uring the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns, we were all forced to shift our B2B events to a virtual, remote setting. During that time, a great deal of progress was made in the quality of virtual events. Rapid advancements in technology provided innovative new capabilities, and we skilled-up to drastically reduced the risk of technical issues, making the overall experience much higher quality.
Of course, as soon as lockdown ended, everyone was eager to get back out to more traditional face-to-face meetings and make up for lost time. That’s perfectly understandable, especially after a year and a half of being stuck inside staring at a computer screen all day. But so much of that great progress in the area of virtual events was abandoned far too early, long before their full potential was realised.
In-person events and face-to-face experiences are always valuable, and often preferable to digital, so it’s unsurprising that things have reverted back to their old ways for the most part. However, it’s important to be aware of how the current cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation rates will influence your B2B events strategy over the next year or two. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to host the same event for the same cost as you did this time last year, and that trend is causing some businesses to reconsider the value of virtual events when budgets are tight.
Take that alongside issues like:
- The growing importance of sustainability
- The changing client preferences in the B2B buying journey
- Further advancements in virtual communication technology.
It becomes clear that revisiting the value we gained from virtual events when they became the only option in 2020 and taking a closer look at this as an exciting opportunity.
Virtual Communication Continues Post-Pandemic
While some businesses are reluctant to consider virtual events over their in-person counterparts, there are significant advantages to be gained here. Evidence of this can be found by looking at virtual communication trends in the current workplace now that many office-based roles are carried out from home for at least some part of the week.
Most of us have been happy to stick with virtual communication in our day-to-day work, with everything from internal meetings, to job interviews, to sales pitches still taking place over Zoom almost two years after the UK lockdown ended.
This is an important trend to take note of when looking at virtual events as well. The B2B space is comfortable, familiar, and people are confident communicating in a digital-first context today. ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a thing of the past because people have in-person experiences back in their lives to counterbalance the virtual. If you’re able to harness this and capitalise on it with your events, you’ll be able to gain the following benefits:
The Benefits and Advantages that still exist for Virtual Events
1 – Limitless Reach
With virtual events, the scope and reach are essentially limitless. They allow you to bring together widely distributed groups of people simultaneously across different time-zones and continents. This is equally useful for both internal and external target audiences.
For example, reaching different geographical segments of your target audience with one virtual event is a great way to engage a high volume of prospects at the top of your sales funnel.
Conversely, say your business conducts regular acquisitions of other companies, you can use virtual events to onboard and align high volumes of new staff on your company strategy or culture.
Without the format of a virtual event taking place online, these are extremely difficult and very expensive things to achieve.
2 – Attention and immersion can be improved with dynamic content
Events that take place in a virtual context also provide great capabilities for sharing knowledge and information.
For instance, when presentations or round-table sessions are accompanied by dynamic digital content, the sessions become more engaging and can improve the learning achieved by the audience.
Of course, some aspects of a traditional in-person event may be missing from a virtual one, such as face-to-face presentations and networking. While these may feel more personable and have benefits of their own, live-streamed online events can also deliver similar feelings of authenticity, with live question and answer sessions and similar activities.
To the benefit of your target audience, virtual event content can also be consumed on-demand anytime, anywhere, enabling them to participate at their own convenience. This makes virtual events especially suitable in industries where regular iterative updates need to be provided, such as new regulations in financial services and research updates in drug development.
If your event is based purely on knowledge sharing and information delivery, these don’t even need to have an ‘in-person’ aspect to them. The key advantage is that you’re empowered to choose both live and on-demand, and the audience can select their preference. Just ensure you make the decision based on the most suitable format for your specific event, its objectives, and your target audience.
3 – Lower Cost and High ROI
The role of in-person and virtual needs to be understood and they are not comparable in experience but if you are looking for an engaging content-share and information exchange experience, rather than a whites-of-their-eyes and in-person physical immersion then Virtual can be much more cost effective and potentially deliver better ROI.
As touched on earlier, the costs of B2B events are rising due to the current inflation rates driving the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. If you’re looking for ways to deliver high quality events based on engaging content, rather than networking experiences, a virtual format will allow you to achieve far more with the same budget by removing components such as:
- Venue hire
- Other physical assets.
Read our recent article to learn more about the impact inflation could have on your event strategy in 2023, and how to manage that challenge to ensure you can still be successful.
4 – Sustainable and Environmentally-Friendly
As touched on earlier, virtual events don’t require any travel or any of the physical elements in-person events are largely based on. This makes virtual events the most sustainable and environmentally-friendly way to connect with your target audiences in a group setting right now.
Large-scale corporate events have typically involved flying attendees in from different countries to all meet in one place. While this is a great networking exercise, it does cause harm to the environment. That’s only made worse by the construction of physical components like staging and exhibition stands, recycled or not – they are not used in the first place.
Many events agencies – ourselves included – are working tirelessly to find more environmentally-friendly ways to deliver events and improve their sustainability. As we’re all striving to be more mindful of our carbon footprint, it’s beneficial to recognise that virtual events can have a significant positive impact in this area. Our B Corp accreditation is a fundamental part of our commitment to deliver a positive rather than negative impact on our planet and our people.
5 – Easy Logistical Planning
Again, because your team and your audience can all attend virtual events from the convenience of their own offices or homes, planning and logistics are usually simpler.
If you have a shorter lead-time in planning, or perhaps want to bring in presenters and guests from around the globe, online events are an ideal option.
For example, there’s no need to go through the daunting challenge of finding a date which allows your team, your speakers, and your target attendees to all be available and travel to the same place. They just need to be available for the hours of the rehearsals and live event when running things online.
Because virtual events can be attended from anywhere, and viewed on-demand, the logistics are less complicated than with in-person events, making your job much easier.
6 – Highly Accessible and Convenient
When hosting an event in a digital context, not only can your attendees consume your content on-demand, they can also create their own environment to be as comfortable and engaged as possible when doing so.
There are tremendous benefits to be gained from allowing people to interact with your event sessions in their own home or office.
This online model offers digital capabilities that make B2B events more accessible for people with impaired vision or hearing, motor difficulties, cognitive disabilities, certain physical disabilities, and more.
7 – Last-Minute Changes and Adjustments
When running a B2B event, it’s common for plans or requirements to change unexpectedly at the last-minute. Whether a speaker drops out or some exhibition stands need to be re-designed, the closer to the event date these things are requested, the more difficult and expensive they’ll be.
While any good event partner can accommodate this by including some flexibility in the planning timeline, the cut-off dates for live events are much longer than they are with virtual ones. For instance, it’s possible to make changes to virtual event platforms, branding, and programmes just hours or minutes before going live, which wouldn’t be possible in a live event setting.
9 – Leverage and Reuse the Content for Other Purposes
Digital content is tailor-made for repurposing for a wide range of different formats and channels, and is tailor-made for doing so easily. This is another point of high value for virtual events, particularly from a marketing perspective.
Work with your marketing team to craft your agenda and content based on with post-event distribution and marketing in mind. After the event is finished, the presentations and recordings can be leveraged post-event to create a large library of additional content.
Video recordings can be posted on your website, and platforms like YouTube, in long-form, but also edited and repurposed for:
- Blog articles
- Post-event reports
- Short-form video content
- Email communications
- Social media posts.
This allows you to remain in constant engagement with your audience and build an online community between the dates on your events calendar. Leveraging event content all throughout the year gives you an exponentially higher number of touch-points with your audience, meaning you can continue to nurture your relationship with them easily without producing any new content.
10 – Measurement and Optimisation
By nature, virtual events provide you with a wealth of opportunities to collect and analyse data from various metrics and use this to measure the performance of your event.
Virtual event technology allows you to measure and attribute through analytics that indicate:
- Number of attendees
- Viewing time - with in each area
- Downloads of content
- Interaction on the virtual platform – which can be broken down to the specific areas that have been built - again via clicks, interactions and viewing time
- Attendee locations - world map view
- Data can be displayed via charts rather than basic excel documents
This gives you the ability to optimise your approach, and improve both the quality and performance of your events, to achieve greater success in future.
Virtual vs In-Person Events
They are different beasts and in many ways incomparable. You need to be clear on what you want your audience to experience and think/feel/do before, during and after the show.
Virtual also offers potentially more immersive crafting of the content by pre-recording elements to perfect the narrative delivery. You can still get ‘wow-factor’ at a virtual event by delivering great content and high-level speakers, broadcast to people in their homes all around the world.
However, if you have a games console or a new piece of kit you want audiences to touch and feel, you won’t get that through Virtual. You can spread the word through virtual but you will need to close the deal in person.
Incorporating Virtual into Your 2023 Events Strategy
Before you even think about the format of your event, it’s important to set your strategic objectives and understand your target audience. More often than not, a clear grasp of these two aspects will give you a strong indication of whether you need to run each specific event in-person or not.
Each event will be unique, and you should determine its format based on the best way to achieve your goals and engage your audience successfully.
If you’re still unsure, it may be useful to talk to an experienced events partner about your overall marketing goals, and what you need to achieve from your events. Get their perspective on the best way to deliver your event, and use their insights gained from similar events they’ve run in the past.
It’s becoming increasingly common for businesses to realise they can achieve all the same things with a virtual event that they could with an in-person event, but without some of the capital outlay. With the added benefits mentioned throughout this article, it may be time to consider leveraging virtual events in your own strategy in 2023.
To learn more about the best way to determine the appropriate format for your B2B events, get in touch for an informal chat with one of our experienced specialists.