How to LEAD the Way Through COVID-19 and Beyond
Earlier this month, Bizzabo launched (Almost) IN-PERSON. We’ve taken insights from our community and created the LEAD framework to help the industry flourish during uncertain times.
Bizzabo kicked-off our first virtual event (Almost) IN-PERSON with over 6,000 attendees across the globe—sharing insights, sparking ideas, and forging new connections. We had a thrilling lineup of leaders from SAP, IMEX, Twitter, Hubspot, Gainsight, Yext, and other inspiring brands discussing the most pressing topics and challenges our industry faces today.
The experience emboldened my belief that the power of in-person and virtual events have the ability to unleash movements, drive innovation, and bring companies, communities, and people together in ways that transcend technology.
However, the impact of the coronavirus has completely shaken our world and our industry. Over $1.1 billion dollars in economic loss can be traced back to the biggest tech conferences that had to cancel or postpone production in the last 10 weeks.
We feel the impact this has had on the events industry, through our customers, and through the data we’ve collected. As the world continues to change, we’ve realized just how necessary it is to revamp and revise our own events strategy.
I’m excited to announce we surveyed over 400 event leaders and professionals who joined our event to get their detailed insights and outlook on how the event industry was confronting COVID-19. The resulting data has helped us paint a clear picture of how the industry is responding now and will change in the future.
For instance, we learned that organizational resources are increasingly scarce with 45% of respondents sharing that they made changes including layoffs and furloughs as well as shifting and re-assigning members to other teams.
We’re truly privileged in our position to stand on the shoulders of giants. We work with the world’s greatest brands and event leaders, our customers, who’ve contributed their insights and survey results to build a comprehensive report on the current outlook of events.
Based on this data we determined that we were in a unique position to provide the greater events community with a clear framework for moving forward through uncertain times. This same framework has now become the guiding star of our own event strategy. We call this data-driven framework Lead The Way with L.E.A.D.
The acronym stands for long term, engaging, agile, and decisive. I’ll take a deep-dive in each area, how data informs each component, and what action you can take below.
Our data shows that the majority of marketers had to postpone (64%), cancel (60%), or pivot (57%) their events to virtual due to the impact of COVID-19. In addition, we saw that 92% of event marketers plan to incorporate virtual into their strategy in the near term. In spite of our current circumstances, we’re happy to see the majority of event leaders (55%) expect to run in-person events in late 2020, validating our belief that in-person will come roaring back when the time is right.
What this data has taught us is that this global crisis—in the grand scheme of things—is a moment in time. When you approach your event strategy today, we urge you to look far beyond the end of this fiscal year or next year.
Your long term event strategy, based on the data collected, should crystalize into a completely new approach that is different from the pre-COVID world. The combined approach of virtual and in-person events—what we have defined as the hybrid events strategy—will be essential to the new normal we will see in the future.
As we look to the next era of event playbooks, a big challenge in our industry is creating engaging experiences. We saw that 87% of event planners are expecting to run virtual events in 2020. Many great brands have already made the leap to virtual and are paving the way for other organizations that are making that pivot.Our data shows that engagement is key to success in the virtual events environment. Over 80% of survey respondents are using attendee engagement as a KPI for virtual success. While the industry intuitively understands how critical this metric is for success, survey results show we’re still finding it difficult to figure out how to successfully implement an engaging experience.
Compounding this challenge is the fact the majority of event marketers (73%) have not run virtual events in the past. An overwhelming amount (64%) of respondents believe attendee engagement and attendee networking are difficult to achieve long-term in the virtual realm.
Despite all these data-backed challenges we expect in the virtual realm and the number of planners adopting virtual into their strategy, over 98% of respondents still believe in-person events are irreplaceable.
As someone who strongly believes in the power of people, events, and coming together to build long lasting relationships, this stat resonates deeply with me. This new reality is helping us realize how important personal connections, community, and in-person is and it’s proving to us that in-person will come back even stronger than it was before.
However, as I mentioned above, we’re expecting a shift in strategies with in-person and virtual coming together to create a new hybrid approach. In fact, the majority (68%) of event professionals are already looking for the technology to support this combination strategy.
As we continue to define what a hybrid event strategy will look like and what solutions are needed to enable it in a virtual-first setting, we must confront engagement as the biggest hurdle we face as an industry. We should also embrace this opportunity to creatively solve for this gap in the virtual realm. Our attendees, sponsors, and speakers deserve the best experience regardless of the environment!
In times of crisis and monumental disruption—like the ongoing crisis we’re facing now—agility, being open-minded, and making the required changes are the most important things we can do for the benefit of our organization. We need to embrace this mindset shift as part of our thinking process and as part of our organizational culture.
Agility is something we have to build into our framework as we redefine our event strategy. This is especially important given that around 57% of event marketers believe their budgets for 2021 will decrease. When thinking about the future and operation at a more frugal capacity, being agile and doing more with less will help us better execute against our event strategy and goals.
It’s critical in times of uncertainty to be agile, creative, and ready to make changes in our strategy and in the way we operate. I challenge you to think about ways you can support your teams in developing that agile mindset.
We believe that in times where things are changing so dramatically and circumstances require us to embrace and adapt more technology in our lives, it’s imperative to make decisions clearly, quickly, and decisively. This will impact your organization, your team, your business results, and the experience you’ll build for your event attendees and partners.
The things that matter most to organizations we’ve surveyed include customer relations, customer retention, prospect engagement, and lead generation. This isn’t surprising data. But it does mean we need to achieve the same goals through different mediums and in a different way.
Building a holistic event approach that incorporates in-person and virtual while making quick—and sometimes bold—decisions is going to help you achieve the goals and objectives you’ve set at your organization faster and with less friction. I urge you as leaders in your organizations to make bold and decisive decisions every day.
In conclusion, look to these four key areas when redefining and adjusting your current event strategy: a long-term mindset, confronting the challenge of attendee engagement and experience, staying agile, and being decisive.
These core elements have helped our team weather unprecedented times and perform at a tremendous capacity with the same passion, creativity, and determination that made them essential for our mission of powering human connections.
On behalf of the Bizzabo Family, I want to say thank you for doing the incredible work you’re doing. We are humbled and honored to stand with the giants who are forging ahead and building the most innovative experiences to date.
Let’s make events better, let’s make them bolder, and let’s inspire our world that, despite any challenge or magnanimous setback, we are more energized than ever to bring events to life.
For a comprehensive view of how event organizers are responding to COVID-19, download the Post COVID-19 Event Outlook Report.