We usually notice cultural shifts or society-level behavior change with the benefit of hindsight. We look back at significant moments in history and notice shifts that seem to have been obvious or inevitable in retrospect. Take the advent of smartphones and social media in the 2000s and the way they have come to dominate our lives, for example.
With the dust settling on the worst of the pandemic, at least in the West, the suddenness and scale of its impact means it is possible to see some of these seismic cultural shifts happening before our eyes. Certainly, the rise of the remote working is here to stay, as are the new habits and priorities we have formed. Just as many have come to question the daily commute and the primacy of offices, so have people reconsidered how they spend their time and where they invest their energy. Business travel falls into this category.
Initially brought to a halt by lockdowns, many are questioning the value of travelling to business events that may span several days at hefty financial and environmental cost. For businesses and marketers that rely on understanding closely the needs and preferences of their audiences and key stakeholders, it is now vital they stay ahead of the curve and tap into this shift to deliver worthwhile content and meaningful engagement. Invariably this means recognizing that stakeholders will be attracted by flexibility and the freedom to choose – an area where virtual and hybrid events can play an important role.
After a year of attending virtual and hybrid events and experiencing their benefits, in-person events will have to do more to justify the attendance of their delegates. That is because hybrid and virtual events have flexibility at their heart. They offer more options to attendees, giving them more control over their own schedules and allowing them to easily choose the content with which they engage, at a time and a place that suits. This optimizes the event experience, maximizing the value of attendees’ time, and leads to impactful, meaningful and sustained engagement.
Helping events go green
Hybrid and virtual events also help lower the environmental impact of the events industry as it aims to go carbon neutral. Before the pandemic, the UK events industry emitted 1.2 million tonnes of CO2e from diesel generators per year and used an estimated 100 million gallons of diesel annually, so transitioning towards hybrid events and engagement strategies will help in efforts to fight the climate crisis at a time when society has never been more focused on building a sustainable future. In fact, in a recent survey, two thirds of global respondents agreed that climate change should be prioritized in the economic recovery after coronavirus.
As well as reducing the impact of events on the planet, hybrid and virtual events also allow a much larger audience to engage with a business. This audience is not only bigger, but more diverse and inclusive as delegates can participate in virtual events without worrying about travel costs or logistical challenges. Better access and flexibility around how they can engage with content appeals to those who may have new priorities or values around what constitutes the most productive use of their time.
Data will be key
With larger, more diverse, more engaged audiences, it is vital for business to make sure they understand each person’s needs, their behaviors, feedback, and so on. Central to this will be the intelligent use of data in events, whether in-person, virtual or hybrid in nature. No matter what form attendance takes, it is vital that businesses track audience behaviors to understand the various factors that led to the event being successful, as well as those which led to an event underperforming.
This behavior tracking and use of data is not just useful after the event, it is just as important to gather this information before and during the event to capture the full event lifecycle, however long that is. Real time data can be tracked from the start to inform the event agenda, and this can then be monitored afterwards to measure the legacy and impact of an event and the actions delegates take in response to their experience. As we move into a world of hybrid events it is important to ensure we don’t go backwards and create data ‘blackholes’, but rather build a data-driven approach, ensuring technology can provide these invaluable behavioral insights for measurable, actionable insights.
As the pandemic gradually eases, we are already seeing a mindset shift among audiences. Businesses should therefore take this into account when they plan their events and look to more hybrid models which can satisfy desires for flexibility, more personalized engagement and minimizing damage to the environment in one swoop.