But while virtual events can augment or replace some physical events, the medium does not diminish the importance of the face-to-face experience, events marketers said.
“You have to look at which events are relationship-building and which are communication and education,” said Denise Persson, CMO at virtual platform developer ON24.
Virtual events provide a good environment for communication and education, she said, but relationship building is best placed in the physical world.
Virtual and face-to-face events deliver very different results for ConnectWise, an IT solutions company that demonstrates its products in the intimate environment of Everything Channel's Xchange Solution Provider conference while also casting a wider net at the media company's virtual trade show.
The focus of the face-to-face event is relationship and brand building, said Jeannine Edwards, director-business services at ConnectWise. Marketers already have a relationship with most of the attendees who will visit their demonstration room.
But the company also needs to generate new leads and fill its sales funnel. “How do we scale our message out so we're spending less money to talk to a greater number of people?” she said.
Everything Channel has a data-base much larger than the roster of companies it invites to Xchange, she said. When ConnectWise participated in one of the media company's virtual shows in October, marketers found that more than 60% of the leads generated were not already in its database.
That kind of result helps validate participation in virtual shows, she said. “In today's economy, everything we do must have ROI.”
The ability to measure results popularized the webinar, but the value of more complex, interactive events extends beyond statistics, said Kevin Carbone, CEO at 6Connex, the virtual event-focused subsidiary introduced by digital marketing agency Design Reactor last month.
Virtual events give marketers a host of benefits, from cutting costs to increasing reach and even reducing carbon emissions. But at the end of the day, events need to start a dialogue—an area where marketers said virtual events still have room to grow.
“There's a content strategy and an interaction strategy,” he said. “You want to serve relevant content to the people who are at the show. Then you have a parallel philosophy that enables social interactions. No matter the nature of the show, it's always about connecting with people.” M