Did we learn anything from virtual events?

When it comes to in-person and virtual events, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. You need to determine what will work best for your business and then execute that plan flawlessly.

Dahlia El Gazzar

When it comes to in-person and virtual events, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. You need to determine what will work best for your business and then execute that plan flawlessly. In this article, we'll explore five lessons learned from virtual events that can be applied at physical events. By understanding the basics of virtual events and creating a strategy for how they can help you achieve your goals, you can ensure a successful event that drives conversions and builds your event attendance with a quality audience. 

With more factors than ever affecting conversion of attendance at in-person events - converting virtual visitors into physical attendees is a challenge that all events businesses face. Achieving a conversion rate of 70% or more is considered extremely successful, but what's the best way to achieve this? Let’s start with the basics.

1. Understand the basics of virtual events

Just as with any other marketing strategy, you need to understand the basics of virtual events before you can begin to use them effectively as part of your in-person conversion strategy. 

Virtual events are a great way to connect with potential audiences online, and they offer a number of benefits that physical events don't, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use those benefits to drive conversion at your next in-person event. By understanding what virtual events are and how they work, you can start to create a strategy for how they can help you achieve your conversion goals.

What are virtual events?

In its simplest form, virtual events are online events that businesses can use to connect with potential customers or reach new audiences. Virtual events offer a number of benefits over physical events, including the ability to reach a larger audience, lower costs, and greater flexibility with lower risk on traditional event formats. 

How do virtual events work?

To understand how virtual events can help you achieve your goals for driving attendance at your physical events, it's important to understand how they work. Using platforms such as Grip, which helps you to increase your audience reach and accelerate revenue streams with virtual event experiences, virtual events can take shape in a variety of ways including a fairly low cost and simple video conference call or "coffee bar" sharing discussion around topics that connect your industry. 

However, to really drive engagement and participation event organisers are using a suite of these tools to create an engaging online experience including event matchmaking, live streaming, workshops, networking and more. 

Now that we have the basics out of the way, let's take a look at how you can use what you learned from virtual events to drive attendance at your next physical event. 

2. Analyse your virtual event customer journey 

Before you can create an effective conversion strategy, you need to determine what worked well at your virtual events and how to translate that to success at your in-person event, so start by determining the successes from the past 24 months. Then you can start to look at how to translate these into your marketing toolkit to deliver an engaged audience at your next event. 

What did you do differently? 

Was your customer journey different at your virtual event to your previously run physical event? Did you engage in more online conversations? Did you launch a community function in your website or create a Facebook group? Were you creating more content to engage with your community online to help drive awareness at your virtual event? Did you launch a podcast? 

These are all great initiatives to consider analysing and capitalising on when building your strategy for increasing attendee conversion rates at your next physical event. If you had success with any of these methods virtually, try and replicate them as much as possible, building on their success, changing your messaging accordingly. 

For example, use your new podcast to share exclusive interviews with your speakers (make it part of their speaking contract!) to share more of what people could expect at your next event as well as then gauging the level of interest that may be generated by the speaker and which one will help draw a crowd. 

If you don’t have an experienced SEO marketer on your team, you may not even know you’ve been boosting your search engine optimisation with an abundance of relevant content to your industry which will help you get found more naturally and to a potentially wider audience. 

Understand what drew people to your virtual event in the first place. 

Was it the convenience? The lower ticket price? The speaker? Whatever it was, make a note, look at your reports and try and adapt this to your physical event strategy as by understanding what drove people to attend virtually, you can start to understand how to increase attendance at your physical event.

3. Create a strategy for how virtual events can help you achieve your goals 

By creating a strategy for how virtual events can help you achieve your in-person event conversion, you'll be able to make the most of this valuable marketing tool. 

Use what you've identified that worked well in the previous step to help you build an effective strategy to drive conversions at your physical event.

Will your audience differ from in-person to virtual events? 

In times before COVID-19, you would have seen event headlines such as "100% Design reports record turn out ahead*..." or "Record hosted buyer attendance for Business Travel Show**" But, those reports are few and far between at the start of 2022. They do exist, but you are more likely to see headlines such as "buyers who attended were all ordering confidently for the year ahead". 

Which is great by the way - for many of us, our goal of exhibiting or attending an event is for quality over quantity anyway, but you need to understand whether your virtual or physical audience is different so you can determine what drove them to engage with your event online and what will motivate them to attend your next in-person event attendance. 

Factors affecting in-person attendance 

There are many factors that affect in-person event attendance, that we didn't quite have to compete with pre Covid-19. Many of these are out of your control as an event organiser or marketer such as: 

  • International travel restrictions and concerns about the safety of travel 
  • The economic situation - with unemployment high in some countries and businesses feeling the pinch - there may be less of a company budget to allow multiple employees to attend events

But it's not just government guidelines or restrictions. What about new childcare routines? What about the convenience of working from home and not travelling for two hours to your next event? And don't forget, some people are just not ready or do not feel comfortable being in a crowd right now. 

So, what can you control? 

You can focus on making your event as safe and easy to attend as possible. Remember, with a virtual event all you really need is a mobile device and an internet connection to take part, so build on the trust and transparency you've built up virtually to drive that in-person conversion. Here’s a few questions to consider, to ensure you’re optimising your conversation with your audience. 

  • Convenience - is your event easy to get to? Is it close to public transport? Are there discounts for travel?
  • Safety - have you implemented all the relevant safety protocols to give visitors peace of mind when making their decision to attend? 
  • Experience - what can you do to make sure your attendees have a great experience at your event? Are you using the latest event technology to enhance their experience such as Konduko's contactless attendee engagement technology, or Grip's badge scanning option within the app? 
  • Content - is your event content relevant and engaging? Are you focusing on the latest trends in your sector and engaging with the "hot" speakers of today? It was easier to grab these speakers through lockdown as everyone was in front of their computer, but if people do attend and see the same thing they saw pre-pandemic, it won't help boost your valuable NPS score! 
  • Accessibility - is your event easily accessible for all? Do you have facilities for those with accessibility needs? Remember online made events accessible to an audience that found it very difficult to attend in-person before because their needs weren't being looked after properly. Engage with this audience, ask them what they need to make the most out of your event. 

Use the answers to these questions to help you build a strategy to increase conversions at your next physical event. 

4. Implement the strategy and track results 

As you can track and report on almost every marketing activity to drive attendance to your events as well as being able to report on interactions that happened at your event, there is no excuse to not measure what worked and what can be improved on. 

Websites, for example, are easy to navigate and their design is based on data. Which page do users land on? Where did they come from? Which pages do they visit? Why do they leave? All crucial to help you develop your marketing strategy, but you can now implement the same sort of research with event technology to help you prove what works (or what doesn’t) at your next event. 

For example, using technology such as Crowd Connected's Location Analytics software, you can monitor your visitors' behaviour in and around your events venue. You can track where people went (anonymously) without the need for a scan or physical interaction. You can see what they're interested in, what their dwell time is like in feature areas, which sessions drew the biggest crowds. Conversely, you could use Grip's event app to measure the popularity of planned session attendance before your show is even open, monitor questions or polls that were asked during speaker presentations or view the number of badges scanned and by what type of attendee. 

When you have all this data, you can start to see what's working and what isn't and you can use it to improve your strategy for the next event. Did that social media campaign result in more converted ticket sales? Was there a correlation between the use of a certain app feature and an increase in conversion? 

These are all important questions that can help you fine-tune your strategy and deliver even better results for your next in-person event. 

5. Keep the virtual momentum going

While it's great to get people back to physical events, don't forget about the success you've had with your virtual events – it may not be purely for revenue, but if you had an engaged audience year round – don’t let them loose for another 362 days before you see them again. 

By understanding what worked virtually and what your visitors expect from a physical event, you can start to increase conversions and boost attendance at your next in-person event. And, as the world begins to reopen, there's no better time to start planning your next event!

Conclusion

The 5 tips listed above are a great starting point for increasing the conversion rate of your next physical event. By understanding what works and what doesn't from your last virtual event, you can apply those learnings to increase attendance and boost sales. Additionally, using technology like location analytics software and event apps can help you understand how people are interacting with your event and what changes you can make to improve the experience. And finally, don't forget to keep the momentum going by offering a hybrid option for your next event!

To see what insights you can gain from your next in-person event, check out Grip

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