We increasingly spend our lives online. Companies are already in the process of reimagining all facets of their digital ecosystems – from sales and transaction processing to marketing and customer service – because much of consumer decision-making now happens online.
The last several weeks have certainly pushed us to change how and where we work. As we adapt to the current situation, we are altering our fundamental habits and switching from face-to-face interactions to online connections, working remotely and conducting virtual meetings with colleagues and business partners. This shift in behavior requires us to adopt digital technologies, such as collaboration tools, cloud storage and video conferencing powered by Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Zoom, Slack and others.
Even when we recover from the disruption caused by COVID-19, we are unlikely to return to the old ways of doing business. We will have evolved to a new definition of work – one that includes more digitally enabled decision-making.
Interacting “In Person” Is Changing
How we meet “in person” in general will go through a dramatic transformation. After months of major corporate events being canceled or reimagined due to the health crisis, will companies go back to the traditional model of hosting conferences for tens of thousands of people?
I don’t think so. I believe companies will exercise an abundance of caution to protect the well-being of their stakeholders, as well as their financial investments, and will continue to move from in-person social gatherings to more digital-first event experiences. Large, in-person conferences made sense in the past, but our mindset is already changing. Moving forward, we will feel more comfortable interacting and making decisions online, without having to fly to a faraway city or gather in a conference hall with 10,000 people.
Digital event experiences or virtual event platforms are not new – companies like ON24 have been around for over 20 years. Early obstacles like spotty bandwidth availability will dissipate as 5G becomes more widely adopted. The opportunity to save time and money from viewing keynotes online – at times most convenient for the user – will outweigh the desire to see speakers in-person. The streaming world has taught us that “appointment viewing” is not a priority like it was in the past.
Digital Offers New Ways To Connect
Digital events aren’t short on opportunities to share ideas, communicate and socialize. In fact, they can provide creative new ways to interact, as more of us integrate and rely on social networking within our business lives. For example, companies can use interactive segmentation criteria to create different types of experiences for specific audiences. They can also draw on detailed profile information, prior content consumption and shared participant objectives to empower any virtual attendee to be more productive during a digital event than they would be at a physical conference. Companies are no longer limited to just a one-time event; they can combine a wide range of activities into a holistic digital experience.
That said, in-person events are not going to disappear overnight. Hosting events or attending major industry functions will continue to be important for sharing insights, driving lead generation, promoting industry thought leadership and connecting with our peers and customers.
However, companies should invest in digital platforms that can stand alone and provide opportunities to integrate with live events. It’s not a choice between online or offline – it’s a matter of creating solutions that best support the customer decision journey, regardless of the situations we may face in the future.
Vertic has worked with brands for years on implementing end-to-end digital event experiences. Here are a few of our key takeaways:
Keynotes don’t have to be live.
Unless a speech contains breaking news, you don’t have to broadcast it in real time. Streaming it just a few minutes later can prevent technical issues and ensure a more pleasant streaming experience. Provide a digital benefit that motivates attendees to watch a keynote at a scheduled time, such as an interactive online forum or the opportunity to ask questions of an expert panel.
Content must align with purpose.
The digital platform created should be used to share fresh valuable content that reinforces the purpose behind the event. Make the same content available in various digestible formats that appeal to different learning styles, such as presentations, articles, infographics, videos and polls.
Participation is easy and empowering.
Digital events provide more opportunities for attendees to interact with speakers, giving them a voice to communicate their ideas and perspectives. At offline events, the audience may only be able to ask a few questions. Digital event experiences enable an aggregation of multiple real-time questions during the presentation, which can be voted up or down by event organizers or attendees for the speaker to answer. Create a lively dialogue with attendees instead of one-way communication by soliciting participation through questions, comments and polls.
People want to participate on their schedule.
For digital events, attendees don’t care much for an agenda and will not give their full attention to a screen for six hours. They want to watch and interact with the content on their terms, not be forced into a brand’s schedule. Break a digital event into short, manageable segments, divided by topic, so attendees can opt into what interests them most.
Networking is unlimited.
The traditional concept of networking at a conference by handing out business cards needs an update. Enable broader online profile integration from social platforms like LinkedIn so digital event attendees can choose who they want to connect with and start more relevant conversations.
While recent event cancellations have left many of us reeling, we have immediate access to alternatives. There is no doubt that offline events will continue to exist, but as audiences recover from the current crisis, they will evolve to be more digitally mature. Their preferences for attending digital events over in-person events will be stronger, and companies must be ready for this shift in preference and behavior. Start investing your digital event capabilities now, and you will be well-equipped for success in the future.
Smart marketers recognize that there will be a distinct “before” and “after” in consumer behavior as a result of the pandemic. You must start now to create the digital tools needed to embed your brand in the customer’s post-COVID life.
Take the time now to identify and understand the new expectations of your customers, and how have their habits and priorities shifted during this time