June 02, 2022
After 2 years of scarce in-person events, the thirst for attending in-person events presents high potential.
During COVID-19, we all adapted to a ‘new’ reality where remote work became the norm.
Hosting in-person events during such a volatile time was a gamble, as organizers often had no idea whether the event would even take place until the last minute. Reimbursements for canceling or cutting attendance varied between different event organizers. Some events resorted to a “hybrid” model and got away with not fulfilling the in-person attendance expectation. Bottom line: in-person events were a risky bet.
Is this fact still affecting our current marketing budget plans? Even though the worst of Covid and its restrictions seem to be mostly behind us, unexpected waves blindsided us in the past. Many are still factoring in the risk of a new variant and the steps event organizers might take accordingly, despite the world seeming to return to normal.
Additionally, many people see the ‘hybrid X’ (workplace, events) as a Covid “blessing” that is here to stay. A hybrid format is much more convenient, resulting in a reduction of lost work hours due to travel and traffic jams. Similarly, this saves a lot of time by eliminating the need to book flights and hotels to attend events. One might predict that physical attendance may decline as a result. If event organizers offer a virtual option, event attendees may opt to access it online from the comfort of their sofa.
While these are all valid considerations for event sponsors, let’s examine them more closely. First, there are relatively easy ways to address and mitigate the uncertainty risks. For example, asking in-person event organizers if they have reimbursement plans in case of cancellation or transitioning to virtual. The most prudent approach is preparing for an unlikely, but possible, sudden virus surges with a concrete plan to shift the budget to other programs. With that backup in mind, we can proceed with the original in-person plan with confidence and budget for a massive events program.
A hybrid model offering virtual convenience doesn’t stop people from attending in-person, but instead significantly increases the number of overall attendees. In other words, while some slice of the event’s pie is now ‘virtual,’ the attendance pie just became larger.
In December 2021, the largest annual Amazon Web Services event, re:Invent, held as a hybrid in-person and virtual event, brought about 26,000 in-person attendees to Vegas despite strict public health restrictions, vaccine mandates, and capacity limits on in-person attendance. Amazon had less than 50% in-person attendees compared to pre-Covid times.
However, this in no way undermined the event’s success. Hundreds of thousands attended that same event virtually–an order of magnitude more than in pre-Covid in-person re:Invent shows. The vast majority of those attending from afar simply would not have traveled and attended the physical event if there wasn’t a pandemic or any restrictions.
After many months of solitude, those in-person attendees were thirsty for interaction, participating in discussions, and taking part in booth games, even when that meant waiting in a crowded line.
Event attendees were much more likely to spend time on the exhibit floor, catch up on changes within the industry, witness interesting solutions first-hand, and just enjoy the face-to-face interaction.
In-Person Events are the Real Deal
If you are looking for a program that covers nearly all items on a business sales and marketing to-do list, look no further than in-person trade shows:
Lead-generation – due to the scarcity of in-person events for two years, event attendees are more likely to spend time learning about what has changed in the industry and enjoy face-to-face interaction with others.
I have attended many AWS re:Invent tradeshows prior to the recent one and despite having fewer attendees, the exhibit floor felt alive, out-performing the traffic expected for the restricted capacity. Visitors’ eagerness to meet, share insights and hold discussions was palpable.
My team set up an engaging game of Chance at our 10’x10’ booth. Attendees craving some fun and interaction allowed us to scan 3000 leads and hold at least brief conversations with most of them. See a glimpse of that experience here.
Brand – obviously, marketers want as many people as possible to see their company’s logo and be exposed to their messages. Companies that can snag a speaking slot in front of a significant audience can really stand out. In-person events allow you to fully capture the attention of session attendees, more so than in virtual events. Going forward events will likely still provide virtual access, meaning the hybrid model is here to stay. When a session in which your company is present is also virtual, you gain an extra audience.
Customer meetings – Pre-arranging meetings with your customers and prospects is always a best practice. After a prolonged period of limited face-to-face interaction, customers are more likely to willingly spend time catching up on what your company is offering, providing feedback, and discussing their needs and insights.
Besides directly promoting your company’s business and products, there is so much potential for unique in-person customer activities. Attract visitors to your booth by offering snacks or hosting a small giveaway as a token of appreciation for your customers. Here are a few other booth ideas:
Journalists and analyst's meetings – These meetings are invaluable. No virtual event can make up for such a face-to-face experience. Journalists and analysts are just as eager to meet in person and would not miss an opportunity to get first-hand interaction with the industry they cover.
Ensure Events are Properly Represented in Your Overall Marketing Plan
After carefully selecting the best events for your company, there are so many advantages to sponsoring these in-person events. You don’t need a huge budget or fancy booth to have a successful event.
With the increased thirst for physical interaction and the ‘bonus’ virtual attendees who prefer convenience, investing time in proper event planning and execution will undoubtedly bring an excellent outcome. Don’t hesitate to set higher goals for your events. As we return to normal, the bar will only be raised.
Ophir Shalitin is a CMO and Marketing Strategy advisor who held VP Marketing positions for several successful startups, most recently cyber security startup Reblaze. Previously, he was Vice President of Marketing for N2WS (acquired by Veeam), Cloudyn (acquired by Microsoft), and other hypergrowth technology startups.
Shalitin started his career as a software engineer working in cryptography and cyber security, transitioning to marketing leadership roles. He holds a Master of Business Administration, specializing in Marketing and Finance from the Tel-Aviv University and is a graduate of the Wharton GCP program.
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