Remember those meetings pre-COVID when marketers discussed all the ways to extend the reach of live event activity? Resistance to a virtual element would always come in the form of someone saying, “but what if less people turn-up to the physical event because they have the option to watch it online from their office?”
This concern also used to be voiced by football clubs when sports broadcasters moved in en masse. Yet, stadiums remained full and season ticket waiting-lists got longer. The reason? It’s because nothing beats the experience of ‘live’.
The global pandemic has taught us that hosting virtual meetings and virtual events has opened the door to a broader, more extensive audience - one that can log-in from different timezones or watch ‘on-demand’ at a more convenient later date.
Given the choice however of watching from afar or attending a safe, in-person conference with the opportunity to network with peers and soak-up the energy and inspiration resonating from the on-stage speaker, an overwhelming majority of delegates can’t wait to walk back through the doors of a live event venue.
Once venues fully reopen across Europe, marketers will no longer have the excuse that a virtual element could dilute the in-person attendance figures. Instead, they’ll need to work out how to promote two different, yet connected event offers and advertise hybrid conferences with personalised marketing campaigns.
To help, here’s six effective strategies for promoting both virtual and hybrid activity.
1) Understand the goals
The event marketing process begins by acknowledging that there is an event that can help your organisation achieve a specific goal. Events can add to the sales pipeline, help improve morale, promote a product, deliver key messaging or nurture thought-leadership and brand reputation.
By identifying what the in-person event is looking to achieve, you can then plan how a virtual element can add value. Having a clear understanding of the overall objective will help you plan tailored event marketing messages for both in-person and virtual audiences.
2) Play to the strengths of the marketing channels
The most effective way to promote your event is through multi-channel activity and a series of coordinated campaigns. These can range from email marketing to social content, newsletters, digital marketing and PR. Knowing which channel will drive in-person attendance and which channel will boost digital eye-balls allows you to tailor accordingly.
For example, use the blog channel on your company’s website to engage with your existing attendee community by uploading promotional highlights video, positive attendee testimonials and photography from past years. Regular long-form content of this type will improve the site’s organic SEO, and drive in-person attendee FOMO but won’t do much for digital sign-ups.
Online viewers to your event may be more interested in content about this year’s event such as your speaker scheduling and potential take-aways from each virtual session. A new virtual audience will not have attended before so should to be mined through social targeting, email or PPC.
3) Leverage cross-platform social media
If your audience is on Facebook, within your page why not create one Facebook Event for those planning to attend in person and one Facebook Event for anyone interested in your virtual offer. That way you can tailor your messaging, promote personalised scheduling and gauge levels of interest in both hybrid elements.
Virtual audiences don’t want to feel like they’re standing in the shadows of in-person attendees so once you’ve built a social community, give them bespoke opportunities to network and interact with your event content.
Remember to keep one hashtag for the whole event though. This will bridge the two hybrid audiences across all social channels and allow them to not only speak with each other and share content, but also feed your speakers with questions and feedback wherever they’re watching from.
4) Build-in sponsor word-of-mouth into marketing plans
When your sponsors and partners promote your event, it markets the programme exponentially and benefits all stakeholders. So if you have sponsors aligned to different hybrid areas, make sure they’re notifying their contacts and followers about their involvement.
For example, a drinks sponsor who is aligned to the physical conference networking lounge will be able to promote socially distanced one-to-one meetings with their product on offer. Whereas a more technology-focused sponsor could align their product or service with a virtual ‘happy hour’ for online audiences to network.
If you provide each of these two partners with bespoke marketing collateral, they’ll spread two different messages that will benefit your event as a whole.
5) Brand positioning
Use brand positioning to elevate your sponsors’ visibility and opportunities for your audience to engage. In the physical event, headline sponsors may speak on stage, host the coffee breaks or position themselves with collateral, branding or goodie-bag content.
Ideas for the virtual event can include:
- A virtual sponsor room, filled with custom content including videos, downloadable pdfs, product offers etc
- A welcome video, which plays while attendees are waiting for the next online session to begin
- A sponsor giveaway, awarded for online session attendance or new social media followers during the event.
- Virtual goodie-bags containing user guides, onboarding manuals, discount coupons, exclusive access to workshops etc.
6) Email marketing
Segment your email marketing between those who have registered to attend in-person and those who have signed-up for attending online. That way, you can deliver personalised messages so that everyone feels engaged. You can also see which segment requires additional promotion and tailor your pre-registration email marketing accordingly.
Remember to create all emails to be consistent with your event website to ensure brand cohesion. This means that similarly to your event website, you’ll want to showcase event brand colours, fonts, logos and themes in the design of your email campaigns.
Once your templates are set-up, make sure that copy is kept simple. Leave detailed information and heavy text for your branded registration or website landing page.
For further ideas on event marketing strategies, read Cvent's Event Marketing Guide.
An experienced CIM qualified marketing professional, Felicia is the European Marketing Manager at Cvent and has nearly 15 years’ sales and marketing experience in fast-moving technology businesses. She's responsible for the strategic direction of the marketing team in Europe, including expansion planning, campaign execution, demand generation and event management.
Before joining Cvent, Felicia held multiple marketing and business development positions with technology providers including Rackspace, Telecity Group (now Equinix), Infinity Data Centres and Merrill Corporation (now Datasite). Having had a healthy appetite for events for many years, she also has experience in planning and hosting both corporate and private events as well as speaking at both live and virtual events.