Hosting events, whether in-person or virtual, is a key strategy for getting your company’s service or product offerings in front of your target audience. While businesses had to quickly adjust traditional event strategy to the virtual environment, many are eager to get back to the way business used to be done: in-person. Though nothing can truly replace the value of in-person meetings, many businesses continue to see the value of attending events virtually (did someone say travel expense savings?). The truth is, we may never go back to fully in-person events. Fortunately, businesses don’t have to choose between in-person or virtual. Now, with technology, companies can host hybrid events that allow guests to choose whether they’d like to attend virtually or in-person. So, the question you should be asking yourself is: how do I get the most mileage out of hybrid events?
Here are a few considerations to keep in mind as your map out your event strategy:
Adjust Your Goals
When mapping out your strategy, be sure to set realistic goals. Set the bar for what success looks like for the in-person and virtual portions individually – then, measure against them. Not sure what your audience’s appetite is for in-person versus virtual events? Conduct a quick poll and align your goals from those results.
Don’t forget to also adjust your budget goals. While your company may be saving on event space rental, travel or food costs, be sure to estimate other costs associated with hosting a truly memorable hybrid event (i.e. virtual platforms, smaller event space, shipping costs, giveaways, gift cards, etc.).
If your company charges registration fees for events, you can still experience improved ROI by charging virtual attendees at a reduced rate. And, you can repurpose any recorded materials to later incorporate into your outbound marketing messages, thus extending the life of your investment and saving some of those marketing costs down the line.
Trying to tap into a new geographical market? Offering both virtual and in-person options eliminate location barriers, helping you to reach a broader audience without ever needing to leave your home office.
Communicate. Then communicate some more.
If you are exploring a hybrid event, be upfront with your audience, impart transparency into their options and manage expectations from the word “go.” Be sure to highlight the benefits of each option, in addition to the safety protocols being taken for in-person activities. Consider creating a FAQ document or decision tree to help attendees make more informed decisions or to help make a business case to their leadership teams.
On your event registration page, make sure the registration options are clear and easy to understand. Collect all necessary attendee information such as shipping addresses, if you plan to send any pre-conference materials, or food preferences for in-person. Always clearly communicate any pertinent deadlines associated with ensuring a top-notch hybrid event experience.
You may not be a yoga instructor (bonus points if you are!), but you can be flexible in your hybrid event approach. Attendees may consider changing their minds on their initial selection based on newly acquired information or a change in personal situations. Be flexible, communicate this with attendees, then make the transition as seamless as possible. This flexibility may decrease no-show or drop-off rates for your event, making your event an all-around win-win!
Equal End-User Experience
At the end of the day, your goal is to showcase your products or services in the best possible light and leave audiences with a lasting impression of your brand. While the experience of in-person versus virtual will inevitably be unique, try to eliminate potential differences, or create equal benefits for both offerings.
Consider the following:
- Meeting/demo platforms: Ensure that your audience is aware of and actively using meeting scheduling or demo platforms, and make the process for engagement clear so all attendees can actively participate. Make sure there are opportunities and dedicated space for the in-person attendees to have meaningful interactions with virtual attendees. Consider providing (sanitized) loaner laptops in case in-person attendees forget to bring their own and create dedicated meeting spaces, equipped with the necessary technology for engagement. Encourage camera usage on both ends to create the best virtual experience. A small incentive such as a gift card or scavenger hunt can be a fun way to engage everyone!
- Mailers: Does your in-person event provide breakfast or lunches for attendees? Offer a gift card or send lunch to your virtual attendees so they don’t feel left out. Going the extra mile will only make your brand more memorable. Similarly, if you have product samples or important literature for in-person attendees, be sure to mail those out to virtual attendees in advance or as a follow-up.
- Follow-up: Track who your attendees were in-person and virtual respectively, and tailor your follow-up efforts accordingly. A major benefit of virtual attendance is that collecting meaningful data is much easier. Use this information to inform your follow-up strategy beyond just the event follow-up. Be sure to collect feedback for both the in-person and virtual experiences. The secret sauce: listen to their feedback and make necessary adjustments for future events. Continue to poll your audience on level of comfort for events to inform your event strategy moving forward.
In a Nutshell
As the world continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and adapt to a ‘new normal, there are various comfort levels for attending in-person events and no “one-size-fits-all” solution. While businesses may be hesitant to pursue a hybrid approach, many of the benefits – including the opportunity for increased attendees and return on investment – outweigh the costs. Don’t miss the opportunity to engage with your target audience; take some time to sit down and evaluate your strategy and goals to map out your path forward.
As event coordinators by nature, we at the Agency at Sikich continue to pivot quickly to evaluate the ever-evolving marketing trends. Contact us if you want to chat through your event strategy today!