8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
While in-person events have been mostly non-existent over the past year, the world is opening back up and eagerly looking for opportunities to connect in person again.
Even though people are most excited about this in-person aspect of the future following a year of lockdowns, there’s an even bigger opportunity that will go unnoticed by most entrepreneurs: leveraging virtual and hybrid events to increase awareness, brand loyalty and revenue. I personally see virtual and hybrid events beginning to play a role that brings the advantages of digital courses, video marketing and communities all into one powerhouse marketing channel.
But in order to do that, you have to first understand how the industry has recently changed, how these changes create opportunities and then also how to leverage those opportunities to your advantage.
The pandemic transformed events
When the pandemic hit, the events industry was turned upside down. Both health concerns and legal restrictions made hosting an event of any size virtually impossible.
Companies that relied on events as a marketing channel scrambled to replace the leads and revenue that had suddenly evaporated, while companies that served the event industry and those whose business models were based on their own events were hit even harder. The industry as a whole faced a $30 billion loss, completely decimating countless businesses.
But adversity creates opportunity.
Spencer Elliott and Patrick VanDusen saw these challenges and kicked their event streaming software company, ViewStub, into high gear to help others thrive through this unexpected crisis.
“We always knew a virtual component would be incorporated into most events once organizers realized how much revenue they were missing out on by not offering the option. The silver lining that came out of the pandemic is entrepreneurs learned that by offering a virtual component to their events through a single platform, they could serve more of their target customers and make more money,” Elliott explains.
While lockdowns have been lifted and we’ve mostly returned to normal life, the event industry has been permanently transformed.
Related: The Future of Events Is Bright and Big
Adapting to today’s event industry
Events are a $77 billion industry, and it’s only going to continue growing — especially now that people realize virtual events are more than just a hyped-up webinar.
The collaboration between Home Depot and country music artist Brad Paisley is a perfect example. At the height of the lockdown, Home Depot granted exclusive access to a concert by Brad Paisley for customers who purchased $50 or more in gift cards. The event, which ran on ViewStub’s platform, was a massive success on all fronts, resulting in more than 110,000 gift cards sold and over $6 million in revenue.
“What I found most exciting about this particular event is that it was all about creating a memorable experience,” ViewStub co-founder Patrick VanDusen says. “By focusing on that, not only did Home Depot generate a tremendous return on investment, but they also strengthened brand loyalty, which will have a compounding effect on all of their marketing efforts.”
Data shows that while people may want to attend, they can’t always make it to an in-person event because of travel restrictions, prior commitments, costs and countless other reasons. One of the biggest lessons entrepreneurs and event planners alike have learned from this is that the ability to host a virtual or hybrid event leads to greater attendance and revenue. Therefore, giving attendees that option is not just a smart business decision, but it is also an essential option today. And with that virtual component, events can become both a viable revenue stream and a powerful marketing channel that gives you an advantage over competitors.
How to host an event that drives awareness, brand loyalty and revenue
Offer an option for virtual attendance
The most important thing you can do is make sure you have a virtual component to any events that you host. There’s simply no excuse not to since a majority of the industrialized world has broadband internet, and the technology needed to enable virtual attendance is so simple and inexpensive today. We’ve already covered the fact that offering the option to attend virtually increases attendance, and as a result, revenue.
Have a plan for promotion within your event
Whether your event is used to promote your business or the event itself is your business, you’ll need a plan to promote whatever you sell. I want to emphasize the importance of planning this ahead of time because doing it on the fly will almost always result in it coming off as sleazy and overly promotional to your attendees. The key is to promote when it’s relevant, preceded by a smooth and logical segue, and followed by a strong call to action.
Additionally, it’s critical that attendees can immediately buy your products and services online or schedule a consultation. You want them to take action when their emotions are at a high point. If they wait until after the event, they’re less likely to follow through.
Deliver massive value in your content
If you fail to deliver massive value from start to finish, virtual attendees will start tuning out or leaving because they’re sitting at home with every distraction possible at their fingertips. The key is to provide useful content presented in an engaging manner with high production quality.
The content part is relatively straightforward. You’ll be sharing knowledge that you’re an expert on. You’ll just need to break it down in a way that makes it informative, easy to understand and entertaining.
After a year of Zoom meetings, we all know that no one wants to stare endlessly at a speaker’s face or their slide deck. In order to keep people’s attention, you’ll need to ensure that your presentations are engaging and that you can switch between multiple cameras and the slide deck. This takes a lot of equipment, knowledge and experience, so I suggest working with a professional AV team to ensure it goes smoothly.
Make attendee engagement an integral part of your event
Providing a way for attendees to engage is essential to keeping their attention, and it also helps to nurture a sense of community, creating stronger loyalty to your brand. According to David Phelps of investment community Freedom Founders, this is essential not only for the success of your event but also for the success of your attendees.
“Engagement helps people process and retain the information they learn at your event, which gives them more value,” Phelps explains. “So after a presentation, it’s critical to organize smaller, structured breakout sessions. When attendees talk about the content amongst themselves, it becomes more personal and relevant to them. You have to remember that they’re trying to absorb a tremendous amount of new information, and this helps them do that so they can then implement your advice to achieve their goals.”
It’s especially important to include the virtual attendees in this, otherwise they will feel left out. Ideally, there should be both a video and text component here, and you should have someone from your team acting as a liaison between the in-person and virtual attendees.
Ensure that your tech will support the event
While most businesses today have broadband, the upload speed on most plans is not sufficient to maintain the video stream. Your upload speed should be at least 100 Mbps — this is four to five times faster than what is provided in most base internet plans.
It’s also smart to do a few test runs leading up to your event to make sure that your hardware, software and internet connection all work properly and can support your needs.
Related: Why Virtual Conferences May Be Here to Stay
Virtual events can be your new secret marketing weapon
There’s no denying that putting a virtual event together can be a lot of work, but it’s worth it because when you’re armed with the right tools and knowledge, your event can become a powerful tool.
We are still in the early days of using virtual events as a marketing channel, and that’s exactly why you need to start now. As we’ve seen with literally every other new channel, early adopters will always reap the greatest benefits.