How to build physical event audiences with digital events
In 2022, we saw a levelling-out of physical and virtual events after the huge pendulum swing towards virtual events over the last few years. Now, we’re at a point where we’re seeing the opposite reaction of organisers rushing back to physical events.
However, while event planners are keen to create show-stopping in-person experiences, the consumer isn’t always as enthusiastic. There’s now an acceptance of virtual and, after 2-3 years of being forced into this approach, attendees are seeing the advantages. The audience has become more balanced in their preferences, wanting both physical and virtual options that suit their needs, complementing their stage in the buyer journey and fitting around their personal life.
It’s important to ask at this point – why do we want physical events? Even in a world of virtual events, webinars and livestreams, there’s still an irreplaceable experience of being together in-person at a physical venue. It engages an audience in a way that no other format can, it builds loyalty to a brand (and that’s beyond the free pair of socks being given out!) and, ultimately, it can fast track the customer journey through an experience that you have more control over. While virtual and online strategies excel at this idea of constant awareness and communication, the physical side excels at moving that journey forward quickly through direct exposure.
With all of that in mind we see a goal, but we also have a hurdle to overcome. In an age where our audience is very comfortable with online strategies, how do we convince them to take that step to attend physical events?
Here’s the core idea
Allow me to introduce an idea to you – a virtual strategy that builds physical demand. What if there were a journey that started from a place where your audience is comfortable, that was easy to access, and eventually brought them to a place where they’re eagerly attending your next event, wanting to engage in ways that sales and account reps dream of?
This all sounds great, right? But where are we seeing this work? One thing I like to do is look beyond the business context and, for this, I want to introduce you to a very interesting use case – Trivium.
For those of you who aren’t clued up on your modern metal music, Trivium are a world renowned metal band. Over the last few years, the band has really adopted livestreaming. It has made it an integral part of what it does and how it engages with its audience. The results have been incredible, whether that be through the use of a camera at the side of the stage, or showing individual band members practising, providing a peek into rehearsal sessions, or even looking in on the band relaxing with some gaming on the Xbox.
For some, the idea of streaming so much content seems backwards. After all, if you’re giving people free content in this virtual and easy to access format, why would they then want to travel and spend money to experience it in a physical capacity?
While that’s a very valid thought process, the response is quite the opposite – it’s increasing the desire for the physical experience. Fans are attending shows and the band able to offer more tailored experiences because of what they’ve done in the virtual space. For example, the band are even selling tickets to their pre-show rehearsals. By having this early (virtual) exposure and awareness, the audience have developed an appetite for all this additional content being offered by the band. The audience can enter into this cycle anywhere at any time between virtual, physical, virtual, physical, virtual…
How can this work for you?
Let’s bring this back to our context. How does this translate into a business context and how can the modern marketer use this strategy?
The core idea is very simple: use virtual events to build demand for physical events. Today, we’re constantly looking at ways to provide a connected journey, to retain our audience’s attention so that wherever they go we’re in their mind. By combining the ease of access and accessibility of online events with the engagement and experience of a physical event, we can begin to create a journey that meets your audience where they’re at, builds awareness, and allows you to connect with them in new and exciting ways.
Sounds too idealistic? Perhaps not with these easy-to-follow steps. So, let’s take a look…
First – Plan the Physical event.
Before we can take our audience on a journey, we need to know our destination, our goal. This event can be a workshop, a roundtable, even just a networking event. Everything is directed towards this event, and it should be executed to the high standard that you would apply to any other event.
This physical event can also be quite in-depth. As you’re taking the audience on a content journey, there are opportunities to create several (online) building blocks leading towards the physical event. These (online) building blocks allow a wider audience to access the content than would otherwise have been possible. It can be as simple as a linear journey from beginner to expert, or you may want to use the online events to address different audiences. Whichever way you want to look at it, consider the opportunity that an ‘online building blocks’ approach could provide.
A key detail for this step is to make the physical event exclusive. Yes, that’s right, don’t stream it (revolutionary, right?). Make sure the audience is aware that this is something exclusive – available only to physical attendees. Build that excitement and bring it back to what we said about why we want to come back to physical events, i.e. it builds a unique sense of loyalty and engagement.
Going forward, the most effective strategies will be the ones that use both physical and virtual events (and sometimes a blend of the two), but also recognise the need for each approach to achieve a particular goal. Over the last few years, some of the best pieces of content have been hindered by the choice of format or approach, often trying to throw together a mix of the two under the buzzword “hybrid”, rather than carefully considering the best approach to take.
Build digital events to drive demand
Once you have the physical event in place, next you want to plan the steps towards the event (remember the ‘online building blocks’ from earlier?). That can be as simple as 2-3 webinars or virtual events that introduce the topic, show some use cases, maybe even a customer story. Take your audience on a journey, build awareness, and begin that conversation that leads someone to say “I need to be at that physical event”.
To make this as effective as possible, the above approach needs to be intentional. The key aspect that determines results for this strategy is the idea that every step is intentionally driving people towards that end goal. You do this by creating content that is focused on getting people to attend the physical event. Of course, you’ll also have a whole range of other marketing tools to promote the event. You may even have an existing webinar program that can promote the physical event(s), but make sure that there are dedicated and related content pieces to take the audience on an intentional journey towards the end goal.
Map the journey
Finally, with those blocks in place, map out the journey and ensure it flows smoothly. Sometimes, when we plan this kind of approach, we can almost forget that not everyone has the same visibility or awareness of the journey.
Take, for example, the virtual events. If your moderator doesn’t encourage the audience to sign up to the next event, then the audience may not have the awareness to take the next step. This also extends into the content planning. Does the content leave the audience saying “what’s next”? By leaving the audience wanting more the invitation to the next step is much easier. Ensure that every piece of content has a next step, and make sure there’s nothing that stands alone.
You now have some ideas to start to build this journey and, of course, there’s more to think about. For example, what’s the timescale for this, are there any specific formats to consider, how are we ensuring content consistency, is there a consistency in quality of output across the whole journey? I’d encourage you to really take the time to consider these ideas. This framework can expand into a wide variety of applications that provides a unique approach for your own desired outcome.
Straight forward right? By shifting towards a more intentional mindset, you can combine the two approaches (virtual and physical) to benefit each other. You will provide a better audience experience and start to develop a more focused and intentional omnichannel experience.
More information on Digital Event and Webinar Strategies
For more info on Digital Event, Webinar Strategies, and how WebinarExperts can help you can head to:
- The Ultimate Guide To Annual Webinar Schedule Planning
- Our article on why Modern Events Both Online and In-person
- Check out The Webinar Excellence Manifesto
- Follow WebinarExperts and Lev Cribb on Linkedin for latest news, ideas and updates.