Events: The Hybrid Future

Events: The Hybrid Future

January 2022 | Digital Marketing

Marketing has become a digital-first discipline. Events are no exception. Hybrid events are causing marketers to reimagine what an event can be.

It's been a tough few years for everyone. Covid-19 forced businesses to accelerate their digital transformation plans far faster than anyone expected. Digital marketing has become central to everyone's marketing strategies. Digital selling has moved from buzzword to the new normal. The old ways are history and will never return. That's not to say that digital is the only way forward for marketing teams. In-person events and meetings are still valuable, but they won't go back to dominating marketing budgets as they did before the pandemic.

Hybrid Today

Last year saw tentative signs of a return to physical events. Some small-scale seminars and conferences took place in the last quarter. New variants have only partially disrupted the returning tradeshow calendar. Events are still taking place, but at a much smaller scale than before the pandemic. CES went ahead last week, but some major vendors were absent from the tradeshow floor. Many attendees opted to attend the event virtually instead, with sessions and exhibitors having both a physical and virtual presence. The most significant announcements from the show were streamed online rather than being presented in person.

It's still early days in the hybrid event industry. Sharing a physical event online is not a new concept. Vendors have been streaming conference keynotes for years. Streaming breakout sessions also sometimes happened too, but these were intentionally second class experiences. The primary goal of any event has always been to make the in-person experience as smooth as possible. Catering to the broader customer community was a method to generate greater buzz for new product announcements rather than a genuine attempt to replicate the attendee experience online.

Hybrid First

Running a truly hybrid event is an entirely different concept. Marketers have long known how to run a successful physical event. Over the last few years, marketers have also learned how to run a successful virtual event. Balancing the two modes of engagement requires a paradigm shift. As such, an experimental approach is necessary. The first wave of hybrid events won't get everything right, but organisers will find the best formula over time to blend online and offline into a single event.

As with all marketing activity, customer engagement is key. People understand that the virtual experience will always be inferior to the in-person experience, but it still needs to work as a standalone event. It's the networking element that distinguishes a successful event from a typical conference or tradeshow. The best events allow attendees to learn from their peers, as much as from the speakers and exhibitors. It's the reason why they're such great sources of new leads and opportunities.

The pandemic made it difficult to find ad-hoc business conversations. Sure, there's LinkedIn, but virtual interactions will always be inferior to in-person interactions from a sales perspective. People are much more open in face to face conversations than they are over video conferencing or on a phone call. The biggest comment from those who did event events last year was how much they missed the networking aspects of the experience.

Hybrid Technology

Technology can help here, but only to a limited degree. Social networking features have long been a part of the typical event app. Major events often allow attendees to message each other and to post their profile in the app. Before the pandemic, these features were generally underutilised. In a hybrid event, they're much more important because they allow virtual attendees to interact with each other as well as with in-person attendees.

As such, it's no surprise that virtual event platforms such as ON24 built social networking features into their hybrid event technology. Last week, Splash did the same. Splash is historically a platform for managing in-person events. Their new Splash Studio product introduces hybrid event features to their portfolio. This new capability directly completes with ON24 by introducing a session streaming experience for Splash events. In doing so, Splash points to the future of all major events.

Hybrid Future

Purely in-person events still have a place in the marketing mix, but only for small seminars. There is too much money at stake for large scale events to be restricted purely to in-person attendees. A hybrid experience ensures that event content reaches the widest possible audience, maximising engagement for minimal additional cost.

The new hybrid event model has its downsides. Hybrid adds complexity to the already complex discipline of event management. However, in a digital-first world, that complexity will pay for itself through additional leads and revenue. The people, processes and technology for hybrid events have now arrived. It's time to take advantage.

Banner Photo by Headway / Unsplash

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.