A new-normal demands innovation, and also requires that we quickly adapt to the same. The Darwinian theory of evolution favors not the fastest or the fittest but the one who adapts to changes. And thus, events will survive the new-normal if they quickly adapt themselves to our new reality.
After 6 months of COVID, I think the question is no longer whether digital marketing can replace physical events. But rather how well is digital marketing replacing physical events and what are the opportunities and challenges for digital event organizers.
Over the past few months I have personally had the opportunity to attend digital events as well as host some digital events. Let me share my experiences and then my learnings from the same
- Previously attending an “online musical concert” was unheard of. A musical concert meant sitting in an auditorium and having the band perform “live” in front of you. Now, over the past 6 months, I have attended online Bollywood musical concerts almost every month. You can webcast the concert on a large screen, attach some great speakers for sound quality, and you can engage with the fellow audience via the comments section, and get a very close-to-real-event experience. Except for stepping out of the auditorium for samosas and chai, the experience provided by these online musical concerts is fairly close to live in-auditorium experience. And while initially some of these concerts used to have a price-per-login, I think gradually they moved to a sponsorship model, where a brand sponsors the entire event and the audience can join for free. This model seems to work for all the stakeholders: sponsors get brand value, the artists get paid, the audience gets entertained.
- Very recently, a leading global tech brand held in their annual India event online. It was a 5-hour long event with about 70+ parallel sessions happening during this period. Some of the sessions were live with panelists followed by live Q/A. And some of the sessions were recorded. Like in a physical event, one had the option to pre-select sessions that one wanted to attend, and then navigate the virtual meeting rooms as and when a selected session went live. There were also sponsored virtual rooms, where event sponsors could conduct their presentation and reach out to prospective customers, and also create a real time lead gen form to capture leads
- We are already seeing IPL, now playing with empty stadiums but still drawing ample TV and digital traffic with canned audience cheer to create an exciting experience for the viewer.
What have been my learnings from these virtual events?
- Content needs to be very crisp and engaging. Unlike a physical event where you are forcibly glued to the venue and nowhere else to go to, even if content is not interesting, in a virtual session, bad content will make you jump screens and go back to answering emails. This obviously puts pressure on the presenter for great content…but that is how the world should be…there is no room for second-best content.
- Poor bandwidth and choice of poor platform for hosting the event, can reduce the quality of experience for the viewer. Thus, is it important for the event organizer to ensure adequate bandwidth at the end of the presenter and a selection of a good and stable software platform for the event
- One challenge in the business meets is lack of networking opportunity. Lots of business happens when you share a table with someone at a meal between the breaks. If there is a way to replicate this experience in the virtual event (at the same time ensuring that people don’t use this to just spam all other participants), that good be of great help
- Getting people to attend an online event is actually easier than getting them into a physical room. Lots of last-minute cancellations for events happens because of traffic conditions and difficulty in travelling. Now, that you can join from the comfort of your bedroom in your home casuals, one big reason for not showing up gets out of the way.
So, what will be the future of physical events? While physical events may not go away completely, and humans being social animals would like to be out there and physically engage with people, I think this crises has shown us another way of using digital marketing to reach out the audiences in the form of online events and webinars.