How To Do an Event When You Can’t Do an Event

Higher Order

Bob Bailey Bob BaileySep 10, 2020

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When you go poking around the events marketing industry these days, the first thing you notice is the silence. The batteries in all the speakers’ mics died months ago. The gentle slap of shaking hands is now quieter than two mimes elbow-bumping. A single door creaks open and shuts as events budgets leave the building. And to answer the next logical question: No, if a nametag falls from a lanyard and no one’s around to hear it, it does not make a sound.

Thanks to COVID-19 (maybe you’ve heard of it?), the event marketing industry has been … well, uneventful. SXSW, Mobile World Congress, Facebook F8 and Google I/O have all been canceled, along with tens of thousands of other summits, receptions, retreats and sales meetings.

But when you really listen, like close-your-eyes-and-hold-your-breath-level listening, you can hear something: The demand for events is still here. Clients still need personal attention. New leads are still waiting to be found. And now more than ever, internal teams need the chance to come together and really feel like teams.

60% of business leaders still think that events are their most critical marketing channel. They just can’t hold them as they used to.

So, what do we do? We could just wait it out. Sure, a vaccine could be ready any minute now. Or, we could recognize this moment for what it is: A chance to reinvent your events and put yourself ahead for years to come.

Fortune Favors the Creative

Event marketing can’t give your leads, customers and employees exactly the same kind of personal connection that it did in 2019. But today, 69% of work-from-home employees report burnout. These leads, customers and employees are hungry for any sort of change to their routine and opportunity to connect with others.

60% of business leaders still think that events are their most critical marketing channel. They just can’t hold them as they used to.

If you can create a safe event that can give them that change of pace and connection, they’ll embrace it and respond with more engagement than they did when events were more common. For most marketers, that level of attendee engagement is the key KPI.

What does a contactless event look like? That’s the tricky part. Every event marketer starts with the same tools — content, video conferencing, livestreaming platforms, chatting apps and CRM systems — and rises above them in their own way.

Adobe’s 2020 summit stepped away from the Zoom and offered attendees slickly produced, on-demand digital content. With ComiCon cancelled, DC Comics built The FanDome, a virtual, immersive sci-fi style arena where fans could cosplay and celebrity hosts could share DC news live. Like Superman, the mild-mannered stand-in tuned out to be a powerhouse, pulling in 22 million viewers in 24 hours and setting DC on a hunt for ways to monetize the next iteration.

When trying to learn how to transcend the limits and create something unique for your event, it can help to think of it less as a single event and more as a sequence of unique, interconnected experiences.

For example, say you wanted to demo new software for a small group of prospective customers. You could begin a few days beforehand by sending these prospects a package of swag that hypes the event and teases a surprise to come. When attendees log on for the demo, they could experience a series of short, educational walkthroughs on the software. Then the livestream resolves into a virtual, ’70s-style classic game show hosted by a celebrity (like John O’Hurley from Seinfeld or Chris Harrison from The Bachelor) or an influencer you’ve booked through Cameo, Upfluence or Talent Resources. The attendees become contestants. The questions on the game show reinforce the key benefits of the software, and the most engaged prospect wins a prize. The game show could even be followed by a virtual meet-and-greet happy hour where attendees can drink and chat directly with the celeb while reps can talk more about the software.

We could recognize this moment for what it is: A chance to reinvent your events and put yourself ahead for years to come.

That’s just one example (albeit one your clients would probably be talking and posting about for a long time). The point is to realize that if the pandemic has taken marketers off the events stage, it’s given us much bigger stages: the internet, as well as our customers’ homes and their headspaces. These stages can be more inclusive and less expensive, and give us loads of juicy data. All we marketers have to do now is learn how to dance.

Returning to Something New

Eventually life will sound a lot more like it did before. Birds will sing, bands will play and live-event attendees will give a big hand to their next speaker.

But things won’t be exactly the same as they were before. 2020 has pushed along changes that were already in the works. 68% of marketers are reporting that hybrid events that integrate both virtual and real-world elements will play a bigger role in their 2021 plans.

The most dynamic thinkers in events marketing are reinventing their approaches today. You can join them. Just close the door on the past, open your mind and … do you hear that? Off in the distance? It kind of sounds like a cash register, doesn’t it?

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