Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a sea change in the events industry.
As headlines published surrounding lockdowns across the globe, those organising upcoming events scrambled to assuage eventgoers. They also had another difficult task at hand: deciding whether to move fully to digital versus cancelling their carefully planned meetings entirely. For those who decided to move online, the question was about engagement: How would they replicate the immersive touchpoints that make many eventgoers attend in the first place?
Luckily, all experiences can be immersive, whether they’re live or digital. Take DocuSign as an example: The company and its customers were originally slated to meet in person this past March at its Global Sales Kickoff and Momentum conferences. But as the event’s content was finalised and less than one week remained until showtime, San Francisco — its host city — declared a state of emergency.
Instead of folding, the company shifted its conference entirely to livestream, creating a highly engaging virtual programme in just three days that attracted more than 6,000 virtual participants and a significant increase in engagement.
Nobody knows when bans on live events will be lifted. Nevertheless, DocuSign’s example is proof that brands can still communicate with their most important audiences, regardless of the medium, providing immersive touchpoints all the while.
Even when event organisers can host face-to-face meetings again, they’ll likely find that COVID-19 has made an indelible mark on the industry. Eventgoers could demand a more hybrid approach that marries in-person and digital elements, meaning organisers must accommodate those preferences while still ensuring a top-notch experience.
Beyond top-down content
Instead of having attendees passively observe event proceedings from their home office chairs, an immersive digital meeting lets them actively shape their own digital experience. From the moment your customers register for an event until it concludes, you can offer them several different perks that go beyond simply watching their laptop screens.
Remember that digital meetings can still inspire discussion and networking, which fosters a more positive digital experience that better connects attendees. With the shift toward digital meetings, your job is to arm them with the right tools to facilitate such involvement — ones that are still effective virtually.
In-depth demos, crowdsourced content, and even interactive polls during livestream sessions all place the power in attendees’ hands: Each of these things allows attendees to dive deeper and access content beyond what’s presented to them on the screen. And emerging technologies inspire the kinds of tools needed to produce an event that drives results.
Immersive events and interactive technology
Thankfully, technology allows us to keep hosting events in a time of global quarantine. Likewise, it allows you to discover and interact with the right attendees, give them access to comprehensive content, facilitate better virtual communications, and create follow-up opportunities.
You’ll likely have more of these opportunities soon: Gartner predicts that B2B-focused companies will gain even more access to tech that helps them craft immersive digital experiences.
The right technology also gives access to data you can use to hyperpersonalise content. Even during digital meetings, organisers can foster community through tools such as “braindates,” robust online forums, and digital surveys sent to attendees prior to the meeting. These all work to customise the digital experience and link like-minded people based on their personal profiles.
For instance, digital meetings can include networking sessions that pair attendees based on profile similarities or meetup opportunities that keep their preferences and interests in mind. Organisers can further personalise attendees’ digital experiences by using survey answers to inform their digital meeting journey.
Which talk tracks should they be sure to attend? Will there be virtual demos that are of interest to them? Are there any individuals they should connect with during online events? Personalisation helps attendees maximise their time during events and navigate larger conferences.
Four ways to use interactive technology effectively
To avoid wielding technology like a hammer searching for a nail, start by thinking about what problems you want to solve. Here are four strategies for effectively using technology to create successful and immersive digital meetings:
1. Establish clear objectives. As with anything in business, you have to start with your overall objectives. Why are you hosting this digital meeting? What does your company hope to do? What does your audience want to get out of the event, and what behaviours do you want attendees to adopt by the end of the event? As a B2B marketer, you’ll likely have different goals than your consumer-oriented counterparts, so you need to break down what type of event will attract other businesses.
2. Personalise the attendee journey. To add authenticity (not to mention better learning and retention) personalise in a way that allows attendees to choose how they approach that digital meeting and shape their overarching experiences.
Start by thoroughly researching your audience and the different personas it includes based on audience demographics and firmographics. Are you targeting C-suite executives, managers, current clients, or a combination of those? Are you asking for people within a specific industry to attend?
Once you’ve thought through these aspects, you can weave technology into the attendee journey you build for each persona. As you do, think about how you can tailor the digital experience to specific learning styles. After all, each attendee consumes content in a different way. Instead of directing attendees through your story, consider allowing visitors to control the story themselves. You’ll see deeper engagement and stronger brand connections as a result, no matter the medium.
3. Blend in even more technology to create a full-fledged digital experience. Attendees’ devices can go beyond ensuring they can access the digital meeting’s livestream feeds and agenda. They can also be the devices that activate a story, give access to post-presentation or -event information, and provide gamification or training opportunities when combined with other technologies.
QR codes and augmented reality are two increasingly popular ways to create a more connected digital experience. Because these technologies are compatible with attendees’ devices, they can create a more layered, immersive digital meeting that goes far beyond simply watching presentations on a screen.
Likewise, presentations themselves can also benefit from a tech-driven boost: Overlaying AR or mixed reality visuals on a live presentation provides a much richer online journey for viewers. Audience members can either use their own devices to view these overlays or see the enhanced images directly on the presenter’s IMAG screen.
Similarly, pitting two products, ideas, or solutions against each other during presentations is a great way to show off their benefits and features while entertaining and engaging a virtual audience. Viewers can vote on their favourites, which draws them further into each presentation. In the case of product demos, representatives can also hide “clues” in their presentations and incentivise attendees to identify them.
4. Build in ongoing data analysis. Analyse data leading up to the digital meeting as well as during and after it. Then, use that data to continually improve the immersive digital experiences you’re trying to create.
For example, you might find that more eventgoers attend one type of panel instead of another; this might clog up event chat feeds — but it also speaks to their interests. After, you can reevaluate such data to optimise the next one: Maybe you’ll plan more of that type of panel next time or create additional channels where attendees can chat.
Event organisers looking for these metrics should start with live chat rooms and similar online feeds. Besides providing information on real-time engagement, chat rooms can drive conversations with question prompts. Having individuals monitor these chat rooms as well as social feeds is a great way to get a handle on what attendees are talking about.
You should also be sure to measure engagement on the spot by tracking how many people attend sessions, drop-off rates, and engagement on live polls and other hands-on opportunities. Each of these data points can help shape future decisions.
In a world that overloads us with visuals — from online to TV and print ads — brands need to cut through that noise by providing multifaceted and multisensory digital experiences. This is still true in the digital meeting arena: A multifaceted approach connects people closely with a brand and excites them in a different way, which makes their journey more memorable.
Just like in-person conferences and gatherings, digital meetings can still provide immersive, interactive touchpoints that bring attendees on a journey with you. Even in these uncertain times, using technology thoughtfully and deliberately can help you create digital experiences that stay with attendees long after they log off.
Disclosure: DocuSign is a client of InVision Communications.
Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?
Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.