This article was originally published on Forbes.
Today, we no longer go online; we live online. As every company and every marketer re-imagines all facets of their digital ecosystems - from websites to social networking, from digital media and communications, to transaction processing that transcends the traditional functions of sales, marketing and customer service - it is also clear that an increasing part of our decision-making also now happens online.
Certainly, the last several weeks have forced us to change the way we work - more conference calls, video discussions, virtual town hall groups, working from home, disseminated team members and lots of downloads of new tech support. Even when we will recover from the crisis response and disruption from COVID-19, we will have evolved to a new definition of work - one that will include more digitally enabled decision making.
The COVID-19 situation will force us to change fundamental habits; working distributed and from home, to conduct meetings virtually with our colleagues as well as business partners, and we will see a further digitization of our buying decisions. This shift in behavior will require us to adopt technologies - such as collaboration tools, cloud storage, video conferencing and many more. The change in habits and digital adoption will create a jump on the curve and we will most likely not recover to where we were pre COVID-19 and evolve to a new and more digitized point.
While companies with cloud-based tools have made it easier to work remotely - thanks to Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Zoom, Slack among others - there is another consideration that will undergo dramatic change: how we meet ‘in person.’ Based on an abundance of precaution, in combination with the concern for the well being of employees and all stakeholders, companies may reconsider shifting from in-person social gatherings to more digital-first event experiences.
Digital event experiences or virtual event platforms are not new - companies such as On24 have been around for over 20 years - but cynics have stressed they lack true in-person interaction. The early obstacles of disparate bandwidth availability and requirements will dissipate with the onset of 5G. The opportunity to save time and money from viewing keynotes online - at times most suitable for the user - will outweigh the desire to see speakers in person. The streaming world has taught us that “appointment viewing” is not the priority like it was in the past.
Plus, digital events can provide interactivity and networking potential as more of us integrate and relay on social networking within our business lives. For example, interactive segmentation criteria for types of experiences, the relevance of connections and content based on combinations of profile information and prior content consumption, as well as the shared objectives of attendees, will all play key roles to empower any “virtual” attendee to be more productive during a digital event.
Companies have an even greater opportunity to extend what was traditionally a one-off event with pre- and post-event activities that connect into one holistic digital experience. These might be complimentary aspects of the wider customer information journey but when doing so, provide companies with more valuable customer insights leading to zero degrees of separation between brand and customer. Digital events may also evolve to the point that digital event assistants monitor our behavior at the event, provide instant pointers for future digital event content when needed, and manage the pre- and post-event activities and communications to help enhance our experience and move us along in our information needs.
Without question, hosting events or attending major industry functions will continue to be important for garnering widespread learnings and insights, driving lead generation, promoting industry thought leadership and connecting with our peers and customers. However, companies now need to create a digital experience that can both stand alone and be integrated with a physical in-person event.
It’s not a choice between online or offline – it’s a matter of creating solutions that best support the customer decision journey regardless of the potential situations we may face in the future.
Given our vast experience in creating digital strategy and implementing end-to-end digital event experiences, Vertic has several key learnings:
The way that Vertic has implemented successful digital event experiences over the years is by following the Share of Life™ C.R.E.E.D model.
Commitment: A digital event experience platform would only succeed through the commitment made from its attendees, in participation, engagement and being active members of the event. The individuals attending the event would belong to different segments with different levels of digital maturity, seniority, professional ambition etc.; therefore it is essential for companies to understand what would it take from the different segments to commit to the event platform, and what role would they play in engaging other participants. Some would have the willingness to be perceived as industry experts, while others would encourage peers to participate, and a large segment would only be willing to consume content. Understanding the mix involved and commitment needed from each would be key for the success of a digital event.
Reinforcement: the experience platform created should continuously be communicating fresh valuable content (presentations, videos, articles, polls etc.) that reinforces the purpose behind the event.
Empowerment: the digital event experience platform would empower attendees and give them a voice to communicate their ideas and perspectives, which would otherwise be more difficult to do in a physical event setting.
Excitement: the experience of the digital event and the opportunities it provides from networking online, to exposure users to new ideas from industry leaders. This is driven by the technology and the content of the digital event.
Development: the functionalities and features of the experience platform build for the event. These can vary from 3D experiences, to chat enablement to interactive polls etc. The constant development of new functionalities enable the attendees to participate and feel part of a bigger purpose.
While recent event cancellations have left many of us reeling, there are some immediate alternatives to 2020’s schedule of business gatherings. At Vertic, we feel ‘dipping your toe in the water’ is the first step to realizing digital event success. Today’s unfortunate COVID-19 crisis will no doubt cause a dramatic shift towards digital transformation and maturity within many organizations and in doing so, a reinvention of companies’ event operations.
Smart marketers recognize that there will be a distinct “before” and “after” in consumer behavior as a result of the pandemic. You must start now to create the digital tools needed to embed your brand in the customer’s post-COVID life.
Take the time now to identify and understand the new expectations of your customers, and how have their habits and priorities shifted during this time