Tara works at a small advertising firm. She appreciates that her employer values continuing education and encourages her to attend professional conferences. Unfortunately, the closest events are usually in another city, and she is not always able to take the time away to travel.
Rob has a growing D2C brand. He wants to find a way to engage the 100,000 social followers of his brand, but doesn't have the budget to host an in-person event for thousands of people. Nor could all the fans attend who would want to.
Charlie is an event manager. His company wants to establish itself as a thought leader in its industry, but his team has trouble consistently booking top-shelf speakers because they aren't available for one- or two-day commitments involving travel.
Until recently, situations like these were accepted as facts of life, as they pertain to events. But the emergence of virtual events has removed many of these roadblocks for event managers, businesses, and attendees—making events more accessible to more organizations and individuals than ever before.
In this article, we’ll explore why virtual events are an essential piece of an integrated marketing strategy in 2021 and beyond.
What is a virtual event?
A virtual event is an event that is hosted online and involves presenters and attendees communicating and connecting in a virtual environment, rather than meeting in a physical location.
Recent impact and rise of virtual events
Rather than transforming the event industry, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated trends that were already underway. After the pandemic, virtual events will figure into a new normal, as indicated by these stats:
- 57% of attendees believe that they can conduct the majority of their event objectives online. (Reed Exhibitions)
- 34% of event managers consider increased attendance the most positive result of pivoting to virtual, followed by reduced overhead costs (27%) (EventMB)
- The global virtual events market size was valued at $77.98 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 23.2% from 2020 to 2027. (Grand View Research)
It is important to note that the phenomenal growth in online events is not just due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Workers have been voicing a desire for a positive work-life balance for several years. That development, coupled with the widespread availability of online technology, has led to the recent rise in remote work.
For example, the number of people who work remotely at least once per week has grown by 400% since 2010 (GetApp).
Fast forward to 2021, when more people have enjoyed the flexibility that working remotely provides. According to Buffer, a whopping 99% of people would choose to work remotely, at least part-time, for the rest of their careers.
It’s clear that there is a shift to digital that is happening—both from a business strategy and employee work routine preference.
Given that new context, in order for your business to compete effectively in a digital-first world, you need to prioritize formats that let you connect with and engage your audiences remotely. Virtual events are at very the top of that list.
The benefits of hosting virtual events
We have reviewed the quantitative argument for why your business should consider adding virtual events to its integrated marketing strategy.
Now, let's go further and discuss the specific qualitative benefits that hosting virtual events can offer your brand and audience.
8 benefits of virtual events:
- Cost less to produce than in-person events
- Take less time to plan and promote
- Easier to fit into people’s lives
- Easier for people to attend from all over the world
- Easier to collaborate with partners
- Advance prospects through the buyer’s journey
- Give you a better understanding of who your audience truly is
- Build a library of marketing and sales content
1. Virtual events cost less to produce than in-person events.
Scale is a primary advantage of virtual events.
With a physical event, you're limited by physical resources like venue capacity, assets like chairs and tables, and, of course, event staff. That can add up fast.
For events that are hosted online, you can scale your event up to accommodate thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of attendees—without a proportional increase in cost.
2. Virtual events take less time to plan and promote.
You can deliver events more regularly at a quicker pace when they’re virtual.
On average, you can expect to spend up to four weeks to plan, promote, and host a virtual event. Compare this to an in-person event which can take upwards of eight weeks (not to mention the person-hours it takes to deliver materials and set up an in-person event space).
3. Virtual events are easier to fit into people’s lives.
The rise of remote work makes it easier for people to attend virtual events more often.
People have busy lives (families, work, etc.). However, humans are social creatures and crave interaction, even if it's virtual.
Hosting a virtual event allows people to engage in real time. Whether it is a networking event, training session, product demo, sales pitch, or so on, hosting events like these online can make it easier for people to attend, and, more importantly, attend more often.
Hosting frequent virtual events is a great way to attract prospects to your business, engage them into informed customers, and delight them into becoming promoters of your brand.
4. Virtual events make it easier for people to attend from all over the world.
Geography is not a limiting factor for virtual events.
Unless your business is region-specific, it can be a challenge to engage your audience in a human and helpful way in a one-to-many setting. With virtual events, time zones are the primary limiting factor, which is much easier to solve for than geography. This is especially helpful if your business is global or has aspirations to expand globally in the future.
5. Virtual events make it easier to collaborate with partners.
It’s easier to have someone commit one or two hours of their time to collaborate with you on a virtual event, versus days of their time for an in-person event.
Your program budget goes further with virtual events because you can have more presenters, panelists, and speakers for the same relative budget when you're not spending budget on travel and accommodations.
Including others in your virtual events is a key ingredient to a more meaningful and diverse experience for attendees.
6. Virtual events can help advance people through the buyer’s journey.
A series of like-themed virtual events can help prospects on their path to purchase.
People like to do business with those they like and trust. While ebooks, case studies, and other marketing collateral can be effective resources to inform and educate your audience, actually having the opportunity to learn from someone in real time can lead to forming stronger bonds and building trust. This trust is necessary to turn a prospect into a customer.
Imagine the impact your business could have if it created virtual events that aligned with each stage of your prospect’s buyer’s journey and your marketing plan.
Taking the time to educate prospects and build relationships with them through your marketing efforts makes it easier for the sales team to close them into customers. And a sales team that can close customers at a quicker rate can help scale the growth of your business.
7. Virtual events can give you a better understanding of who your audience truly is.
Creating human-to-human connections through virtual events can lead to deeper insights and better prospecting.
Virtual events can allow you to gather data on the content that resonates with your audience and what doesn't. There’s one caveat to this—not all virtual event platforms are created equal.
It’s important to find a virtual event platform that offers analytics to teach you more about your target audience. Knowing more about your audience can help you optimize future events and inform your overall marketing efforts.
8. Virtual events can help you build a library of marketing and sales content.
Live events can become on-demand resources.
It takes time and effort to host an event, whether virtual or in-person.
If you’re intentional with your efforts and are willing to plan what your business’s virtual events could look like over the course of a year, you have an opportunity to repurpose your event content into a valuable library of on-demand assets. These can then be used to bring in new business and retain that business at a higher rate.
Tara, Rob, and Charlie all faced significant obstacles with in-person events that could be removed or reduced by hosting or attending online events.
Tara could easily attend more events that are valuable for her career. Rob could attract and engage a wider swath of his distributed follower base via a cost-effective online program. And Charlie could level-up the quality of his event content by attracting top-notch speakers—and more of them.
In a remote, rapidly digitizing world, virtual events are a crucial way for businesses to bring their audiences together and drive lasting impact.