may seem that it would be easier to get someone to attend a webinar from their home office than it would be to get them to carve out time to travel and attend a live event with networking, breaks etc. However, while it may be easier to get them to commit, keeping their attention is without a doubt more difficult. The home office can have many distractions; attendees may not think twice about answering the phone or checking emails whereas in person, there is a certain etiquette that keeps them focused on speakers.
It is an important part of the planning process to ask yourself not only why you want your audience to attend, but what they get out of attending. And don’t forget, it’s not always education; people are also looking for engagement and entertainment.
7. How do we measure ROI without physical attendees?
This is an area where virtual events can actually outperform live events. The marketing data goes beyond registration information; you will know how long someone engaged with you, where they went, what they experienced and more. Online engagements can have a real-time interface that will analyze your metrics as they happen.
Of course, the ultimate question is when will live events return and what will that mix of live and virtual be moving forward? Everyone has an opinion on this and yet, nobody knows. The truth is that there are so many factors and new information comes to light on a regular basis. Live events are just a wait and see game now and in the foreseeable future. As cancellations continue to happen, so do announcements that some large scale events are still planning to take place in 2020 yet.
Much of your virtual planning could be valuable whichever way things shake out for your event. Great video production, a virtual tour or a microsite can be repurposed to enhance a live event. Perhaps the content is used to share with a live group, or maybe it comes into play for those attendees who cannot travel due to risk or personal preference. Virtual will play a role in the long term no matter what, so taking this time to get your strategy in place will not be wasted time.