We’ve seen a lot of changes in the business landscape since COVID-19 hit the country. While most of the country is under strict shelter-in-place orders, companies of every type are being forced to reconsider how to stay connected with teammates and customers. One of the most obvious casualties: Company and industry events. Because information surrounding COVID-19 has been changing so quickly, many event and marketing teams are operating on short notice, wondering if they should replace their upcoming event with a digital meeting at the last minute, or simply cancel the event altogether.
In the last couple of months, we saw Mobile World Congress, SXSW, Google I/O, NVIDIA GTC, NAB and most recently the 2020 Summer Olympics and the Cannes Film Festival be cancelled. That’s likewise been the case for a host of other events, analyst days, and product announcement events, most of which have gotten scrapped or are in a state of limbo. But the smart companies, including the likes of Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Dell, Intel, SAP, Qualcomm and others are engaged in a quick pivot in order to create or participate in virtual events in order to still connect with and serve their customers.
While most of us have experienced some less than stellar digital events, if we’re being completely candid, many of us have also been to some lame face-to-face events as well. And that’s where I see a silver lining. I think there’s a real opportunity here for companies to embrace change and experiment with a different way of doing things — and digital events, when done well, can be awesome. Here are some thoughts on how to plan and execute an awesome digital event — even on short notice.
Maintain Your Brand Persona — Deliver an Amazing Experience for Your Guests
Hands down. the most important thing you can do before making the decision to host your event digitally is to ask the question: What one thing from our physical event do we need to preserve and personify in a digital event that will be sure to make it “feel” the same to our attendees? That’s where careful consideration of your brand persona and how people feel about your company, and what they expect from you is important here. Personal touches, a special look and feel, and also pre- and post-event follow up can play a big role in making your digital event a rousing success. Little touches can make a big difference in terms of making the event feel like it is pretty darn close to being an in person event.
Make the Content Timely and Relevant
This should go without saying, but the content you develop for your digital event has to be more timely and more relevant now than ever before. Turn a laser focus on what your audience needs most right now, and away from your latest product offerings or chest-thumping that’s inevitably a part of most in person events. That stuff has a time and place, and a digital event is not it. Make every effort to deliver much needed solutions, innovative ideas, all with a focus on what your customers and prospects need most from your company right now. Don’t forget to include some inspiration along the way, and you’ll find yourself with the recipe for the perfect digital event — and one that people will be talking about for a long time to come.
Respect Their Schedules and Challenges
An important thing to keep in mind right now is that people working from home have a lot more distractions — and responsibilities — than they would if there were out of town and attending an event at a swanky resort. For instance, many people working from home right now are doing so with children engaging in online learning in the background or with significant others also working from home. They are also likely partaking in online internal meetings, client conference calls and dealing with other work obligations. The challenge here is how you can create and package content so that it is both interesting and focused on their individual needs, but is also easy to access (on their own timelines), and makes them want to engage, rather than log off completely?
On a recent podcast, I shared one experience of attending a digital event where attendees received DoorDash coupons for free lunch so they’d feel like they were away at a corporate event. There are also giveaways throughout the event to keep people engaged and entertained. Think about what types of things can you do with your content to make it fun, engaging, and easy to digest—in a way that works with the hectic home office environment?
Creating an Awesome Digital Event: Think Omnichannel
As I noted above, not everyone has eight hours to sit in front of a computer to capture the wisdom your company wants to share. Rather than hosting an extensive webinar or Zoom meeting, consider moving parts of your event to different channels. Hold a networking get-together by way of video chat or a Twitter chat—or both, post downloads of speaker segments on your website and make them available on demand, and organize content in such a way that people can “grab” certain segments throughout the day whether they are helping their kids with homework or answering emails. Sheltering in place means people have a lot of things thrown at them at once. Make it easy for them to catch the things that matter most to them.
Creating an Awesome Digital Event: Learn and Move Forward
Not everyone has the budget to shoot their event from numerous camera angles or pass out DoorDash coupons to everyone in attendance — and that’s okay — the situation we’re in right now is unprecedented. Heck, even zoos and concert halls are rushing to move their experiences online for the sake of staying afloat. You may not have the know-how or capacity to throw a 5-star digital event together on the first round. The important thing to do is take what you learn — from your own company and others that are working on digital events right now — and consider ways to incorporate them moving forward.
When we have made it safely through the COVID-19 crisis, I predict there will be a new mindset as it relates to events, and that we’ll be seeing more and more companies, large and small, turn to digital events as part of their overall event marketing strategies. Events bring people together and in-person events will likely always be important for brands. But when your digital events can deliver in a personal way, and can bring people together online but still manage to feel warm and personal, and also deliver big value as it relates to information and networking opportunities — well, there’s every reason to keep doing them as well. Today’s successful companies are the ones who are willing to pivot quickly, embrace innovation and technology, and change things up when the situation calls for it. I’ve been immersed in advising our clients on the business of digital transformation all day every day for a long time — I can’t think of a time where the ability to digitally transform in order to keep “business as usual” functioning as much as humanly possible has been more important than it is right now.
My advice: Take advantage this opportunity, explore adding a digital event to your marketing tactics and do it quickly before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon! Whether you host your own digital event or participate in one hosted by someone else, I think you’ll be surprised at the the possibilities it will present and the sales it might very likely drive.