Virtual events have been growing in popularity for some time, pandemic aside, because they offer better experiences for the audience and better outcomes for hosts. But if they’re going to become the default, they need to be more than just an impressive novelty and be a high-powered sales tool that objectively improves on their in-person counterparts. Companies can reap the maximum ROI from virtual events using a few strategies.
Virtual events are not Plan Bs any longer. In many ways, they’re superior to in-person events. And they have been for some time now.
When you’re addressing an audience in person, it takes a whole staff of people to ensure that things go seamlessly and everyone leaves happy. It’s also harder to turn an in-person event into the sales and marketing opportunity that the organizers intended. Once again, it takes a team to capture contact information, evaluate leads, solicit feedback, and shift attendees into the sales funnel. Even with a great group of people on the ground, opportunities are sure to be missed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made most events virtual, but that trend was accelerating before 2020. Event organizers understand all too well that hosting in-person conferences and trade shows requires ample resources but delivers an unclear or underwhelming return on investment. Virtual events are quicker to organize and cheaper to host. Thanks to today’s technology, they’re also effective sales tools with limitless potential.
Compare a traditional auto show to its virtual equivalent. Normally, when someone sees a car they like, they have to stare at it from a distance. But when you move the auto show from the convention floor into a virtual space, you allow attendees to take control. They can examine every detail of the car up close, customize features on the fly, download a complete spec sheet, and get pictures to share on social media. They can also connect with a salesperson at the touch of a button.
Virtual events offer both a better experience for attendees and a better outcome for hosts. Therefore, they’re likely to remain common even after the pandemic ends. The idea of traveling to a trade show and packing into a convention center will look both inconvenient and risky in the wake of COVID-19. It will also feel unnecessary now that so many people (attendees and hosts) have tried immersive virtual events in recent months.
Maximizing the ROI of Virtual Events
Virtual events offer a compelling alternative to hosting something in person. If they’re going to become the norm, however, they need to be more than just an impressive novelty: Virtual events need to be a high-powered sales tool that objectively improves on what came before. Make sure you’re reaping the maximum ROI from virtual events with these strategies:
Serve a Global Audience. Virtual events can (and do) attract a global audience, allowing brands to connect with customers that never would have made it to an in-person event. However, it’s important not to assume that virtual events, by nature of being online, are automatically accessible to all.
Organizers may need to adjust their content or service offers to accommodate guests who speak different languages. They also need to get over the idea that any event is rooted in a particular physical location. Even Burning Man managed to recreate its exotic desert setting in a virtual space, and in the process, it attracted like-minded individuals from around the world. By welcoming as many people as possible into virtual events and collecting data on that traffic, organizers gain invaluable insights into who their target audience is and where they live.
Know What a Lead Looks Like. A qualified lead looks different in a virtual setting than it does in-person. Typically, a lead gets designated as qualified after having a conversation with someone from the sales team. These opportunities might not exist at a virtual event, though, and some attendees may want to avoid having direct conversations when they would rather explore at their leisure.
Let them. The real value of virtual events is that organizers can learn things about the participants without having to engage them directly. For example, it’s a lot easier to get people to enter their contact details into an online form than it is to extract this same info through a face-to-face conversation. Tracking activity inside of virtual events, such as how long someone attends or how many things they click on, can do a better job of identifying qualified leads. Related to that, virtual events should make it easy and intuitive at every point for attendees to connect with company reps and identify themselves as qualified leads.
Provide Extensive Product Information. Unlike the booths at trade shows, virtual events give brands limitless space to show off their wares — and compelling reasons to showcase as much as possible.
Volkswagen, for instance, virtualized its entire 2021 lineup and created a virtual event booth similar to its real booth at the Geneva Motor Show. Visitors could change the paint color or rims on any of the cars, among other customization options, which helped them get personally invested in the models they liked. Customization options also showed Volkswagen what colors and features people were attracted to. In that way, virtual events can become impressive feedback loops between brands and customers.
In-person events won’t disappear, but they will probably never be as common or as large-scale as they were in the past. That’s a big change, but it’s not a loss thanks, to what virtual events can do.
Written by Barry Allen.