March 23, 2020
The sudden and rapid spread of COVID-19 has resulted in the cancellation or indefinite postponement of events of all sizes. The CDC has released guidelines on mass gatherings to limit potential health impacts and the spread of the virus. These impacts are being felt immediately, but there will likely be many long-term effects that companies, organizations, and brands need to plan for. Your marketing and promotion around in-person events and experiences will need to change and adjust to a situation that is very fluid and uncertain. We also understand that many of your core business objectives and customer decisions rely on personal interaction (that until now was largely in-person). However, there are some things that can help with your planning moving forward.
1) Massive crowds may not come back - at least not at the present scale. Attendees will be more cautious about mass gatherings for the foreseeable future, and that trend will affect attendance numbers for many years. This behavior will require readjusting ROI considerations and budgets for live events.
2) Companies will pull back on live and in-person events as a percentage of their overall plan and budget. With a decrease in attendance and the now demonstrated and genuine chance of mass disruption, companies will reallocate resources to other projects to reduce their risk. This reallocation will not only impact the makeup of most company’s event budgets but will have dramatic effects on the event industry as well – venues, travel, lodging, etc. These changes will result in a different landscape for location availability, vendor options, and pricing. It is unclear where this will settle out, but it is sure to change.
3) People are still working. The beneficial aspects of events – the dissemination of information, networking, entertainment, etc. - are still needed. Large numbers of would-be attendees are working out of their homes, and they still require this information to do their jobs – especially for credentialing or employee training. Several of these events are not optional and will require a virtual or remote workaround.
4) People are at home with time on their hands and are receptive to alternatives. Social distancing and isolation are taking their toll on many people who are unaccustomed to this environment, and innovative ways to both reach and engage people would be very welcome. While they cannot travel, the removal of commuting time and increased schedule flexibility have created a unique opportunity to reach people.
5) There are immediately available alternatives. The good news is that many options have been on the market for years - and have proven to be impactful and effective. We are seeing companies shift their focus from in-person experience to virtual and digital experience with success. While we are likely to see many other creative options - some successful and some not - show up over the next few months, there are several currently available alternatives. Your organization may have used one or more of these already. Your organization can use the following options as temporary or permanent replacements for many of your current activities – product launches, press events, seminars, training and certification events, user conferences, employee events, tradeshows, and brand awareness events.
Webcasts are online video broadcasts of an event or conference that can be viewed by registered attendees. Webcasts can be newly created content or repurposed material from past events. These broadcasts can be done on a large scale and frequently allow audiences of over 50,000 globally to attend virtually.
Webinars are online events that are made available to a registered (paid or unpaid) audience. They are interactive and allow the virtual attendees to ask questions directly to the presenter and other participants. These can be run on a schedule, on an on-demand basis, or as a one-off event. These are excellent alternatives to live events for lead generation, thought leadership, and customer engagement.
Virtual events are a combination of many different options. These large-scale, multi-session events or conferences are hosted online and can entail both live and pre-recorded content. These virtual events are modeled after live events and often also provide dedicated virtual breakout rooms for specific audiences and interests. They are the most effective when they are highly interactive. They are often designed to give a similar look and feel to a physical event but are more cost-effective, scalable, and sustainable than traditional live events.
Serialized content on blogs is an excellent way to organize and distribute content on a large scale. Because these are company-owned properties, your organization fully controls the content and messaging. They are most valuable when they are consistently produced, focused on a specific topic area, targeted to a particular audience, and regularly engage with readers. While many organizations have blogs that cover a wide range of topics and appeal to general audiences, content meant to replace in-person interaction should be more targeted to fit a specific need.
Become a content production studio. Packaged videos and tutorials for products and services can replace regular face-to-face training and product demonstrations. These video products also provide value beyond the current circumstances. They are easily distributed and very cost-efficient to produce.
This platform could also be immediately valuable if there are aspects of your product or service that are adaptable to the current landscape, or if your product or service is experiencing changes in usage. These tailored tutorials can demonstrate your unique value in the current environment and help show that value effectively.
Also, podcasts can distribute materials and content at a large scale and keep your clients and customers in touch with your activities and products. Podcasts can be incorporated into an existing editorial calendar and accentuate other outreach and engagement activities.
You and your company don’t need to be experts in the creation of these media but working with experts at moving this information dissemination to online formats will help ensure that your messaging still reaches your audience.
What your company can do now to get started. Live and in-person events are useful for your company because they meet business needs. In restructuring your plans and budgets, it is essential to focus on tactics and strategies that fill those needs – not just replace the event. The options above will fill these needs if they get deployed effectively, but careful planning and assessment will be important to ensure you aren’t just chasing a trend.
- Instead of increasing product or service understanding through press events or a live product launch, utilize a multimedia rollout via product tutorials on YouTube and your website, interactive usage guides, and summaries of third-party product reviews. Drive traffic to these events through preemptive search marketing efforts and day-of display advertising campaigns.
- Providing training through seminars can be replaced through online courses and tutorials targeted directly to customers and employees via email campaigns.
- In place of user conferences and employee events, you can utilize email campaigns and social media engagement activities to facilitate employee and customer interactions, improve overall organization and product awareness, and help your company measure brand sentiment among these groups.
- Digital advertising, search marketing, and content search optimization will increase awareness of your brand and improve brand perception on a large scale. People are at home and online, but you’ll want to adjust messaging and ad appeals appropriately.
- Create virtual trade shows where your company and complementary brands that replace the traditional expo and help generate sales leads, encourage referrals, and create word-of-mouth interactions virtually. These events should include tools and platforms aimed at increasing and encouraging these interactions.
- The current shift to more virtual and online experiences also provides your organization with the opportunity to align resources away from short-term marketing efforts to concentrate on creating and developing relationships with your customers and target audiences.
- Now is also an excellent time to consolidate and align your marketing materials and other outward-facing content. Time and effort spent creating and maintaining traditional physical marketing materials can shift to improved digital materials and online organization.
Planning and execution of live and in-person events have changed dramatically in just the past few weeks, and those changes are likely to be felt for some time. Tracking and understanding both the challenges and opportunities that this situation brings will help ensure that your organization weathers the current storm and is prepared for the changed landscape when it passes.