Post-Pandemic Events Must Focus on Audience Needs

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While many B2B organizations are starting to offer live, in-person events, such as large user conference, seminars, and industry trade shows, Forrester Research expects the virtual element of such events to remain for quite a while and for physical attendance at such events to fall far short of pre-pandemic levels.

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, it led to the quick cancellation of virtually all live B2B events for the rest of that year and for most of 2021. Many of these events moved to much smaller, virtual formats that never required the event-goer to travel anywhere.

Some larger industry events started retuning in the second half of 2021, and even to this day, many combine both in-person and virtual options. Many other B2B events are still virtual, and the organizations that stage them have no solid plans for in-person gatherings in 2023.

With the move to hybrid or virtual events becoming permanent, marketing leaders have to continue to revise their B2B event strategies, according to Forrester. Reduced in-person attendance will mean fewer face-to-face meetings, but the digitization of events has offered new opportunities for marketers, including greater flexibility to craft unique, differentiated, and more personalized experiences, the research firm points out.

In determining whether to offer in-person, hybrid, or virtual events, companies should first conduct an audience analysis, according to Forrester principal analyst Conrad Mills. “Do you know what kind of an event your target attendees would prefer to attend? And what their expectations are from both an in-person and a virtual experience perspective? If you haven’t already done so, survey them regularly to understand their predilections. Can you identify any clear preferences among target personas? If so, you can use these to inform event experience design. You will also need to build in some flexibility, as attendees may change their minds as the event date nears.”

So what’s changed on the event circuit this year? Here are some of Forrester’s expectations:

  • Virtual is now a permanent element of the event mix. The percentage of buyers finding virtual events impactful at the discover stage of their buyer’s journey grew from 23 percent in 2019 to 27 percent in 2021. Mills says that to be successful, marketers need to distinguish hybrid or virtual events from webinar or Zoom meeting formats lest audience engagement suffers.
  • Even organizations delivering successful virtual events recognize that networking in such an environment presents unique challenges, according to Forrester.While virtual event technology vendors are still exploring how AI and other technologies can help, more advancements are needed to make the audience networking experience valuable.
  • Marketers need to ensure that they integrate event technology with their wider marketing ecosystems.Additionally, digital interactions will need to be incorporated into all B2B events. This will enable marketers to gain access to larger and hard-to-reach audiences, gather attendee data, and better exploit technology to capture in-person insights.
  • In-person events are returning, but they will be very different.Marketing leaders will deliver fewer but more worthwhile events with inclusivity and sustainability focus areas. Fifty-eight percent of marketers agree that their flagship events will still be hybrid in two years; however, marketers must balance the additional cost and complexity of hybrid events with the potential return.
  • B2B events require a new focus. Marketers will need to take an audience-centric approach to event planning going forward.

“Delivering effective hybrid events requires a wide range of skills and capabilities, from traditional in-person event management through to digital experience design and video production/streaming,” according to Mills. “Leaders should audit their current events team capabilities to determine if they have the necessary skills in-house or whether they’re going to have to look outside,” he says.

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