By Erik Strömbäck, director of OnBrand and Bynder’s global events marketing manager.
Just as event professionals were getting up-to-speed with the latest developments in the experience economy - from building brand activations to creating immersive experiences - everything in the events playbook shifted. In the B2B world especially, physical was traded for virtual, exhibition booths were deconstructed by their webinar and online demo counterparts, and technology substituted…well, almost everything.
The new marketing landscape is something we, at Bynder, have needed to navigate this year, too. Every year in Amsterdam we hold OnBrand, an event for brand marketers who are looking to uncover “what's next?” in marketing, design, and technology. Like many event professionals who already had the wheels in motion for their 2020 roster, the pandemic threw our team a curveball on how we deliver OnBrand safely.
Keeping reputation intact while experimenting with new formats has always been a challenge for marketing and event professionals, but never has it been classified as a necessary pivot - until now. After turning OnBrand from a physical event to a hybrid physical and virtual event, we decided to go fully virtual and rename the event to Studio OnBrand. Haunted by horror stories of virtual events in the pandemic world - think webinar fatigue and detrimental technical issues - we were adamant to plan Studio OnBrand cohesively to ensure we delivered on our promise of quality. The good news is that it paid off.
While Studio OnBrand was a success with 1410 people attending throughout the day for an average view time of three hours, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. We learned a lot along the way - many lessons we wish we knew beforehand. So, to help you navigate these tricky waters, here are our ten tips for delivering a successful virtual event.
- Think through the logistics
Never underestimate planning ahead of time, particularly from a logistical perspective. Rushing through this essential step in the planning process can damage the end result and waste your time in the long run.
As ensuring ROI is more important than ever, give thought to what event analytics and data you need and which software can help you access it - starting from the attendee sign-up process and going right through to the event delivery platform. It all drills down to proving the value of your event. And, if this can’t be proven, you risk planning future events on a foundation of misinformation and assumption. In a time riddled with uncertainty, certainty is gold dust.
- Consider the GDPR aspect
With no printed badges featuring the T&Cs in small print, GDPR is a whole new ballgame in the virtual world. The platform you’re hosting the event on won’t necessarily have GDPR compliance built in, which means you need to think about this yourself. Put it on your agenda as soon as you begin planning to ensure you’re compliant right from the start.
- Diversify your content
Getting heard in an increasingly crowded virtual environment requires content - and a lot of it. It’s important to plan a content production pipeline that’s diverse and targeted. From social graphics that include quotes from speakers to video snippets from previous events on your website, the more varied your content is, the more enticed your potential audience will be.
Content shouldn’t be an afterthought or an add-on; it demands a level of dedication comparable to the event itself. However, pushing content out at scale can be problematic and resource-heavy without the right technology and talent.
For Studio OnBrand, we relied on a dedicated content producer to vet our content output and ensure brand consistency. Using Bynder’s Video Brand Studio solution, he was able to create, update and distribute video content easily and quickly to social media through its brand templates, batch creation and automation tools. It was used alongside Bynder’s Digital Brand Templates, which allowed our producer to both re-version existing social assets and create new ones at scale, while keeping in line with Studio OnBrand’s design principles. This was paramount during the event itself, where social content was needed a lot faster, in almost real time. By jumping into the branded templates, our producer was able to easily generate new social graphics that included timely quotes from the event’s speakers.
- Amp up your production quality
With limited means to create physical immersive experiences, there’s a bigger emphasis on virtual events to amplify their production quality. Not only do events need to look amazing, but they also need that ‘wow’ factor - something difficult to achieve in a virtual environment.
The easy option is to have a day full of Zoom calls, but this uninviting format can prompt people to mentally tune out. For Studio OnBrand, we decided to construct a TV studio in a physical venue. While a handful of speakers were able to sit in the studio in-person, the audience sat at home and marvelled at the set-up over the live stream - spurring them to give the event a 9.1 attendee rating, which is higher than the average. A welcome break from the webcam grid we’re all used to seeing on our computer screens, the TV-esque arrangement boosted engagement on social media as many discussed it’s slick and professional design.
- Utilise people’s proven track record
If your event will bring together industry leaders to present keynotes or participate in roundtable-style discussions, select those with a proven track record. Collating a speaker line-up with candidates who are inspiring and knowledgeable is essential. But it’s even better if they have an industry reputation for being a good speaker. Knowing who you’re putting up on stage enables quality management and adds credibility to your event.
- Pre-record speaking sessions
We asked our speakers who weren’t able to be at the physical venue to film their sessions before the event so they can take the time to make sure they get it right. A live event can pile on the pressure, so giving them extra time to perfect their speaking track can boost their confidence while enabling you to configure the agenda and timings based on the session they provide. It’s a win-win situation.
- Get a good moderator
The one thing that’s missing from a pre-recorded speaking session is the interactive element. This is why it’s important to allow time for a Q&A. By having your speakers join after their pre-recorded session has been played, ready to answer the audience’s questions, you can boost engagement and increase their accessibility in an instant.
To moderate this discussion at Studio OnBrand, we invited comedian Andrew Moskos, who really resonated with the audience.
- Facilitate online engagement
A virtual event is natively online, so you have to adapt your usual methods of engaging attendees to the online environment. The majority of attendees will be open to joining the discussion - providing they’re given the right prompts, at the right time.
Consider using a virtual event platform which has a chat function. We found preparing polls, which only asked people to interact with a simple click, kept engagement on the up. But, to ensure interactivity doesn’t turn stale, prepare your own employees to engage in the chat and pre-prepare questions that you can fall back on. Often, seeing others participate can convince and inspire others to get stuck in.
- Gaze into the future
Conversations around the pandemic have become oversaturated and tired. It’s more helpful and interesting to talk about what’s happening next. Focus your event’s theme on the future and don’t get too bogged down in the past and present. Gearing your event’s agenda to gaze into the future is more likely to encourage speakers to provide tangible advice that attendees can take away and apply. After all, isn’t the core purpose of B2B events to reshape the future and reinvigorate industry discussions and ways of working?
- Be willing to adapt, fast
We know first-hand that migrating from a physical event to a purely digital one isn’t easy. Trust your gut instinct and rely on your colleagues for feedback. Agility and remaining open to new and creative ways of doing things have always been essential ingredients that make up a high-performing events and marketing team - and now, these qualities can truly shine. It’s good to know that some things will never change.
So, while virtual events can be a whole new feat, there are several things to take into account if you want it to impress attendees enough for them to stay and come back for more. Stick to your promise of delivering an outstanding event, work your way through these ten steps and - just like you finessed your physical event skills - virtual events will become another string to your bow.