We’re not even a full month into 2021, but this much is clear already: events aren’t returning to normal. With COVID vaccines only now starting to roll out, the next 12 months of conferences, trade shows, and other get-togethers will likely be taking place online. Indeed, some of the world’s best-known events — like the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES — are now virtual only.
As we prepare for another year of Zoom meetings and Facebook Live events, it’s important to ask: Are virtual events a good fit for your marketing strategy? Some of us may feel compelled to blindly jump in, given the “ease” of producing a virtual event. And others may write off virtual events entirely as a subpar replacement to in-person gatherings.
In truth, both of these mindsets are too simple. Brands need to do a careful audit of why and how virtual events fit with their strategy, and then plan accordingly. Here are four things to remember as you start planning your virtual events strategy:
Know your audience
Before you make any decisions about virtual events, understand who they’re for. Knowing your audience’s demographics, habits, and expectations should be the deciding factor in whether or not you invest heavily in virtual events. For example, if your brand’s audience is largely tech-savvy Millennials and Generation Z, transforming your annual in-person event into a Zoom gathering or virtual reality gathering is likely the right move. Indeed, recent findings from Pew Research Center show that “younger adults and college grads are more likely to use the internet to socialize.”
Alternatively, if your brand’s audience skews older, it may be wise to keep online communications more simple, like weekly newsletter updates or pre-recorded videos shared by email. According to that same Pew study, “adults under the age of 50 are more likely than those ages 50 and older to say they have livestreamed a concert or play (24% vs. 16%) or exercised via an online fitness class or video (25% vs. 10%).”
Know the competition
If you’re feeling overwhelmed about whether or not to invest in virtual events, here’s some good news: Every other brand and organization out there is in the same boat. “While most of the country is under strict shelter-in-place orders, companies of every type are being forced to reconsider how to stay connected with teammates and customers,” Forbes writes. And you can learn from what others are doing.
In the early months of 2021, spend time researching what competitors and others in your industry are up to. Say you’re a local brewery that usually holds monthly tastings — see what other small breweries around the country have done. Have their virtual tastings engaged existing customers and brought in new ones? If so, what types of programming worked best?
Make it worthwhile
You may think that producing a virtual event is a lot simpler than producing an in-person one. But you’d be wrong.
Your audience expects virtual events to run as smoothly as any other, from professional production to a seamless run-of-show. There’s also far more A/V to contend with: How will people e-register? What platform will you use, and how will you ensure high-quality audio and video? Also, with everything taking place online these days, there’s heightened competition for attention — so your event had better stand out.
To ensure the time and resources you’re investing in your digital event are being put to good use, consult helpful resources. The folks at Hootsuite have a comprehensive guide titled “How to Host a Successful Virtual Event: Tips and Best Practices.” And Eventbrite put together 30 tips and tricks for a successful online event.
Think of others
If you’re a brand or organization that’s been fortunate enough to weather the pandemic, consider how your next digital event may give a helping hand to those that are less fortunate. Indeed, many small businesses are “in survival mode,” reports CNBC. Use virtual events as an opportunity to be a good neighbor. You might donate a portion of event proceeds to a local business or charity that’s facing hardship. Or, you might partner with a local restaurant to send participants a meal they can enjoy while attending your virtual event.
In the months ahead, you can’t simply expect your events — and other marketing, for that matter — to easily flow online. Take the time to really learn what kind of virtual events work for your brand. And once you know what works, pursue them with gusto.