The truest measurement of a successful event comes down to engagement. And that can be accomplished whether it’s face-to-face or virtual.
As consumers and attendees increasingly rely on technology, marketers can maximize engagement and create unique moments by bridging the online (digital tools) and physical worlds (direct mail, dimensionals, merchandise, etc.). Utilizing current technology, virtual events and getting creative with incentive offerings, you can provide a great brand experience for attendees as well as the digital engagement they crave.
But, all the technology in the world won’t help your event unless your attendees are engaging with you and retaining the information or message you share with them. Live events will never go away, it’s hard to replace the human connection in a virtual world—but not being able to meet face-to-face won’t prevent you from achieving your goals.
What Do You Want Your Event to Accomplish?
Choosing the right type of event for your business comes down to what you want to achieve and what flavor you and your brand can add to the event. The good news is that the metrics you set for your live event should translate fairly well to a virtual or campaign alternative. Your event objectives should be your guiding star. Here are a few examples we’ve supported:
Goal: increase product or service understanding
Goal: increase level of knowledge or number of skills
Goal: facilitate connections, and improve or measure sentiment
Goal: increase number of people aware of brand, or improve brand perception
Goal: generate sales leads, encourage referral and word of mouth interactions
Goal: reward top performers in a way the value and will work hard to earn
The best virtual events mirror in-person ones in many ways. Do your best to provide networking opportunities for attendees, get great speakers, secure an event host, and personalize the attendee experience. And don’t forget, virtual events are extremely measurable. Companies can easily learn which sessions were the most popular, how many people attended, where those attendees live, how they paid for their tickets and much more. Just about every attendee action can be easily tracked and analyzed.
While incentive travel isn’t as simple to rebuild, you can explore alternatives like sticking closer to home if timing is difficult to change or offering travel vouchers so your top performer can still get away to celebrate their success. The key is being proactive and having a plan in place ahead of time to reduce stress and allow you to be prepared for unexpected circumstances.
Take a look at some engagement ideas below to help put your mind at ease as you make the shift from a live event to a goal achieving alternative.
The Right Type of Event Needs the Right Type of Engagement
We know an engagement strategy isn’t one-size-fits-all, so here are some points to consider that will help keep your audience engaged:
When done well, these events have the ability to drastically increase brand visibility before the general public has a chance to even use whatever it is you’re showcasing. Ideally this includes some type of product demo and education piece about features and functionality. If you’re running a launch meeting or virtual training, go beyond the basics to really capture attention. Engagement tactics for product launches include:
- Drip campaigns can be used to slowly but surely introduce each value point and differentiator to your audience. These could include mailings, emails, mini-series to stream, podcast releases or puzzle pieces. Get creative, be clear and give it to them in small doses.
- Virtual experiences like augmented reality or virtual reality are trending and offer unique ways to get physical product demos across in a digital but highly engaging manner. This might include direct mail with headsets or scanable codes.
- Group ‘chats’ bring teams together and could help save on sending every person a demo. You could identify your influencers and create small group virtual unboxings where they get to navigate the new product together over video chat and instant message. This gives you the opportunity to engage directly and encourage more human interaction. For example, if you’re rolling out a service, send your small groups each a piece of a puzzle and number them. Then have them ‘un-box’ their pieces in order—you’ll see engagement levels skyrocket because they’re controlling the show and play a role!
Typically smaller than conferences, these events are often used to train employees and managers—the most successful versions emphasize interactivity over lectures. This type of virtual event likely includes webinars or information sessions alongside supplemental materials. The key to meeting your goals here is reinforcement. The premise is that anything someone learns will last for a short period of time and then slowly diminish. To combat that, here are some training reinforcement engagement tips:
- Sync up your learning management system or training capabilities to your virtual event. This will allow you to create and track learning modules, quizzes, games and certifications. Most systems will also let you attach supporting documents as well.
- Create gamification aspects for completing the training, even things as small as offering points, merchandise, game plays or badges and status can go a long way towards encouraging attendees to participate.
- Go physical with a direct mail piece pushing them towards a digital experience. This could include your training materials or education sheets with calls to action about online participation.
Replacing a conference, summit or peer group can be a tough one. You’re likely using some type of virtual conference system or simply simulcasting the core message—keynotes, guest speakers, sponsor presentations, etc. If establishing connections or networking is a key element of your event’s engagement strategy, look for ways to empower leaders (or influencers) to conduct virtual meetings. Provide guidelines (and access to conferencing or other tech resources if needed) for how to hold an online meeting. Here are some other things you could layer in:
- Support your sponsors by shipping out swag bags. Communicate that just because you are be missing out on in-person connections, doesn’t mean you have to miss out entirely. Provide curated items and vendor information based on their preferences.
- Reward virtual engagement with small rewards or some of the swag. Reward for visiting virtual booths, attending sessions, asking questions, participating in forums and watching recaps. Mail it, load it to a points account, tally it up on a leaderboard for status… make sure they know how to earn and then show it happening in as close to real time as possible.
- Attendance bonuses could be used to encourage attending multiple sessions or tracks like anyone would during an on-site event. Perhaps it’s a digital punch card or an opportunity to earn an exclusive reward—like a Q&A with your keynote or a prize package.
While there’s no denying this can be tough to recreate digitally, it’s not without its own share of opportunities. Going online gives you the opportunity to reach many more people than those confined to your geographical location. That’s an opportunity to expand your brand awareness and engage an audience you may not otherwise have been able to connect with. The outcomes you’re aiming for can be achieved through:
- Creative digital experiences that are fresh and interactive have incredible potential—and are exceptionally shareable. Create a video series where audiences vote on where the story goes next—place your brand front and center within the content itself. No time or budget for video? How about a contest, social responsibility play, or spread kindness effort. Find ways to bring the participant into the story.
- Leverage influencers to get your message out. You likely already have an influencer strategy. Leverage that channel for your event-specific messaging. Provide binge-able video snippets and let the network do the sharing for you. Better yet, encourage (or incent) your influencers to make their own content. The power of a peer recommendation is much greater than an advertisement!
- Localized mini-events could also be a great alternative to a large brand event. Mimic direct sales companies and find your brand advocates, get them involved by shipping them the stuff they need to host a mini brand party at their home or business and let the power of word of mouth take over.
This is likely to hit closest to home for anyone swapping from a live event to a virtual one who is looking to fill their pipeline and close deals (like those on a tradeshow floor or having QBRs with partners). But have you considered an alternative digital engagement can accommodate a much wider audience by removing geographical restraints? Important stakeholders previously unavailable to attend in-person can now easily log in and start engaging with you. To hit your sales numbers, consider:
- Sales incentives aimed at your team, partners, employees, and customers. Offer new business bonuses, extra points or payouts to your teams, and short-term challenges.
- Referral programs can also be used to allow your advocates to be rewarded for bringing business your way. Ensure the rules are clear and communicated often.
Providing a one-of-a-kind travel experience with networking opportunities is hard to recreate individually. However, there are benefits to allowing your top performers to choose the getaway of a lifetime on their own terms. Ensure you’re still providing the status they crave in other ways.
- Individual travel for top performers lets your winner choose a trip that makes the most sense for their situation. Leverage a concierge travel experiences provider to create a one-of-a-kind experience (e.g., bring a chef to the home for a hands-on cooking class, schedule a VIP trip with the kids to Disney or Niagara Falls, etc.)
- Provide choice with a points program where they can choose travel or something personally rewarding like a designer handbag or new grill—something they wouldn’t normally purchase for themselves.
- Promote top performers publicly to ensure everyone understands who the winners are, what they accomplished and the value they added to your organization.
- Reward achievement with meaningful tangible awards leveraging timeless pieces like plaques and watches. Take it to the next level by providing a personalized gift based on the trip or item they selected (e.g., branded BBQ tools for the new grill, branded wallet for the new designer handbag, branded beach towels for the Cancun trip).
The More the Merrier—But Remember Every Attendee’s Motivations Are Different
There are a few considerations to take into account depending on the audience you want to engage. There are five types of audiences: direct sales teams, channel sales teams, employee audiences, customers and prospects, and consumers. Here are some engagement ideas for each type of audience:
Direct sales teams are a captive audience but often have competing priorities among account management, prospecting, skills and product training, as well as general relationship management—how do you become a priority?
- Consider adding in some competition and reward to your engagement tactics to keep your participants’ attention. See who can pass the most training classes and reward top performers with a one-of-a-kind trophy or unique tangible reward. (Our holiday gift guide is a great place to find inspiration!)
- Communicate often with this crew; and use more than just email. Consider desk drops and mailers to catch their attention.
Channel sales teams have a million things competing for their attention, a live event was just one of the ways you could capture their attention—so now what?
- Break the mold and go beyond just email tactics. Consider giving them incentives to participate and keep the communication stream running. Reinforce training or certification tracks with rewards—whether that’s status or tangible gifts.
- Consider incorporating branded items with segmented communications related to the tracks you need them to take.
Employee audiences are captive as well as diverse in their job functions and comprehension needs. Some may read everything and others have an inbox that features a perpetual blue figure in brackets, never diminishing only growing.
- Consider heavier segmentation and reach people through digital and physical means inside your locations. On-location dimensional communication pieces will get noticed.
- Increase interest with online game plays or trivia-style quizzes to ensure your message made it through.
Customers and prospects often have their own agendas and priorities. They could be completely attentive or on the other end of the spectrum—oblivious to your message.
- Consider segmentation.
- Encourage engagement through micro-rewards, status and exclusivity.
Consumers run the gambit. You know your target audience best in this case.
- Our encouragement here is to communicate consistently.
- Go for surprising and personalized tactics—shock them out of complacency.
Communication Is Key to Virtual Event Engagement
More than anything, communicating clearly and frequently across all channels is the best way to help your audience engage in your event message. Throw in elements that provide fun, status, rewards and unique experiences, and you’ll have a virtual event that is not only memorable—but one that produces results.
Still stuck? We’d be happy to listen to your specific situation and offer some suggestions. Reach out here.