Event producers, attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors were thrown into the deep end of the virtual-event pool in 2020. The reduced access to one-on-one interaction with and among attendees resulted in the booking of virtual meetings to complement virtual events and provide valuable face-time.
Now, as millions of Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19 and business travel becomes increasingly safe and viable, many marketers are predicting that in-person corporate and industry events could return to normal by 2022.
Though that certainly portends well for large tradeshows and corporate events, many industry tradeshows and user conferences for the remainder of 2021 are being billed as hybrid events: a blend of virtual and in-person elements. That means you'll need to adapt your event strategy.
Hybrid Events: What to Consider
One characteristic of hybrid events is that virtual (or digital) attendees outnumber those on site by a huge percentage. February's MWC Shanghai registered 25,000 attendees on site and close to 125,000 attending virtually.
At hybrid events, meetings and networking are a major objective for attendees whose business depends on forming critical relationships and on learning. Whether they're participating in person or remotely, attendees want to see the latest technologies and products and learn how to apply them in their business.
Similarly, exhibitors want to connect with attendees—customers or prospects—and help them make their decisions.
For the event marketers who manage their brand's presence at a hybrid event, the question is how to design a presence that engages optimally with both in-person and remote attendees to establish meaningful dialogue with those prospects and customers and drive business opportunities.
The first step is to define event objectives. Will the focus be to launch a product, or to showcase a new partnership? Are you looking to build awareness for innovations in an existing technology, or take orders for a new service? The answers from your sales, product, leadership, and other teams will shape your communications strategy.
Next, define the time period over which you want to connect and engage with prospects and customers. For example, the in-person component of a hybrid event may take place over the course of four days, but it's possible to extend your interactions with prospects and customers well beyond that.
Also, think globally. Remote attendees will be participating from numerous time zones, and your organization will meet more of those people if you allow them to schedule a time that works best for them—before, during, and after the event.
Five Audience Engagement Strategies to Maximize Hybrid Event ROI
In the weeks leading up to your hybrid event, the following five audience engagement strategies will maximize your ROI by increasing the number of your valuable customer and prospect engagements.
To scale-up your potential, consider the use of a robust meeting automation platform that will simplify the process of scheduling, managing, and reporting on the prospect and customer engagements you want to book.
1. Set up your inbound meeting mechanism
Ideally, you should funnel all your event attendees to a central Web location where they choose where and when to meet. Perhaps they want to meet at the booth for a demo, or meet with their sales rep, or book a meeting with your industry or product expert. By creating an "inbound meeting request page" that automatically offers available time slots, you'll make it easy for prospects to book that meeting while the idea is top of mind.
Your system should include a vetting and approval process, and it should automate calendar invites and videoconferencing information for meeting attendees.
2. Build momentum by prescheduling
You'll want to maximize the number of meetings associated with the event; so, 6-8 weeks out, integrate links and buttons into all your digital marketing programs. The links should enable your prospects and customers to book specific activities, such as Register for a Session, Sign up for a Demo, Book a Meeting, Meet the Expert, and so on.
Meanwhile, your sales team should schedule meetings with customers and prospects based on opportunity data, previous discussions, and other indicators.
3. Focus on scheduling demo meetings
At any major industry hybrid event, in-person attendees can easily walk up to a booth and schedule a demo. But you can also schedule demos in the land of virtual events.
To book more demos with qualified prospects, define a variety of demo types that are optimized for specific lead categories. You can then map those demos to different topics, products or services, and presenters for both in-person and virtual attendees.
Promote the demos in your outbound activities so that attendees can self-book while you capture details to prequalify them and ensure the right team members attend.
4. Integrate tracks and sessions into the meeting mix
For most B2B brands, events are an opportunity to educate prospects and customers. Tracks and sessions are part of most hybrid events, and they can easily be extended for your remote attendees. Integrate them into your pre-event promotions, and invite your sales team to nominate their top prospects and customers.
Again, consider how you might extend the availability of tracks and sessions into the months after the event.
5. Offer 'meet the expert' and 'meet the executive' opportunities
Some prospects and customers may want to get the information they need from someone other than a salesperson. That's where a "Meet the Expert" or exclusive "Meet the Executive" program for VIP customers plays a vital role by making your internal industry, product, or department experts available for scheduling.
The program can be added to your inbound meeting request page, and from there it can be automated. I've seen one customer schedule hundreds of MTE meetings surrounding a week-long customer event—all virtual, all completely automated.
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In a lot of ways, hybrid events offer the best of both worlds. Whether it's an in-person on-site meeting or a virtual meeting in the weeks that follow, you have hundreds of ways to engage prospects and customers and thus educate, boost consideration, and build your sales pipeline and revenue potential.
The trick is to provide as many pathways and opportunities as possible for prospects and customers to self-book and define their own buyer journey. If you can also automate the meeting setup and follow-up process, you'll maximize the ROI of not only your hybrid events but also virtual and in-person events.
More Resources on Hybrid Events
You may like these other MarketingProfs articles related to Events:
- Virtual Event Trends: Businesses' Future Plans and Top Challenges
- The State of In-Person Events [Infographic]
- Three Tips for Hosting Small, More Frequent, Inclusive Events (And Why You Should)
- Webinar Invitations: Examples and Best-Practices
- Four B2B Event Marketing Takeaways From TikTok
- Event-Led Growth, A Powerful B2B Marketing Strategy: Mark Kilens on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]