Virtual becomes the new reality: An eventful pivot

New hires look forward to conquering the ramp-up time – it’s fun to master the basics and then get creative with the nuances and details. For the last month, it felt like I hadn’t gotten far with my ramp up because my focus shifted to figuring out the new world of virtual events, so I chatted with amazing marketers, listened to great podcasts, and followed insightful blogs to get ideas about what a virtual event should look like. 

I’m one of the few who can claim to start my marketing career during a pandemic. By sharing my journey,  I can recap what I’ve learned so far so you can add or build your own virtual playbook.

What I’ve learned so far…

The global pandemic has disrupted established marketing avenues. In-person events scheduled months in advance are being canceled or shifted to a virtual substitution. Payments made for events may or may not get refunded. When there isn’t a conference to attend, duties become displaced, and event marketers are left to find a new way to draw folks in. 

This leads me to the number one rule I’ve learned so far: Speak with a purpose, not to simply speak. 

Everyone’s turning to webinars as a replacement – atSpoke is no exception (shameless plug on the webinar I hosted: How IT can support Remote Work). But in today’s social distancing world, we’re now inundated with so many digital options. The intention is to make you feel like your social calendar is filling up again. In reality, if I attended all the webinars that sounded remotely appealing to me, it’d resemble an online college course schedule. (This would have been way cheaper than the degree I’m still paying off). There’s no point in making a webinar about a trending topic because everyone else is doing the same. Successful webinars offer their own perspective and insight into a higher theme.

Marketers have to double back and review the work they’ve already put in. In my last blog, I gave an inside look at how I adapted to Oktane 20 going virtual. This works to an event marketer’s advantage because all assets have repurposing potential. Nothing goes to waste. You can still use your one-pager and video shorts. Understand the purpose of the asset outside of communicating the message – is it meant to attract someone’s eye? Is it meant to serve as a TL;DR to an interested buyer? Identify the intent behind the physical assets then use them to paint the larger picture of your company.

At Oktane, our booth’s purpose was to give an attendee a 3-second impression of what we do. I worked with our design team to transform our original booth design for a 10×10 booth into a landing page on our virtual booth. Use the allocated materials to make assets that highlight your company’s strengths.

In cases where the event gets canceled, look for the force majeure clause. Make sure to check for this before signing the contract, but checking now is better than never checking at all. The clause relieves the vendors of their contractual duties without issuing a refund if there is a natural disaster or act of God. In today’s fiscally conservative environment, losing money hits harder. Read your contracts!

What’s going to happen next?

We’re living through a historic event, which means there is going to be a shift with live events to be more inclusive of virtual options. The move towards virtual events was inevitable with technological advances, but the timeline has moved up. Aside from missing the in-person magic, virtual events have very enticing qualities. 

Starting with the price tag, virtual events are cheaper to sponsor than in-person events. For marketers attending conferences, sponsorship fees were reduced by 50%+ because there are no food, facilities, or transportation expenses to account for. For marketers hosting events, your costs are reduced down to the online platform, paid advertising or promotion, and potentially swag, since everything else can be done online. Attendees also reap the same marketing benefits.

Virtual events are accessible globally so marketers can cast a wider audience net. Without the cost of a plane ticket, folks have more budget to pay for their conference ticket. At a first glance, widely accessible events can mean that the quality of potential leads could be compromised, but with the increase of virtual events there will be constant iteration and best practices about how to attract your ideal audience.

There will still be in-person events, but we’re also seeing an increase in hybrid events. Hybrid events could mean that there is now an online component to the event or that there is a virtual event back up plan. To parallel events, there has also been a rise in online communities and forums, whether it’s in Slack, a Google group, or elsewhere. Quality content is being pushed through this forum and there will be a decrease in participation once shelter-in-place is lifted, so keeping the momentum going is crucial. There’s no need to throw out content for content’s sake, but understanding who your champions are and what your audience needs now will be useful later. The conversations had around your content will determine the depth of your content which can then be transformed into a webinar series, one-day event, or larger conference.

What I’m doing now to help me later

Besides reflecting on the virtual journey thus far, I’ve created a virtual events playbook to jot down our experiments, successes and misses. Within the playbook, I’ve included a backup plan for any in-person events (shout out to the amazing marketers that have already shared theirs!). In my playbook, I’ve also included potential online conferences to sponsor and virtual conference platforms (like Hopin or ON24). This allows me to further experiment at other virtual conferences and be familiar with the tools needed to host my own event. Numbers are crucial to making decisions, so once you’ve completed a few experiences and logged your KPIs, take it a step further by comparing your virtual and in-person event numbers. You never know, maybe virtual events are your jam.

I’m proud of the comprehensive learnings I’ve put together today. It will make the virtual experience easier to manifest into reality as digital events become the new normal. I expect the playbook to grow over time and to come up with creative solutions that work with our audience. It was a daunting project to start, but a rewarding experience that’s transformed me into a stronger marketer, so feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or if there’s more to the list you’d like to include!

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