When the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic canceled in-person events, conferences, and trade shows in 2020, it was just the beginning of what could prove to be a seismic shift in how major corporations approach events.
Lingering epidemiological and economic concerns mean that, for the foreseeable future, business leaders will need to rely on virtual events to reach their audiences. This represents a new way of operating for most organizations, but when done right, virtual events can be engaging, authentic, and effective.
It's not enough to "lift and shift" a live event into a virtual experience. The whole experience must be reinvented and reimagined. It's easy to exit a digital event, so stories need to be more compelling and experiences more engaging.
For instance, you can condense breakout sessions into a bingeworthy 20 minutes, creatively use social media for polling and trivia, and enable attendees to chat one-on-one with subject-matter experts.
The key is making sure it isn't a passive experience. Creating deliberate paths to continue the conversation past the day of the event is even more critical in a virtual world.
Planning an on-site event and planning a digital event require completely different skill sets.
As an example, for the recent SAS Global Forum virtual event, the team spent a lot of time finding and developing a platform that not only allowed interactive experiences but also ensured 20,000 people could log on at once. Still, it's good to have a backup plan. Or six.
"Set up contingencies. You need plans B through G," said SAS Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing Jennifer Chase. "In case our site was overwhelmed, we had another plan ready to go at the flip of a switch. I was so thrilled when we didn't have to use it."
"There must be absolute clarity around what success looks like," said Chase. "We set a goal of 20,000 qualified registrations and made sure that everyone understood exactly how their role contributed to achieving that number."
To ensure that all stakeholders were on the same page, the company set up a dashboard powered by SAS Viya with up-to-date metrics on everything from audience profile to registrations and marketing effectiveness.
When the event parameters change, so does the promotion strategy. You may stumble a bit out of the gates, unsure of how to best a new online approach.
Look for success through behavior-based segmentation and look-alike targeting to reach new, relevant audiences with an interest in data, analytics, and transformation.
Also, tap external influencers to promote to your audience. Moreover, activate a global network of employees and partners by providing enablement materials to promote in their regions.
There are certain advantages to going fully online. With everything being digital, you can gain more insight than ever before about attendee behavior.
"The value of a digital event is the depth of data about content consumption," Chase said. "We've been able to inform the sales teams at both an account and contact level. We could see where individuals went, what they viewed, and what they were interested in. We use this info to personalize interactions with customers and prospects."
This information about what attendees found most valuable will also allow SAS to produce other virtual events like SAS Executive Connection: Reimagine on Nov. 10, 2020, focused on how organizations can apply lessons from the global pandemic to prepare for the future.
Virtual events are the future. How will yours make an impact?