As we look to the future of experiential marketing, it’s clear that the most successful companies will supplement face-to-face engagement through a partnership with virtual technology. In addition to increasing your global audience, incorporating virtual into your experiential marketing efforts allows for increased accessibility worldwide and provides rich new content for your website’s resource library. You might believe that pivoting to virtual event planning requires special training. However, we’re here to tell you that it does not. In fact, the strategies we use every day as event marketers can easily be applied when going virtual.
Here’s how you can use your event marketing skills to produce dynamic online events.
Planning Your Virtual Event
Like traditional experiential marketing, virtual event marketing begins with defining your story and how to tell it. Think about what you’ve been seeking to accomplish at trade shows and events, then work with your partner to curate a storyboard for applying these ideas in a virtual setting. As always, you must take your audience on a journey through your products and services.
As you plan your event, take stock of your resources. What content or media could you repurpose? Do you have in-house thought leaders ready to give a talk? Consider your resources of time and budget. Virtual events can take many forms — consider what form is right for your company and constraints. If education is your goal, a webinar could be a good fit. As questions arise, you now have an engaged audience for follow-up breakout sessions on the most popular topics. If you’re planning an event to promote thought leadership, consider having a live-streamed fireside chat or a panel of speakers. Encourage your attendees to submit questions to be answered or discussed in real time. If you’re looking to feature a product, consider showing off its benefits with a simple live demo or product overview.
Like traditional events, virtual events range widely in terms of size and complexity. An example of a complex and dynamic online event is Philips’s virtual tour of its Healthcare and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Conference Experience, created in partnership with AVFX after the 2020 HIMSS Conference was canceled. The interactive tour invites audiences to explore various zones and learn about collaborative care, applied informatics, and digital strategy.
Or, for comparison, a recent webinar offered by Skift and Event MB called Pivot to Virtual is a quick, practical, and cost-effective approach.
Sensory experiences are an important aspect of events, and virtual events are no exception. Take what you know about immersive experiences and apply it to the production value of your virtual event: little touches like high-quality lighting and microphones go a long way. Don’t forget the human touch — moderated transitions between presentations make the event feel inclusive, even through a computer screen.
Tips for a Successful Online Event
Touchpoints are especially important in virtual event marketing. Think about pre- and post-show marketing as you usually do. An easy way to incentivize attendance is to call attention to any prizes you’ll be giving away during the event. After the event is over, send out a short piece of content that summarizes key takeaways. The attendees that read your content will give you deeper insights around who was most engaged and also provide a resource that can easily be shared with colleagues.
IDEO mailed a virtual workshop survival kit in preparation for a long-distance meeting to build excitement pre-event. The kit contained mini whiteboards for prototyping ideas, cell phone “sleeping bags” to discourage distraction, and other interactive items. “It was a way for the IDEO team to show up in the room when they couldn’t actually show up in the room,” explained IDEO employees.
Don’t let your efforts get lost behind technical issues. Before your virtual event goes live, make sure to test, test, and test again. If this tip sounds familiar, it’s because virtual event strategies are adapted from traditional event strategies. Just as you’d visit your partner for a pre-show build to see how your trade show exhibit is coming along, you’ll also want to test your in-progress virtual event to troubleshoot potential problems. As the adage goes, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. So, be prepared. Ask your presenters if they have sufficient bandwidth. Do your audience members have clear instructions on how to join? Could you be making better use of social media tools like Instagram Live and Facebook Live for engagement and amplification?
Keeping Your Audience Engaged
It’s challenging for attendees to view virtual events with the same presence and focus they bring to live events. “In-person meetings provide a sense of intimacy, connection, and empathy that is difficult to replicate via video,” observes Paul Axtell, author of Meetings Matter. “It’s much easier to ask for attentive listening and presence [in person].”
To deal with your audience’s divided attention, use an event app to get them engaged, just as you would for a live event. Share information about schedules, sponsors, competitions, and speakers through the app. Encourage conversation on the discussion board or social sharing with incentives. Use push notifications to announce sessions as they go live, and award points for engaging with the app.
Gamification is another way to incentivize at-home audiences to participate and stay focused. You could invite your audience to participate in an instant poll or Q&A session, or earn points or prizes by filling out a survey or completing a trivia challenge. You could even enjoy a virtual happy hour and offer a prize for the best cocktail recipe.
With creativity and thoughtful preparation, a virtual event can be just as engaging and effective as an in-person one. Plus, with no fixed location, your online event is more widely accessible and can draw an international crowd of people interested in your brand. A virtual happy hour with potential clients from all over the globe? We’ll toast to that.