According to a new report from Ogilvy titled “A New Game for Virtual Events” which focuses on the world’s adaption to COVID-19 policies around the world, “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, says Ogilvy and even when physical meetings are again a reality, the event industry’s approach will have transformed forever.
This is a big deal for brands whether large or small, who have over the years invested millions of dollars of their marketing budgets to attend events to maintain a strong presence, and help their company stand out from the competition. That, however, may be irrevocably changed, says Andréanne Leclerc, Regional Managing Partner at Ogilvy Asia, and co-author of the report.
“In 2020 and beyond, all kinds of events including trade shows will go digital,” said Leclerc. “This 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.”
The change may be overdue according to Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy Consulting in a LinkedIn blog post.
“The majority of business to business communication until now has remained stuck in the analog era of face-to-face communication: it is a world of conferences, events, trade fairs, traveling salesmen, exhibitions, networking events and countless large and small personal meetings.
Yet all of these, except for perhaps the smallest of meetings, aren’t going to be happening with any frequency for perhaps a year. What brand wants to be known as the source of a new outbreak, or the ground-zero for a superspreading event? And who, now, now the world has undergone a crash-course in Zoom, Teams and Webinars, would dream of hosting a conference without also live-streaming it online?”
COVID-19 effect on traditional events
In a matter of months, there has been “a revolution of how events were being executed”, says Ogilvy, noting that Zoom turned into an internet sensation overnight, with over 62 million downloads in March alone.
“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.”
According to the report, “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 canceled as it became clear that even where gatherings were sanctioned by law, attendees had no intention of coming.”
For the business world, the appeal of meet and greets and entertainment remains unchanged but the delivery has taken “a quantum leap,” says Ogilvy, citing ongoing research by the University of Southern California showing that 57 percent of respondents say they will continue to avoid large-crowd events.
The Ogilvy report additionally notes a study by the Professional Convention Management Association’s which found that 44 percent of respondents are hesitant to travel for the next year. In short, people’s behavior has changed bringing forth a profound reluctance to travel or to attend trade shows or any sort of event amid these difficult times.
Virtual events leapfrog to the forefront
The world’s biggest consumer tech show, the Consumer Electronics Show announced it was going all-digital in 2021.
Since then, says the Ogilvy report, 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.
“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.”
From this year onwards the virtual event has leapfrogged to the forefront of the new normal, according to Ogilvy research. That trend requires brands 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,” said Spenser Blank, Regional Senior Consultant at Ogilvy Asia, and co-author of the report. “The opportunity is there for first movers and creative communicators to rewrite rules and create new brand leaders in the process.”
According to Ogilvy:
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 behavioral 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.