For acquiring leads and doing business, there is no substitute for the value of face-to-face events. That's why, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings and events commanded 25-30% of B2B marketing budgets, according to research by Frost and Sullivan.

Today, after months of widespread closures across the global economy, organizations have switched to virtual formats to keep their events alive. But the landscape is beginning to shift: Small and manageable live gatherings have occasionally taken place between waves of shutdown and reopening.

Although face-to-face meetings are due to return in force eventually, new formats and trends will set the course for event marketing in the coming years. This article outlines three of those trends and explains ways to take advantage of them while keeping attendees safe.

1. Hybrid is the future of event marketing

Fully 89% of event organizers say that even when face-to-face meetings resume, virtual elements will remain critical to their post-pandemic event strategy, according to a global survey by Aventri.

As the name implies, hybrid events combine both in-person and remote or virtual speakers and attendees. For example, you could host 100 people at a venue and share the content with 1,000 virtual attendees worldwide. Virtual components also provide a great back-up plan for preserving an event if an emergency occurs and attendees cannot travel.

Beyond the virtual format and opportunity to reduce risk, hybrid events serve unique purposes in expanding audiences, building dynamic experiences, and creating differentiated sponsorship opportunities.

Here's how to successfully execute your future hybrid events:

  • Recognize that hybrid gatherings draw two different audiences. Onsite guests have plenty to do between sessions, from meetings to dining and entertainment, but such is not the case for remote attendees, who cannot tolerate an eight-hour conference day.
  • Don't try to duplicate an in-person event experience in the digital world; it will inevitably fall short. Keep each audience engaged, but employ technology to do so in other ways virtually.
  • Brief, fast-paced sessions are best for remote attendees. Choose your best sessions, and keep them to an hour or less. Think about shrinking your conference day to four hours instead of eight. Making content concise—without omitting important information—boosts audience engagement and retention.
  • Draw digital attendees into the conversation with interactive tools, such as live Q&As, chat, video conversations, surveys, and social sharing. Instant polling and voting help speakers tailor their sessions to audience needs. Lift up engagement in creative ways. For example, some marketers offer 15 minute music breaks with DJs and music requests via chat.
  • Make it easy for onsite and online guests to network with one another. Why not allow them to filter the list of participants by shared interest? Give them tools to schedule one-on-one video calls during and after sessions.
  • Create new revenue streams. Opportunities abound with hybrid events: You can put sponsors in the limelight on your virtual welcome page, or you can offer sponsored digital sessions, exhibit halls, networking lounges, and gamified challenges.
  • Build a digital library of recorded content. Savvy marketers promote different levels of access through individual and group packages. Digital libraries provide a critical path forward: Even after restrictions lift, many businesses will remain skittish about in-person contact. Conference recordings also extend your event reach to people who cannot travel because of health concerns or budget cuts.

2. Data and analytics will play a critical role

In the current climate, showing a return on event investment is vital.

A major upside of hybrid and virtual events is that engagement data is easier to capture. When attendees log on, every action is trackable. That includes exhibitor pageviews, scheduled meetings, generated leads, session check-ins, dwell times, question submissions, polls, surveys, languages, downloads, social media likes, and more.

Data provides a window into attendee preferences and pain points. Successful companies use that intelligence to enrich the customer experience.

To start, you can recommend sessions, exhibitors, and other attendees for customers to connect with based on shared interests. Post-event, continue those conversations, sharing whitepapers and articles that match attendee priorities.

Over the longer term, analytics provide a better toolbox to quantify the ROI of events and enhance marketing. Modern event management software solutions connect with marketing automation and CRM platforms, which creates a more complete picture of buyer behavior over time. By using a multi-touch attribution model, you can track the attendee path throughout their buying journey. You'll show how your events generate revenue and contribute to the company's bottom line.

But the advantages of event data go beyond measuring ROI. Fresh buyer insights can help inform everything from list development to lead generation, sales priorities, and content strategy. Use that business intelligence to strengthen sales and marketing performance across the board.

3. Contactless check-in and attendance will become the new standard

The pandemic has forced organizations to get creative and adopt new tech solutions to meet strict requirements for in-person events, which demand contactless, socially distanced procedures for guest safety.

To that end, modern badges and wristbands feature near-field communication (NFC). It's the same technology as Apple Pay. No need to swap business cards or handle money: NFC wearables enable contactless payments, lead retrieval, access control, session tracking, materials distribution, and more.

Event check-in provides another example of how meetings are going touchless. Between shipping and stuffing, traditional badges get a lot of handling before they arrive at the registration table. What's more, manual check-in often means long wait times while people stand in crowded lines.

Using modern check-in solutions, attendees print their own badges at home or onsite. Self-scanning stations at the venue enable quick and contactless event entry.

When major tradeshows restart, facial recognition software can create a personalized and contactless welcome at scale. The latest systems verify registration, greet each attendee by name, and print out a personalized badge in a few seconds. Must-haves for success with facial recognition are excellent cameras, lighting, processing power, and facial recognition engine.

It's also essential to comply with data privacy regulations. Make photo postings optional for attendees. Do not store images; rather, use them to create digital signatures for just one event.

* * *

The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges, but event marketers are known for resilience and innovation. The industry will rebound, driven by pent-up demand and new opportunities. After all, professionals crave business development and continuing education, and nothing beats the power of meeting face-to-face.

I'm confident that event marketing will emerge intact as we work together for solutions that drive customer safety and business growth.

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Three Event-Marketing Trends to Drive Business and Keep Attendees Safe in a COVID Era

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image of Jim Sharpe

Jim Sharpe is CEO at Aventri, a global leader in data-driven, end-to-end meeting and event management solutions.

LinkedIn: Jim Sharpe

Twitter: @AventriCEO