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A New Game for Virtual Events

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The days of business trips and boozy receptions, blingy booths and glitzy giveaways are a thing of the past – at least for the foreseeable future. And even when physical meetings are again a reality, the event industry’s approach will have transformed forever, says Ogilvy.

Events have long been the lifeblood of pretty much every business sector on the planet. The perfect synergy of actions, attendees, and participants has shaped everything from sober delivery of the annual report to the showbiz and razzmatazz of the biggest events and trade shows on earth.

Andréanne Leclerc, Regional Managing Partner at Ogilvy Asia, and co-author of the report said: “In 2020 and beyond, all kinds of events including trade shows will go digital. Which means if a brand’s intention is to impress clients and influence people, it’s time to get (virtually) real when it comes to booths, presentations, meet-and-greets or entertainment. The importance of not only adapting, but embracing this new normal, just to survive in a pandemic and post-pandemic world, cannot be stressed enough.”

In a matter of months, there was a revolution of how events were being executed. Zoom turned into an internet sensation overnight, with over 62 million downloads in March alone. Covid-19 has abruptly erased business norms and announced a Year Zero of reinvention for global communities, business, industry, and trade shows. One by one events initially postponed, and then flat-out cancelled as it became clear that even where gatherings were sanctioned by law, attendees had no intention of coming.

The appeal of meet and greets and entertainment remains unchanged but the delivery has taken a quantum leap. Ongoing research by the University of Southern California shows that 57 percent of respondents say they will continue to avoid large-crowd events. The Professional Convention Management Association’s (PCMA) study reveals 44 percent of respondents are hesitant to travel for the next year. People’s behaviour has changed and there is a profound reluctance to travel or to attend trade shows or any sort of event.

When the world’s biggest consumer tech show, the Consumer Electronics Show announced it was going all-digital in 2021, it prompted comments that it was uniquely well positioned to do so. Since then it has been joined by non-technology based shows such as the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, the largest wine sector trade show in North America; Alibaba has launched twenty virtual trade shows for B2B sectors ranging from freight to home health; and China’s largest trade show, China Import and Export Fair, or Canton Fair, is now virtual.

From this year onwards the virtual event has leapfrogged to the forefront of the new normal. That in turn requires businesses of all kinds to adapt to new technologies and methodologies, if they are going to continue to profit from contact with their stakeholders and customers.

“The challenge is to generate the buzz and achieve the same goals in a totally transformed landscape. The opportunity is there for first movers and creative communicators to rewrite rules and create new brand leaders in the process.”  added Spenser Blank, Regional Senior Consultant at Ogilvy Asia, and co-author of the report.

As brands buff up their tech capabilities to make event components more digital, they are facing pressure to get digitally savvy at a much quicker pace. Ogilvy has seen a behavioural change amongst brands, whereby they partner with external resources to provide new experiences and target new audiences for engagement. And if brands are not willing to invest in doing something different there is a distinct risk that a brand’s communications efforts will be drowned out by competitors’ content no matter the nature of an event, big or small.

Content creation, amplification, distribution and engagement are important, but people will remember the immersive experiences that kept them hooked. Consider things like live games or competitions, on-demand content, AI-generated recommendations, virtual entertainment, or immersive environments.

The event business is a new game now and requires creativity, innovation, partnership, some level of science and focus on performance.

To get all the insights, CLICK HERE to download the report.