My oh my, the nature of work has changed, hasn’t it?
One of the most striking differences for many professionals has been the move from in-person to virtual events. It’s a big shift, especially for those veteran road warriors who’ve grown accustomed to the meeting and conference-hopping lifestyle.
Without a doubt, virtual events hold plenty of advantages:
- They allow attendees from any part of the world to join in on the action.
- They’re much more affordable, possibly allowing something to take place that wouldn’t have been possible at a live price point.
- They’re increasingly easier to pull off, supported by plenty of emerging technologies tailored specifically towards online events.
But like the old song goes, every rose has its thorn.
The power of being in-person still rings true, and the long-held advantages of professional events have always included the ability to network, to put a face to a name, and to enjoy an upscale dinner on the company card.
In other words, all the things that happened outside the keynotes, sessions, and workshops by virtue of sheer geography and togetherness.
This is not to diminish the incredible value of online events, especially when they’re the only option on the table (looking at you, potential Omicron-related restrictions!). Instead, it’s worth mentioning the downsides so you can more accurately project the value of virtual events and determine true ROI before pulling the trigger.
New normal, new conference
According to a study by the Content Marketing Institute, virtual events and webinars were among the types of content marketing that yielded the best results over the past 12 months. In fact, 64% of content marketers employed some sort of online event as part of their broader marketing strategy in that timeframe, and 58% of survey respondents agreed that those efforts were a success.
Now, that doesn’t mean that bringing an event online is a seamless transition when you’re used to holding them in person. There are growing pains involved, especially when many of your attendees will already be suffering from Zoom fatigue. And as mentioned earlier, many of the advantages of business events are due to the virtue of being around colleagues and mentors — or having a chance encounter with a potential client at the hotel bar.
But there are clear advantages, too.
For one, your event will be able to reach a larger audience by being so accessible. No planes, no hotels, no time away from family.
And as an organizer, though you’ll still have a ton of prep work to do, you can almost guarantee it’ll be more straightforward than working with a physical venue plus dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of third-party vendors.
Will the ROI of virtual events make sense?
This has to be the most challenging question to address when deciding whether to bring an event online. How does one measure the effect that virtual events have on the company’s overall marketing strategy?
Socio, an events platform recently purchased by WebEx, puts it best in this article:
Virtual event ROI is challenging to measure. And broad goals like “build brand awareness” and “become a thought leader” don’t make it any easier. Fluffy metrics and educated guesses can’t prove ROI or justify success to leadership.
It’s a good point. Who’s going to sign off on any marketing effort that has an unclear plan?
Therefore, it’s crucial to establish goals from Day 1, and assign several measurable KPIs to each goal. For example, write down “Generate Qualified Leads,” as a goal, followed by “Obtain 150 Demo Signups,” as one of your KPIs. You can even include a broader goal, like “Build Brand Awareness,” as long as the KPIs attached to that goal are trackable and demonstrate specific outcomes. For example, “Track 500 Website Visits Originating From The Event Page.”
Also, when thinking of the short term ROI of the event itself, it’s important to manage expectations and remember how your virtual event will differ from it’s in-person counterpart. After all, for some companies, the attendance and sponsorship fees of a live conference have proven to be a huge moneymaker in itself, even when ignoring the long-tail profits realized by introducing and demoing a new solution to attendees or having the chance to sell in-person to a new set of potential clients
While there are plenty of ways to monetize and profit from a virtual conference, there seems to be a growing trend in making once-pricey in-person events free to attend online. In this case, the organizers are projecting long-term value as opposed to quickly realized ROI.
In either case, just make sure to approach the event, whether online or in-person, with a similarly robust set of goals and KPIs, and ask yourself if the investment amount makes sense for what you’re looking to accomplish.
If the numbers work and you’re able to gain buy-in, it looks like you have some work to do. We’ll see you post-show when you emerge from the mission control room!