Coronavirus (COVID-19) saw physical events take a hit in 2020, with the marked adoption of virtual meetings events becoming the norm across all industries.
The number of global daily active users of Microsoft Teams more than doubled between March 2019 and April 2020, while Zoom and Skype both surged more than 100 per cent in March last year.
For businesses turning to these meeting platforms to host their (now virtual) events, this was a great opportunity to reinvent their offering and capture data from customers who may otherwise have only had a connection through bricks-and-mortar transactions. Shifting the power dynamic of the customer interaction to a more equal playing field, virtual events needed to capture and hold an audience’s attention with compelling, engaging content that stopped customers from simply clicking ‘Leave Meeting’. And as virtual meetings and events looked to stick around, every event was competing with ubiquitous platform experiences to provide a better customer experience.
So how can businesses – regardless of size and budget – use technology to make their events work harder as we move from virtual events back into face-to-face meetings and conferences? Through data intelligence, technology platforms, hybrid formats, and relevant content.
Customer data will continue to fuel the future of the offline experience, though it is the optimal combination of physical and virtual events that will attract and engage target audiences in the long-term. Learning more about their customers through data is arguably a business’ most valuable asset, allowing its teams to perfect their products, customer service and end-user experience to suit their audience by creating a bespoke interaction.
Brands can create unexpected experiences for all audiences by partnering with the right software and doing their due diligence early on in the planning phase. This will help apply data for retention – the way it should be used, to power conversions and augment customer attention levels – ultimately ensuring sustained engagement. Software needs to be easy to use, secure and scalable and by vetting your platforms well before kick-off, you can protect a lot of energy and resourcing. With a platform such as RainFocus for example, brands can bake physical, virtual, and hybrid event engagements right into the core of the Martech stack, creating real-time data scale without integration frictions, like the need for multiple plug-ins or the risk of data breach.
A perk for many event and business managers last year was that turning to virtual conferences allowed their business to capture a new customer database, as the world became more global and local companies could call on international speakers, thus providing additional appeal to wider audiences. Not wanting to lose this as we move back to physical events, we’re finding businesses and audiences are choosing to work to a hybrid approach – hosting some physical events locally and others virtually. For this especially, the right technology platform and partner can save time, increase engagement and maximise event value for every event.
There are a multitude of other ways technology make both virtual and hybrid events work even better for them. These include:
- Making use of the second screen: Almost all first-world countries use two screens at a minimum – their phone and one laptop / PC. Making use of both screens during an event presentation captures the attention you wish to keep, while also putting a stop to annoying interruptions on unused devices (i.e. text messages).
- Driving real-time sentiment: Use the Q&A boxes, real-time sentiment trackers, hashtags, @-handles, comments and more to determine how much those who are tuned in to your event are loving it. Positive sentiment will ultimately pull-in wider audiences via word-of-mouth, so driving this should be a #key-action throughout your event.
- Utilising attendee tracking and hyper personalised content: For in-person events, beacon technology allows attendees to receive personalised experiences dependant on their location within the venue (i.e. if a business knows through customer ordering that they’re vegan, they are offered a 10% discount from a faux-leather fashion stand within an expo). Personalised experiences are one of the best ways to drive brand affinity, virtual events offer even greater trackability and attendee intelligence so that real-time hyper personalised content can be delivered at speed and scale to attendees utilising interest, location and action data, similar to Netflix serving you more content based on your viewing.
Furthermore – arguably simpler – considerations for hybrid events include event registration, content management, exhibitor activation, follow-up CRM communications, and data management, at a start.
Following a positive consumer experience, the best way for a business to ensure the data captured at an event works hard and continues to grow in future is to ensure it doesn’t get stale. Invest in platforms and people that will use customer data to retarget and reinvest in your company. After all, it is your most valuable asset.
Karen Powell is the Managing Director of integrated marketing agency, McCorkell.