Each year, more than 100,000 attendees traveled to Las Vegas for NAB before the pandemic. But for the second year in a row, organizers canceled the show amidst the ongoing uncertainty surrounding COVID. Faced with similar circumstances, Salesforce is taking a different approach and moving Dreamforce to a digital-first, hybrid experience. In-person attendees will be invitation-only, with most people attending virtually.
Salesforce is onto something. Even as physical events become possible again, what is clear is that the future of events is hybrid. Why? Because marketers across every industry have learned that digital isn’t just the new normal, it’s simply a better approach to scaling engagement, generating higher-quality leads, and driving more pipeline and revenue.
Just look at the results.
John Hancock engaged more than 1,500 partners to increase new business by 266%, with advisors achieving five times as many sales compared to those who didn’t attend a digital event. The digital commerce platform Magento, an Adobe company, achieved an 847 percent uplift in pipeline and generated leads three times faster after shifting its webinar strategy to provide a more engaging experience. Seismic, a sales enablement platform, increased sales meetings by 20 percent and converted MQLs to meetings 67 percent faster through its use of digital experiences. Optum, a leading IT-enabled health services business, grew MQLs by 300 percent through its global webinar program.
Companies embraced digital out of necessity to drive customer engagement. When the pandemic dies down once again, most marketers would say, “There’s no going back,” to the old model of physical events. In fact, we recently surveyed over 200 B2B marketers for our Future of Events report and found that 95 percent believe a hybrid approach will become more widely used. And three-quarters (74 percent) have hybrid events planned for the coming year to cater to both physical and virtual audiences.
Digital has proven to deliver greater ROI and audience insights than physical events ever did. Moving ahead, in-person events will be used to complement and augment a digital-first strategy and companies will bring all the benefits of digital engagement to their physical events. Expect hybrid experiences to generate better engagement data and deliver a single integrated experience for in-person and virtual attendees.
Digital Body Language Provides More First-Person Data
Physical events provide little to no data beyond how many people registered, showed up, or what sessions and booths they visited – a name and not much more. How many sessions did they attend? Did they raise their hand in a breakout session and ask a question? Did they take a piece of collateral? This type of information is key to understanding buying readiness, but none of it is captured today at a physical event.
Digital changes everything. Experiential and interactive events give us more opportunities to learn about our attendees. Bringing the power of digital engagement to physical events allows us to find the best leads, drive pipeline, and increase revenue much more effectively. And the more attendees engage, the more data we can capture.
In our survey, 79 percent of respondents believe they provide more data than physical events, which allows organizations to better understand customers and prospects who attend. And ROI? A massive 88 percent said that hybrid events will contribute significantly to pipeline.
An attendee’s digital body language provides marketing and sales invaluable insights. You can see what content a prospect or customer downloaded, which videos they watched, what questions they asked, which CTAs they clicked on, and who they connected with and for how long. You can also capture poll and survey results.
Everywhere there is digital engagement, there are measurable results. Marketers can then integrate this data into sales and marketing systems so sales reps can accelerate the buyer journey and, ultimately, convert more leads into pipeline.
Deliver a Single Integrated Experience for Audiences
Because of all this new data that wasn’t previously available, the entire market is flipping on its head with a focus on hybrid engagement. But without a compelling experience, attendees won’t stick around.
Before, companies thought about bringing the “physical event experience” to virtual audiences. But this won’t cut it anymore in hybrid world. Virtual attendees have greater expectations than just streaming presentations. In our survey, we found that 92 percent of respondents believe that the attendee experience is critical to the success of an event.
A true hybrid event delivers an immersive experience for every attendee, regardless of whether they are there physically or digitally. For virtual attendees, this can include multi-dimensional, multi-room spaces that feature presentation theaters, partner expos, sponsor booths, and networking lounges for audience members to connect with each other, as well as gamification, interactivity, and live entertainment. A fully immersive virtual event experience makes the digital component of your event as compelling, interactive, and engaging as the physical elements.
Another hallmark of hybrid events is a single, integrated hybrid experience for both in-person and virtual attendees. Audience engagement is the same for everyone, including viewing presentations, interacting with digital content, participating in polls and surveys, requesting trials and demos, and networking in hybrid breakout rooms. In-person attendees should have access to the same interactivity tools as virtual ones.
Virtual Events Inspired a Hybrid Future
The new era of hybrid engagement is here. More organizations are recognizing that digital experiences are more valuable to engage prospects and customers, capture data, generate leads, and drive topline growth. Virtual and hybrid events are driving a greater return on customer engagement than they ever did with physical-only events.
So, companies are shifting to a digital-first, hybrid engagement model to extend reach to audiences of any size, anywhere in the world – no matter whether they’re in-person or virtual. By combining the benefits of both physical and virtual, leading organizations will deliver a complete, unique, and engaging experience for every attendee. And more engaged attendees will lead to opportunities for marketing and sales teams to meet and engage audiences wherever they are.
As we accelerate into this hybrid engagement future, marketers will continue to deliver digital experiences that are just as immersive as physical ones and generate better engagement data that drives more impactful customer interactions than ever before.
The author, Steve Daheb, is chief marketing officer of ON24.