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Lessons from a Year of Virtual Events

The B2B advertising scene experienced its fair share of challenges and adaptations as in-person events—the industry’s most popular marketing channel—were cancelled and reimagined.

In response, 2020 was marked by a quick shift to virtual events. What have we learned from a year full of virtual events? And are they here to stay? 

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4 Lessons Learned After Months of Virtual Events

While those in different industries have found different benefits and roads to success in virtual events, some lessons have been true across the board. Consider the following:

Lesson #1: Virtual Events Allowed Companies to Stay Connected with Buyers

By nature, virtual events have the potential to draw larger crowds. Attendees don’t have to spend extravagant resources to travel and attend the event, and there is essentially no cap to the audience thanks to virtual event platforms.

Virtual events make inviting international visitors much more accessible. Instead of needing to cross borders and spend time and resources on attending a three-day event, international audiences can engage with other companies from the comforts of their home office.

“Our virtual platform allows our international exhibitors to remain relevant in the marketplace through significant matchmaking and product displays, while this same virtual option expands our buyer market past local borders to visitors traditionally unable to attend the three-day event,” explained Jennifer Bacon, Show Director, Texworld and Apparel Sourcing New York City. 

Though virtual events don’t replace in-person connection completley, they provide a sufficient space for meaningful interactions and education.

Lesson #2: Not Every Industry Is Cut Out for Virtual Events

Some industries are better suited for virtual events than others—especially when it comes to trade shows.

There are some products, like textiles and apparel, that can only be experienced with all the senses. It’s difficult to communicate such details as texture, stitching, and durability through video and audio alone. Food or Baking Tradeshows, like Cake International, simply aren’t the same when done online. 

“You can’t ‘Amazon’ the events business,” said Marcus Diebel of JPMorgan Chase to The Economist. This doesn’t mean that future shows won’t have digital elements—but many leaders expect that events and trade shows will largely return to a normal feel within the next few years.

Lesson #3: All Events Require Appropriate Planning

Many of those responsible for planning events in a brand new format were struck by the amount of planning that goes into virtual events.

“The lesson we learned is that each event, no matter if onsite or digital, needs time to be prepared,” explains Marco Weichert of Performance Days.

It sounds like common sense, but it can be surprising to think through all of the details of an event, whether in person or virtual. The organizations that were simply speeding up a pre-existing process had an easier time transitioning to virtual events than did those companies who were starting from scratch.

Lesson #4: Virtual Events Improve Metric Tracking

One of the great downfalls of events is that it’s difficult to accurately measure their impact. The programs and processes involved in virtual events help solve this enduring problem and provide solid and specific data before, during, and after an event.

Metrics aren’t everything, but especially in a time with strained budgets, having the numbers to back up ideas and plans is valuable. 

Looking Ahead

While 80% of B2B marketers expect to see a return to in-person events in 2021, virtual events aren’t going anywhere. 

Across the board, the B2B industry has seen success and shortcomings of virtual event formats, and many agree that hybrid events offer the value of an in-person experience along with the metrics and availability of a virtual event: a win for hosts and attendees alike.

Virtual event-hosting platforms such as Hopin are banking on the same thing. Hopin founder and CEO Johnny Boufarhat says that the company is, “investing quite heavily into hybrid events to make it a new experience for people.”

The heart of the lessons COVID-19 has taught the B2B marketing industry is simple: marketers must, and can, adapt to changing conditions and find new ways of doing things. And they can maintain or even increase success by staying prepared, responsive, and flexible.

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