2020 was brutal for the B2B events calendar – but, in the words of Dr Ian Malcolm, life finds a way. As we hurtle through 2021, there’s a certain optimism about the future of industry events, expos and tradeshows. But it’s a future that may well look very different. In this month’s refresher from our Breathe playbook, we explore how the interplay of digital and physical will define post-COVID events…
Be there. Be seen. Two of the cardinal rules for marketers and industry folk when approaching a big event. But after COVID pulled the rug from under all of our feet, with mass cancellations and postponements filling our diaries, the ideas of ‘there’ and ‘seen’ changed fundamentally.
Events went online. Fast. Every business leapt to be there, and be seen. And, in the main, it was hugely liberating: a removal of time, cost and effort, whether in organising, hosting or travelling; the democratisation of the event; the increased availability of metrics linking attendance and sales. But, as industry optimists start to spin up the physical events machine once more, what does it mean for the future of this stalwart of the B2B marketing strategy?
New age. New rules. New challenges. New opportunities. But how do you realise these? It’s unlikely that social distancing will disappear any time soon, so how can you still get up close and personal with customers? How do you open new conversations – or support sales teams that have cut their teeth on face-to-face relationships? The answer doesn’t just lie in ‘doing events digitally’. It’s in doing them better, through multichannel, post-digital thinking:
1. Get your story straight.
What’s your angle? How can you add value for the customers and contacts at any given event? Before choices and channels, it’s imperative to ensure you’re relevant, focused and clear in your messaging. Make sure it resonates with your audience: who they are, what they’re thinking, their challenges…and how you can solve them. Story first. Always.
2. Lock on and lock in.
It’s not a case of ‘if you build it, they will come’. The only way to get people to your event is to promote it. Which all starts by targeting them – with pinpoint precision – with multi-layered content and invitations to engage. All of which means it’s absolutely vital to understand your audience, and keep them talking to build the relationship.
3. Focus on the audience experience.
The big event might not look so big in the near future. But even the smallest, tightly focused event can have a big impact. Webinars. Workshops. Hands-on demos for your latest, greatest inventions. Even just setting up a forum to connect customers and influencers. If you’ve something to say – or give away – make it worth everyone’s while.
4. Host with the most.
Just because you’re not splashing out on travel and accommodation, don’t cut corners in the quality of your own B2B event experience. Presentation is (after timing…) everything. So, even with the most rapidly responsive, digital-only experience, invest in your production and train your team: quality sets, quality presenters, quality experience.
5. Keep the conversation going.
The event is an often misunderstood, if traditionally rather large, beast. But it doesn’t stand alone. It’s a punctuation point that adds value to conversations before, during and after the curtain rises. So, online and offline, make the best use of the tools and technologies available to make your audience feel valued and part of your world. Record the event. Build on points raised. Create new, rich content to start a new chain of events. Keep it moving.
This is just a starting point. We’re only just charting the new territories of this new normal in the B2B and industrial exhibition space. We may go towards the virtual, or the physical. We may see a blend of both, or an isolation of either. But life always finds a way – and no matter how events change, we’ll always find a way to be there, and be seen.
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