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Event orchestration | 25 October 2021

How to Bridge the Event Impact Gap™

Rachel Rappaport

Here’s how to solve the Event Impact Gap™, the distance between what event leaders aim to achieve and what they are empowered to create.

Today, we live in a hybrid world. We order dinner via an app (digital) and have it delivered to our door (physical). We get on a bike (physical) and get encouragement from a trainer online (digital). We use our phone to call a ride (digital) and a driver comes to meet us wherever we are (physical).

Our lives have become a harmonious blend of physical and digital experiences that improve every day, becoming more personalized, more impactful, and more human. But events have struggled to meet this reality, in large part because event management software has treated the digital component as a “bolt-on” rather than an intentional solution and experience.

The result is the Event Impact Gap™, the enormous chasm between the aspiration event organizers have to create immersive, connected, and personalized human experiences and their ability to deliver them with their current technology.

Four Big Problems

We’ve spoken with hundreds of event leaders and seen that the Event Impact Gap™ is caused by four distinct Problems:

1. The Data Gap

Customer and event data is either missing or captured in isolation, so it’s hard to see and measure progress towards business outcomes.

2. The Experience Gap

Event software companies don’t empower Event Experience Leaders to truly connect with audiences. Attendees remain siloed and not truly present.

3. The Technology Gap

The available tools are neither intuitive nor truly flexible, preventing Event Experience Leaders from being able to design unique experiences in a hybrid world.

4. The People & Process Gap

It’s challenging for event professionals to stay up-to-date with the operating know-how and the concierge-level service they need in this evolving event landscape.

In our conversation with some of the top Event Experience Leaders in the industry, we saw how they’re solving the gap in their own organizations. We’ve also identified specific examples and use cases to help offer some more ways that you can bridge the Event Impact Gap™.

Bridging the Data Gap

With the right tools and a strategic approach, you can leverage data to take informed action, like redesigning journeys, doubling down on session or content types, boosting customer profiles, or infusing customer segmentation strategy with rich new event behavior data.

Finding the right tools is the first crucial step in closing the data gap. Identify a platform and utilize integrations that empower you to gather as much information as possible on both your event and your customers or attendees.

The second step is to rethink your approach and the way you analyze and synthesize data to create actionable insights. Capturing data is only half the battle, the real impact comes from the story your data tells and the choices and changes you make for your events based on it.

Rex Serrao, the Senior Director of Event Technology at Salesforce, is extremely familiar with analyzing data. As he puts it, “Nobody’s asking, ‘How many people clicked button A?’ They’re asking, ‘What content was most relevant?’ The second question highlights an intermediate layer of data analysis needed to make sense of all this luminous data.”

So don’t let your data go to waste. Rather than taking it at face value, interrogate the data. Look at it from different perspectives and see how certain pieces of information complement each other and create more context that can help you better understand your event success.

For example, perhaps your survey responses tell one story, but the behavioral data tells another. How can you marry the two to craft the best experience?You can also take the approach of mixing your qualitative and quantitative data to create more meaningful insights. Here’s how Jessica Vogol, VP Marketing at Movable Ink is doing exactly that:

“We look at quantitative data, like an experience score on a survey or RSVP and attendance numbers, as well as qualitative data, like comments from our internal teams and feedback from post-event outreach.”

– Jessica Vogol, VP Marketing, Movable Ink

Bridging the Experience Gap

Looking in unexpected places for inspiration is one of the best ways to understand how you can spark authentic connections, drive active engagement, and build connected experiences.

Julia Cyboran, VP of Marketing and Audience at C2 International uses the fashion industry as a place to draw inspiration from. She notes, “I see how the fashion industry is live streaming fashion shows and integrating multi-platform elements that become part of the brand’s signature. Look to those industries that for a long time have been integrating ways of bringing digital experiences to the table.”

Looking at both B2B and B2C companies can help you think outside of the box and take on the lens of being a consumer yourself. While in the events industry, you might be the organizer, there are many industries in which you are the audience. There are even more creative places to look at beyond other businesses. Take Kyle Suzuki, the Head of XM Events at Qualtrics, who looks to the very people who can find joy in anything – kids.

“A surprising area I’ve found inspiration recently is my kids. What kinds of things do children find interesting and exciting? Maybe that could translate into a really cool activation or idea.”

– Kyle Suzuki, Head of XM Events, Qualtrics

It can feel overwhelming balancing the advice we’ve been hearing over the past year. On the one hand, it’s important to treat your virtual and in-person audiences as separate and unique events, but on the other hand, you want to give them a connected experience and bring everyone together.

The good news is there are ways to strike that balance. By finding through lines and creating areas of consistency, organizers can empower attendees to move fluidly between virtual and physical experiences.

For example, a virtual concierge or MC can help bridge the attendee experience. At our recent event, Agents of Hybrid, we welcomed Katie Lindendoll as our Host and she was able to be a friendly face and a thread of continuity for both onsite and virtual attendees.

Event Impact Gap - Agents of Hybrid

The key is identifying ways to differentiate the online and in-person experiences so that both offer unique, exclusive aspects. The goal isn’t to create the exact same experience, but to create two unique yet connected experiences. At Agents of Hybrid, Rich Sturchio, the President of Cramer shared his view on this:

“The two experiences should be different. There should be different experiences at each one. There should be a reason to attend online versus in-person and vice versa.”

– Rich Sturchio, President, Cramer

Bridging the Technology Gap

The best experiences are often made possible by technology. Finding the right tools will help Event Experience Leaders bring their vision to life. Don’t settle for any less than what you can imagine for your event experiences, but instead, leverage powerful infrastructure to help you make your vision a reality.

And in today’s modern world, there are endless vendors to choose from. Companies all around the world are innovating every day to make the best technology available to us.

There are world-leading brands, like Intel, using technology to create truly immersive and memorable experiences, and those are a great place to look for inspiration for your own events. At CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, a few years ago, Intel took storytelling to the next level with Leviathan, a 3-D flying whale that swam out of the screen over the crowd.

“We were able to break down the story of the technology that was used and the business outcomes for the researchers to show them what they could do differently with this technology available to them. It was a fun way to use AR and technology in our event marketing.”

– Alyson Griffin, VP GLobal Marketing, Intel

You can also use technology to help create highly personalized content journeys so you can reach the right attendees at the right time with the right content.

Heather Henderson Thomas, the Senior Manager of Strategic Operations and Event Operations at Cisco explains how she applies this to their event, Cisco Live: “Just like I go shopping on my phone and then see Amazon showing me something related, this is the personalization we want to bring to our audience. We want to get them the content they want, how they want it, where they want it.”

Once you identify which tools you want to use and how you’ll leverage them for your particular needs, it’s equally important to understand how to work with your vendors so you can get the most out of your partnership and the technology.

“We don’t see technology as a silo, but at the same time it’s not an order-taker. You really have to show up as a partner. And that’s the primary type of collaboration model we try and model is that of a partner, whether it’s strategic or operational.”

– Rex Serrao, Senior Director of Event Technology, Salesforce

Bridging the People & Process Gap

Gone are the days of calling event professionals “planners” or “managers.” While this accurately implies that the job entails logistics, coordination, and communication, it doesn’t quite capture what the job really is about — experience. That’s why we’re coining a new term, Event Experience Leaders.

As Event Experience Leaders in the new era of events, you’re designing integrated and connected experiences for a diverse, hybrid audience.

In addition to having advanced tools and increased data, what you really need to be prepared is a diverse skill set. Organizers will need to level up their skills in production, technology, sales, marketing, and many other functions.

Hybrid events teams will also look different going forward; they will become a strategic mix of generalists and specialists. While Event Experience Leaders become more general by expanding their skill set, there will also be a push to bring on highly specialized roles in areas like technology and production. Building out a hybrid-ready team with various skills and expertise is the key to successfully executing integrated experiences. Here’s INBOUND VP & Executive Producer, Kim Darling’s take on this:

“How would I grow the team? I look at it holistically as a mini business. Now we hire more specialized skill sets, whereas before we hired project managers because they needed to be able to multitask and be more generalists. With a larger production, you want to beef up your team internally.”

– Kim Darling, VP & Executive Producer, INBOUND

Finally, having trusted experts at your side will allow you to focus on what you do best while letting their expertise bring your event to the next level. Whether you’re choosing an event platform, looking for an agency partner, or vetting technology integrations, building out your external team is just as important as building your internal team.

Ajith Krishnankutty, the Senior Manager of Global Enterprise Marketing at Capital Group, shares his view on the importance of external partners, saying, “We look to the experts for technology and production. Event marketers are not the people who do production, it has to be done by the experts. So we’ve spent a lot of time and effort to bring in the right partners.”

Why Bridging the Event Impact Gap™ Matters

The majority of leaders from top-performing organizations believe that events are the most critical marketing channel for achieving business goals, according to a recent Bizzabo survey. Now more than ever, modern CMOs expect event leaders to deliver innovative customer experiences for virtual-weary audiences.

With the right tools, a strategic approach, and capable partners by your side, you can close theEvent Impact Gap™ and solve each of the four big problems:

  • By capturing real-time data, Event Experience Leaders can get a clear view of ROE (Return on Event) and continuously optimize event success to drive better results.
  • With the right tools and a deep understanding of audience wants and needs, organizers can craft unique yet connected experiences for virtual and in-person audiences.
  • By leveraging future-proof technology, organizers are empowered to enable unique experiences in a hybrid world.
  • Broadening your skill set and partnering with expert specialists will help Event Experience Leaders stay at the forefront of events no matter what uncertainty comes our way.

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