By Apurva Chamaria and Piyush Gupta
2020 kept the spotlight on business continuity in a big way, with technology proving to be the key driver for businesses, governments, and people to stay connected and ‘working’.
While online events and webinars continued to rise in the popularity charts with increased adoption for collaboration tools such as Zoom, Skype, Cisco Webex, and MS Teams, 2020 brought the focus on virtual event platforms to organise, plan and conduct virtual meetings, trade shows, conferences and exhibitions. And why not! Considering the value additions a virtual event platform provides over a traditional physical event including cost savings, measurable ROI and deep audience insights while elevating the overall attendee experience with multitude of engagement interventions and immersive 3D virtual environments.
Virtual events powered by Artificial Intelligence
According to Grand View Research, the global virtual events market stood at USD 77.98 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.2% to USD 404 billion, from 2020 to 2027. In a pandemic-riddled world, several industries including IT, Retail, Healthcare, Automotive, Education, BFSI to name a few, are actively transitioning to virtual events. From internal trainings, press releases, product launches, trade shows, or even a client conference, virtual events are becoming the norm rather than an exception.
While the beginning of 2020 threw the events industry into a tizzy, the fag end of 2020 proved that virtual events are not only here to stay, but grow and morph into mean and lean delivering machines. With more than 93% of event marketers planning to invest in virtual platforms according to the Post-Covid Event Outlook Report, virtual event platforms it seems, will hold sway, moving forward.
With the adoption for Artificial Intelligence for virtual events, where AI powered bots drive virtual companionship for audiences, the efficacy of these platforms to anchor customer engagement, deliver personalised experience, build positive disposition for brands and drive demand generation has become even more promising. For instance, using Machine Learning technology, bots can observe and learn behaviour patterns of engagement and act as your personal virtual concierge. Imagine this: in a virtual event, anywhere between 50-500 documents get uploaded, which are used by attendees to browse through and read at their convenience. Trying to sift and filter these documents is tedious and time-consuming. But bots can provide suggestions by learning about your interests and even auto-suggest people you could network with. From converting voice to text and making session notes to directly email them to you, virtual event bots have become an inseparable part of platforms that aim to deliver greater personalisation, increase audience engagement and improve audience retention.
The future of virtual events
Pre-Covid, around 40% of the marketing spends were on on-ground physical events. But with a very challenging global environment for business, the on-ground event spends will see a decrease of up to 20-25% and will move to virtual events. Businesses believe that events will continue to be critical for business growth, and in fact 80% of marketers believe that business leaders also support the move to virtual platforms and technology adoption is no longer a barrier.
As technology continues to power virtual event platforms, rich data analytics adds a layer to the entire experience of the virtual event and are proving to be a valuable extended marketing arm for businesses. Delivering improved Return on Investment (RoI) or generating leads which in turn could lead to higher sales, data is being used to provide key actionable insights. Event industry reports suggest that virtual events are seen as an increasingly viable alternative for C-level executives as it saves time on travel and is more convenient.
The other advantage of virtual events platforms is accessibility. With device compatible platforms, events can be accessed and experienced from virtually anywhere. Training programs, product launches, conferences, seminars can all be attended while traveling, from an airport, from a café or the convenience of one’s home. This opens up a whole host of possibilities for virtual event marketers. Alliances, product placements and sponsorships can create innovative experiences and engagement that could be personalised and create business opportunities for customers. For instance, delivering wine and cheese at home prior to an event for online delivery technology service providers can create a significant positive impact on the attendee, making the whole experience exciting and memorable and open doors to potential business collaborations.
Industry sectors such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals have adopted virtual event platforms for medical conferences and seminars that are used extensively for knowledge sharing, networking, trainings and discussions. BFSI has also seen the advantages of virtual event platforms are adopting this with a vengeance. Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and intelligent AI-driven bots extract maximum mileage from virtual events, with analytics adding a rich layer to virtual events which are no longer boring, detached and distant. Communicating with large audiences, using them as levers for career growth such as online job fairs, or for knowledge enhancement with global online trainings, industries recognize the benefits and are willing to invest in virtual platforms. Virtual events are seen to be streamlined, focused, targeted, and can be tailored to deliver experiences par excellence.
Virtual event marketers are no longer pure event co-ordinators, planners or hosts. They need to combine marketing, consulting with deployment expertise to deliver on a seamless, interactive and rich virtual experience. Some exclusive experiential virtual event platforms for instance, are able to integrate APIs with existing marketing automation platforms such as Marketo or Eloqua and can tag every lead with a score resulting in targeted campaigns that could generate higher sales.
This potent combination of marketing, consulting and implementation and can deliver experience, interactivity and engagement with a flourish and add data analytics as a garnish, is a potent combination. Companies that can aid businesses by moving their on-ground experience to virtual event seamlessly and cost-effectively are a viable alternative to the in-person, on-ground events. Have they come of age? It’s time to experience an event virtually and then give a definitive answer.
The authors are senior vice president, Tech Mahindra, and president, Kestone respectively