Before 2020, we were so accustomed to business as usual within the events’ industry that the most celebrated, widely-adopted change in decades turned out to be e-ticketing. We were perfectly happy attending events halfway around the world – or missing them if we couldn’t.
Then, you know what happened, catalysing an enormous shakeup of everything we took for granted. But, necessity is the mother of invention. The events industry is changing – for the better. Here’s how.
Virtual events stepping out of the shadow of physical events.
In the past couple of years, we’ve all become virtual event organisers – like it or not. Since we were forced to replace physical with virtual, many concluded they were inherently a knock-off substitute for physical, to be scrapped at the first opportunity. This couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a poor framing to think of virtual events only as a rival to physical, or that either is ‘better’.
Imagine an analyst, decades ago, studying the impact of new tech – ‘television’ – on the sport of football. It would be tempting to ask: “Will fans watch in person or on TV?” or “Will TV be needed after World War II?”
We now know they are different experiences, for different occasions. Televised sporting events have brought revenue and attention beyond the wildest dreams of a hundred years ago, elevating players and clubs to global stardom. Matchday earnings are just 3% of Premier League revenue – most clubs would be profitable with empty stadiums.
Is attending a sporting match, or watching it on TV, better? This is a question with no answer. Both are valuable and mutually beneficial. Football leverages both, rather than picking sides.
From my work at Tevent, I see virtual events used for use cases we had never dreamed of, to forge connections previously too impractical. Virtual events are headed in their own direction – not as a substitute, but as a valuable tool with uses we’re yet to discover and rewards we’re yet to imagine.
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Physical events doubling down on the ‘physical’
A rise in accessible VE hasn’t spelt the doom of physical events post-pandemic. In fact, the global meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) industry is set to exceed $1619B by 2028, and in Europe alone, the exhibitions and events market will realise an absolute growth of more than 19% in terms of revenue by 2027.
The in-person experience of a physical event — atmosphere, music, food, more natural networking, or just ‘being there’ in a shared moment – is far from replicable. But it isn’t always necessary*.* With a fast and easy alternative, in-person events must provide a physical experience that justifies the cost, convenience, environmental impact, and inherent exclusion.
Some events – the arts, summits, incentives – have an irreplaceable physicality. Others will need to focus on providing an experience that justifies physical attendance.
Virtual events stepping on social media’s toes.
While we’re more connected than ever, traditional social media has made us feel more distant. It’s a body of information as wide as the ocean, but as shallow as a puddle. Exchanges back-and-forth in the moment are replaced by an infinite, asynchronous wall of noise. Connections are frequent, but abstracted away – a touched-up profile picture replacing a face, a ‘like’ replacing a genuine smile.
Many of the organisers we facilitate events for, have shared a common desire – to rise out of the fray, and to meet and connect with clients or group members in real-time.
Having global reach at your fingertips was once the exclusive domain of social media. But unrestrained by previous barriers, we’re finding more organisers are using virtual events to supercharge their marketing or outreach efforts, aiming for quality over quantity.
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Events will be the next thing democratised by the internet.
Larger companies and organisations were quick to pour time and resources into moving large conferences, talks, and trade shows, online — often with custom-built solutions. Now that people are becoming accustomed to these tools, we see increasing numbers of small businesses and even individuals hosting events.
Zoom’s webinar service has exploded in popularity, rising 1400% between Q2 2020 and Q3 2021. And their latest report showed their customer growth year-on-year for SMEs was 5x higher than for larger businesses i.e. those representing over $100K TTM revenue.
We’ve seen events run by individual influencers, startups, and professional communities from Georgia to Nigeria – all able to reach globally. Events won’t just be the domain of big dogs putting on a big show, but for more intimate occasions, or smaller organisers.
But there’s a big catch.
Why did we look at Zoom above, instead of purpose-built events platforms? Our research and client experiences have unearthed a little-discussed trend: many virtual events aren’t held on virtual events platforms.
VE platforms still often present major barriers to entry. Costs skyrocket rapidly as events cross the hundred-user mark. Additional seats can cost hundreds of dollars per month. Necessary features are locked behind steep-stepped pricing tiers. Event setup can be time-consuming and intimidating, with inscrutable tech jargon and opaque pricing pages that tell you to ‘Contact Sales’.
We’ve heard, time and again, from organisers forced to use what they know and can afford. And so, events are crammed en masse into the ill-fitting formats of webinars, or videoconferencing, like a bear in a child-sized tuxedo. ****These struggle to recreate the event format, leading to a glut of fatiguing and awkward virtual arenas. A call or webinar feels like a straitjacket for an event organiser wishing to facilitate networking and interactivity – the actual point of an event. Otherwise, why not just watch a video?
For the VE market to capitalise on its enormous potential, organisers will need the tools to create sociable, engaging virtual event experiences without being forced to squeeze them into a webinar or call, and without breaking the bank or their backs.
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