Events, like all other marketing vehicles and demand generation channels, have been continuously evolving over time. While 2020 challenged us all, it also dramatically accelerated the evolution of events and event marketing. Whether your business typically favored trade shows, roadshows, webinars, conferences, expos, or another permutation of an event in the past, these traditional avenues were no longer available and everyone was forced to adapt.
With the new year underway, we wanted to share our predictions about what events—and their role in B2B marketing—are likely to look like throughout 2021, so you can prepare for what’s to come.
1. Event metrics will change, centering more on value and less on vanity.
As marketing has evolved, event marketers are becoming one with their marketing departments. Through this evolution, they’re being held to the same types of revenue goals and reporting standards, as other B2B marketers. For example, Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs), pipeline generation and closed-won revenue are the common metrics being measured, because they demonstrate true business results, rather than just activity.
Other KPIs, like Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) as an example, still matter but are being changed for the better thanks to new data. Event attendee data can be captured across every digital touchpoint and analyzed more comprehensively, contextually, and predictively than ever before. This gives today’s event and B2B marketers an understanding of which leads have high purchase intent, and this knowledge helps inform where to focus their marketing efforts. The end result is that marketers can maximize on the most lucrative attendee audiences, as well as target those who may not yet be ready to buy with corresponding content and campaigns based on where they are in the buyer's journey.
This removes the guesswork traditionally associated with the shortcomings of traditional marketing measures and increases the value of all of the metrics and KPIs they leverage. It also gives marketers an important tool in their arsenal to better understand engagement, and use their knowledge to drive true business outcomes.
2. Convenience, intimacy, and personalization within virtual events will be prioritized.
Prior to COVID-19, attending an in-person event meant carving out time (and focus), because it required physical travel and participation for a dedicated period of time. In order to attract attendees and keep their attention, in-person events were inherently immersive. While attendees could still check emails on their phones and laptops, they were physically separated from their day-to-day lives and in a position to be present and engaged with the event.
Now, events have shifted online and people are working from home, which brings plenty of distractions. Event organizers face the difficult challenge of creating engagement, while also fitting into the lives of today’s professionals and delivering high-quality networking and content experiences. Today’s work-from-home reality also demands accessibility from any device, so attendees can participate while taking a walk, picking the kids up from school, in between important meetings, and so forth. This shift from in-person to virtual shows has made both intimacy and convenience the characteristics, toward which event organizers have to aim in order to be successful.
Due to these changes, the technology used to facilitate events today has to accommodate smaller, more intimate settings. This is a major shift in the event marketing industry, and it seems to be mirroring the way in which B2B marketing became more personalized and individualized over time to maximize performance. This is even where virtual events can shine, above and beyond in-person formats, as they can deliver personalization and intimate experiences in a way that's difficult to attain in-person.
3. The concept of event engagement will be elevated.
Attendee engagement has always been something that event planners have cared about, but it’s taken on a life of its own over the last year. As capabilities have expanded, event planners, sponsors, and speakers alike can use tools, like polling, Q&As, messaging, networking, video conferencing, and other dynamic features aimed at facilitating real-time interaction to hold attendees’ attention and boost overall engagement.
The same solutions can gather and make sense of data better than ever, helping event organizers and marketers understand which of their efforts resulted in maximum engagement. This data also becomes the engine, from which actionable audience insights are derived, informing how to maximize engagement itself, as well as the business results the event is aimed at driving.
While the value of attendee engagement is well understood, there’s also an enormous benefit to sponsors and event hosts that remains largely unexplored. For example, the new digital touchpoints between sponsors and attendees at virtual events can be used to provide intent insights that were previously not captured. Instead of leaving a tradeshow with a bowl of business cards, as they did previously, sponsors now can access a large volume of engagement data that’s actionable and can help them achieve much greater ROI from an event.
4. Event marketers will be part of the marketing team as event software becomes part of the MarTech stack.
Over the past decade, event marketers’ roles have evolved, similar to how B2B marketers’ roles have changed to be more data-centric and outcome-driven. The demand for data has driven these two previously disparate worlds together in a way that's really powerful, aligning these formerly discrete units’ journeys. Events teams are merging with marketing, giving way to combined metrics and engagement measures that inform the way that the centralized business unit will drive revenue and build awareness for their organization.
Similarly, online and mobile event platforms can integrate with other marketing platforms, making fostering attendee engagement and driving high-performing leads more seamless and predictable. Instead of a technology that once was utilized, as a one-off investment and implemented and managed in a silo, companies are increasingly viewing virtual event software as an important piece of their MarTech stack that fully integrates with other solutions. This cohesion will leave its mark in 2021, and many, many more years into the future.
We were all blindsided by the events of 2020, and 2021 could bring about its own brand of uncertainty. But if marketers and event organizers have learned one lesson over this past year, it’s how to be truly resilient and to push the boundaries of their creativity. We’ll all move forward with this new sense of resilience, and we’ll be eager to see how our predictions play out in the event technology and marketing space. Cheers to the excitement of new beginnings and the endless innovation occurring in the world of events and marketing!