Event producers, attendees, sponsors and exhibitors were thrown into the deep end of the virtual event pool in 2020. Reduced access to one-on-one interaction with and between attendees resulted in meeting booking virtual to complete virtual events and provide valuable face-to-face time.
Now, as millions of Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19 and business travel becomes increasingly safe and viable, many marketers are predicting that in-person events for business and industry could return to normal by 2022.
While this certainly bodes well for large trade shows and corporate events, many trade shows and user conferences for the remainder of 2021 are billed as hybrid events: a mix of virtual and in-person elements. This means that you will have to adapt your event strategy.
Hybrid events: things to consider
A characteristic of hybrid events is that the virtual (or digital) participants far outnumber those on site. from February MWC Shanghai registered 25,000 participants on site and nearly 125,000 virtual participants.
In hybrid events, meeting and networking is a major focus for attendees whose activities depend on critical relationship formation and learning. Whether participating in person or remotely, attendees want to see the latest technologies and products and learn how to apply them in their business.
Likewise, exhibitors want to get in touch with participants (customers or prospects) and help them make their decisions.
For event marketers managing their brand’s presence at a hybrid event, the question is how to design a presence that optimally engages with in-person and remote attendees to establish a constructive dialogue with these prospects and customers and generate business opportunities.
The first step is to define the objectives of the event. Will the goal be to launch a product or introduce a new partnership? Looking to share innovations in an existing technology or take orders for a new service? Responses from your sales, product, management and other teams will shape your communications strategy.
Next, set the time period you want to connect and interact with prospects and customers. For example, the in-person component of a hybrid event might take place over four days, but there is scope to extend your interactions with prospects and customers far beyond.
Think globally too. Remote attendees will participate from many time zones, and your organization will meet more of these people if you allow them to schedule a time that works best for them, before, during, and after the event.
Your event strategy: maximize engagement and make your brand’s voice heard
Many of us are trying to figure out how events can be factored into our marketing strategy this year and next: what’s the best approach to events now? How have audiences changed during the pandemic? How to stimulate engagement? Let’s try to understand everything. Check out this free 3-session event now.
Five Audience Engagement Strategies to Maximize Return on Investment from Hybrid Events
In the weeks leading up to your hybrid event, the following five audience engagement strategies will maximize your ROI by increasing the number of your valuable customer and prospect engagements.
To increase your potential, consider using a robust meeting automation platform that will simplify the process of planning, managing, and reporting on the lead and customer engagements you want to book.
1. Configure your inbound meeting mechanism
Ideally, you should channel all of your event attendees to a central web location where they choose where and when to meet. Maybe they want to meet at the booth for a demo, or meet their sales rep, or book a meeting with your industry or product expert. By creating an “inbound meeting request page” that automatically suggests available time slots, you’ll make it easy for prospects to book that meeting while the idea is in the foreground.
Your system should include a review and approval process, and it should automate calendar invitations and video conferencing information for meeting participants.
2. Create momentum by preprogramming
You will want to maximize the number of meetings associated with the event; so, 6-8 weeks later, incorporate links and buttons into all of your digital marketing programs. The links should allow your prospects and customers to book specific activities, such as Register for a session, register for a demo, book a meeting, meet the expert, etc.
During this time, your sales team should schedule meetings with customers and prospects based on opportunity data, previous discussions, and other metrics.
3. Focus on scheduling demo meetings
At any major industry hybrid event, in-person attendees can easily walk to a booth and schedule a demo. But you can also schedule demos in the land of virtual events.
To book more demos with qualified leads, set a variety of demo types optimized for specific lead categories. You can then map these demos to different topics, products or services, and presenters for in-person and virtual attendees.
Promote the demos in your outbound activities so attendees can book on their own while you capture the details to prequalify them and ensure the right team members attend.
4. Integrate tracks and sessions into the meeting mix
For most B2B brands, events are an opportunity to educate prospects and customers. Tracks and sessions are a part of most hybrid events, and they can easily be extended for your remote attendees. Incorporate them into your pre-event promotions and invite your sales team to nominate their best prospects and customers.
Again, consider how you might expand the availability of leads and sessions in the months following the event.
5. Provide ‘meet the expert’ and ‘meet the executive’ opportunities
Some prospects and customers may want to get the information they need from someone other than a salesperson. This is where a “Meet the Expert” or exclusive “Meet the Executive” program for VIP clients plays a vital role in making your in-house industry, product or service experts available for planning.
The schedule can be added to your inbound meeting request page, and from there it can be automated. I’ve seen a client schedule hundreds of MTE meetings around a week-long client event, all virtual, all fully automated.
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In many ways, hybrid events offer the best of both worlds. Whether it’s an in-person on-site meeting or a virtual meeting in the weeks to come, you have hundreds of ways to engage your prospects and customers and thus educate, increase consideration. and develop your sales pipeline and income potential.
The trick is to provide as many avenues and opportunities as possible for prospects and customers to book themselves and define their own buyer’s journey. If you can also automate the meeting setup and tracking process, you’ll maximize the ROI of not only your hybrid events, but virtual and in-person events as well.