Event planners around the world began to feel the effects of COVID-19 when it began making headlines in 2020, but MCI provided expert industry advice and an alternative to the difficult decision to cancel or postpone events — virtual formats.
Now, with the world slowly getting back to meeting in person, hybrid events have taken centerstage, giving attendees the choice to be face to face or virtual and providing tailored options that are unique to their preferences and comfort levels. With such flexibility allowing people to attend events from the comfort of their homes without worry of exposure or safety concerns, why wouldn’t everyone sign up for the virtual platform? As hybrid event coordinators, it is our job to strategize attendee behavior, plan platform and event operations, and market based on what we believe attendees are more likely to gravitate toward based on the current world climate related to the pandemic.
In-person events are not going anywhere, and at MCI, we operate by a “show must go on” strategy, while also allowing our international and domestic attendees and exhibitors the flexibility they need to participate regardless of travel or health and safety worries. There are multiple benefits to in-person event attendance such as networking, booth visitation, education, face-to-face connection, and direct lead captures and scans, and as event planners, we want to encourage this type of engagement! There is long-term value for attendees and exhibitors in the connections they make and the knowledge they gain. It is also beneficial to the hosting organization in increasing their engagement and the event’s reputation of value and overall experience.
So how do we leverage our in-person attendance over virtual when a hybrid event is taking place?
Show Content Comparisons
The first task when attempting to prioritize in-person registrations is to establish the difference in content for both virtual and face-to-face audiences. Onsite events give attendees access to unparalleled networking and engagement that is only available face to face; they can join sessions with their peers, ask them questions, and get to know them in an environment where they are fully immersed. There’s also the chance to participate in session formats that are more creative and interactive. On a virtual platform, the sessions can be limited in format and interactivity. They can also have fewer concurrent sessions and content tracks. This is important to push front and center in marketing since consumers don’t typically want just a slice, they want the whole pie. While virtual attendees get access to on-demand content for a month post-event, in-person attendees get this, as well as all the relationship-building available onsite.
Additionally, oftentimes, virtual platforms won’t have exhibits, and if they do, it’s typically a small number. Exhibitors find more value on their end from onsite booths and face-to-face engagement. They have full conversations, exchange contacts and capture leads, and set up meetings with attendees, securing new customers right then and there. Attendees need to know that they cannot benefit from the full opportunities of connecting with all the exhibitors the show has to offer unless they show up in person.
Attendees purchase based on value. It is important for consumers to get the most bang for their buck and, in this case, access to the most content for the price. As event organizers, we strategize our pricing based on this consumer behavior, and to help leverage in-person registration with a hybrid event, it is important to make potential attendees feel that it’s more worth their dollar to attend live. We have already established our content comparisons between the two platforms, so attendees already know that they gain access to more content when they show up face to face. So, how does pricing apply to decision making? To promote the value of in person, we set up pricing so that there is little difference in the virtual vs. in-person price. Attendees will feel that the value lies in getting the most content and networking availability possible for almost the same price as virtual.
Maximize the FOMO
This is where marketing comes in. The virtual program should be positioned primarily as a plan B conference, specifically for those who cannot attend onsite and still wish to be involved to some extent. Virtual is the sneak peek, a partial insight into the true conference and not for those who wish to get the full experience. This will incentivize attendees to want to experience the exclusivity and opportunities only those who attend in person gain access to.
On top of that, it is important to build upon public opinion that people are ready to move on from virtual meetings. It is reasonable to assume that attendees have been bogged down by video calls and Zoom and Teams meetings for the past two years due to the climate of the world. They are over it! As marketers, it is our job to romanticize the face to face, playing up the nostalgia of live event days before the pandemic put them on hold. The world is ready to come back together, and so are attendees. With focus on “coming back together,” it is also important that attendees feel comfortable to join us in person, and we need to promote our confidence in COVID-19 health measures and onsite guidelines to keep everyone safe and healthy. Attendees want to feel that we care about them and take the steps to show it, on top of the push for our engaging onsite content.
Juliana Pearce is a marketing specialist in MCI USA’s Strategic Events, Meetings & Incentives business unit. She has been with MCI for three years and continues to develop marketing materials, campaigns, and creative content for both SEM&I event clients and MCI. She is based out of the Dallas office. In her free time, she loves to explore creative writing, photography, travel, and cooking.
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