There aren’t too many B2B marketers that would have told you in January 2020 that they were confident in their ability to pivot from a traditional slate of physical trade shows and conferences to a fully virtual agenda without missing a beat. The reality is that marketers have historically depended on physical events to build awareness, launch products, generate leads, and boost customer loyalty. In the blink of an eye, the pandemic drove a massive behavioral shift in how marketers were forced to execute their jobs…and the reality is that it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
BlueJeans partnered with leading analyst firm Forrester Consulting to evaluate the shift to virtual & hybrid events over the past 18 months and to unpack opportunities for how organizations can leverage this evolving medium to meet their marketing objectives going forward. This custom survey asked 200 North American decision-makers of marketing event strategies for key insights into their experiences with hybrid and virtual events and how they plan on leveraging this technology going forward. The findings can be organized in three sections: 1) Virtual Readiness 2) Current Event Effectiveness 3) Future Expectations.
Virtual Readiness | Ready or Not…Here It Comes
When the pandemic forced organizations to cancel their physical events, marketers were required to immediately jump into action and build out a mitigation plan to stem the wholesale loss of their event schedule. In fact, 61% of survey respondents reacted by purchasing a virtual event platform directly in response to their shifting strategy, whereas 25% of respondents decided to use their existing video conferencing platform to fill the gap for their virtual events. Only 14% already had a platform on hand that they could use to conduct virtual events. In hindsight, 57% of respondents said they didn’t really have enough time to fully vet their options and go through their traditional solution selection process…they simply needed to make an urgent decision. Additionally, only 40% of respondents admitted that their virtual events strategy was an area of focus pre-pandemic, compared to 62% recognizing it as a mission critical initiative during the middle of the pandemic, suggesting that the groundwork for successful platform selection was also limited by the reactionary nature of situation. Net net, it appears that most firms were caught a little flatfooted when the time came to make the switch from physical to virtual.
Current Event Effectiveness | Room for Improvement
With the “rush to pivot” as context, it’s not surprising to see that marketers are generally underwhelmed with their current virtual & hybrid events experience. Only 51% are currently satisfied with their virtual events platform and 94% have experienced issues with their current setup. The top three issues are difficulty troubleshooting technical difficulties, difficulty personalizing aspects of the event, and difficulty managing and delivering event content. Overall, 66% of firms are struggling to achieve the same success from virtual events that they would expect to receive from physical events, with 71% agreeing that it’s difficult to make virtual events resemble all the interactive, huma-to-human elements of an on-site event and 67% saying that it’s hard to bring their products and brand narrative to life through the virtual form factor.
Future Expectations | Optimism Reigns Supreme
Even with some of the drawbacks that marketers have experienced to date with virtual and hybrid events, they are still planning on adopting this medium more aggressively in the future, with 66% of their overall event mix existing in a hybrid or virtual format, up from 53% pre-pandemic. The benefits of audience flexibility, event analytics, and overall increased attendance are some of the primary drivers contributing to continued investment. Ultimately, marketers are optimistic about the technology delivering against their requirements, with 86% feeling confident that with platform improvements, their virtual and hybrid events can achieve greater success than in-person events. And maybe most interesting, roughly ¾ of respondents feel that better virtual events will lead to more revenue, greater brand awareness, and more significant competitive advantage.
At BlueJeans, we too are optimistic that with more time to evaluate virtual event solutions, a better understanding of how to make the audience experience more engaging, and the right level of production support, marketers will definitely be able to realize their ambitious virtual and hybrid event goals.