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Event marketing | 19 October 2021

3 Tips for Extending the Value of Events in the Hybrid Era

Bizzabo Blog Staff

We posed a simple question to a roundtable of leading event marketers: How can you extend the value of events in the hybrid era?

Drawing from their experiences of the past year, our experts told us about the immense industry changes driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. They discussed some of the ways they had adapted. And they revealed proven strategies for maximizing impact at every last conference, exhibition, and webinar.

Sarah Reed, Senior Director of Global Strategic Events at ZenDesk, told us about her experimentation with event types. By installing event guardrails, she homed in on a handful of optimal formats.

Jessica Vogol, VP of Marketing at Movable Ink, revealed how leading organizations are breaking out hybrid budgets into two distinct events—in-person and virtual.

And David Moricca, CEO at Socialive and our co-host for the event, unpacked what it takes to convert an event’s worth of content into usable long-term marketing assets.

You can watch the full discussion on-demand here.

Or for a concentrated tour of the top 3 things we learned, keep reading.

#1 Proving Return: “We saw ROI for our digital events take off in a way that we weren’t anticipating.”

Coming into 2020, ZenDesk was running “too many events.” The pandemic only turned up the pressure, as any marketer with a Zoom account could run an event for the organization.

Sarah Reed created an events council to provide governance and control. They challenged the company’s marketers to justify their events, asking questions like:

  • Why are you running this event?
  • What is the true purpose?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Who is it truly for?

With guardrails in place, ZenDesk’s total number of events began to fall. Those webinars, workshops, and networking sessions that made it through the approval process were the strongest and most impactful.

“[The events council] helped us get a clear intent on each event,” she said. “We’ve not perfected it yet—but we are certainly in a better off place than how we entered the year.”

Despite running 24% fewer events in 2020 than 2019, Reed’s virtual event results were off the charts. Event registration and attendance were both up around 75%. Increased attendance drove improved lower-funnel activity—return on event (ROE) spiked by more than 400%.

#2 Budgeting: “We have drawn a line in the sand. Our annual conference is going ahead in-person in 2022.”

Movable Ink’s marketing team have nailed their colors to the mast: their annual in-person conference is going ahead in 2022. But as Jessica Vogol began planning her first in-person event in many months, she realized the process of event budgeting had changed.

“To produce an experience that is amazing both in-person and digitally, we’re moving towards budgeting for two completely different events,” she says.

Within each budget, prioritization is key. What elements are most important? Are live-streaming and other AV production for virtual events mission-critical or can you deliver content the next day? How much are you spending on accessibility features like closed captioning?

Although each part of a hybrid event is its own production, there’s another element to budgeting—interaction.

As we fully enter the hybrid era, what will make or break events is how the virtual and in-person events interact. How do virtual attendees talk to their in-person counterparts? What event model do you use? (For inspiration, check out our hybrid event examples.) What technology powers cross-format engagement? How do you connect people with each other after the event?

“People want community,” Vogol said. “I might not network with someone who is at home on their laptop. But if we are both part of this, a community—whether that’s Slack, LinkedIn, or another tool—that’s a huge opportunity.”

#3 Extending Value: “One of our biggest frustrations is the idea that you publish content and everybody automatically sees it.”

Even a small event generates a ton of content. Hours of videos, reams of transcripts, page after page of chat logs, and breakout room recordings. To marketers, David Moricca asks: “What comes next? How do you extend the value of your event experience?”

Many organizations are splitting longer videos and scripts into shorter, bite-sized chunks. An hour-long keynote presentation becomes five short single-topic talks. A 40-minute roundtable becomes a dozen 90-second teaser clips for social media.

It’s about distilling down ideas and making them more consumable. Diehards will attend the live event or watch the full recording. Bite-sized iterations make event content attractive to so many more.

Short-form content is so effective that some teams are doubling down on the format. At ZenDesk, for example, Reed is building an event around “modular content.”

“We’re doing an event with all-modular content,” she says. “I’m creating 20 pieces of short-form (10-minute) content. You can watch it on-demand or as a sequential agenda.” You can consume the content in whatever mechanism you choose.”

Key Takeaways: Extending Value in the Hybrid Era

For event marketers, it’s been a very interesting year and a half. While the world looks different, the event industry is entirely unrecognizable.

Just as how we work has changed so too has the way we measure success—return on investment and return on event.

In this webinar, we learned how marketing teams are leveraging experimentation to home in on proven event structures and tactics. We saw how budgeting for hybrid events became more nuanced to reflect the dichotomy of hybrid. And we discovered what it takes to extend the impact of events past its curtain call.

Many thanks to Sarah Reed and Jessica Vogol for their insight and experience, and to our Socialive partner, who helped produce the event.

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