The hybrid future of events

This post was done in collaboration with Hubilo.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

COVID-19 has changed the world, and the events industry has suffered enormously with large crowds (or even small crowds) being restricted or even banned when it comes to events. What once worked to make an event successful may no longer work. What once worked early on in the pandemic often doesn’t work now.

While the industry has had to pivot to online events, even that is starting to wear thin with online fatigue a recurring theme. The world is stuttering towards opening up again, but that doesn’t mean everyone is ready to open up. It means marketers have had to change the way they do things or risk becoming redundant in this new era of events.

In an interview with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, we speak to marketing expert, Cathy Song Novelli, senior vice-president for marketing and communications at event platform Hubilo, to see what the future will bring.

Over the past year we have gotten use to the idea of doing things virtually. What are some notable trends that stood out to you?

Song Novelli: When all of this (the pandemic) first hit, we realised we were going to have to change our entire event strategy and go virtual.  It wasn’t really about how can we take our in-person events that are engaging, full of networking that really connect people on a meaningful level, and bring that experience online.

But the thing I am very excited about is that people are realising virtual and hybrid aren’t going away and they are rethinking it. They are thinking, “OK how do I make my virtual experience an experience and truly unique” – and they are looking to reimagine what virtual events will look like.

The other big trend is the hyper amounts of testing [brands and organisers are now undertaking] which I applaud because the world is opening up at different rates. There are different segments of audiences that have different interests, and different degrees of comfort being at events, so you see a lot of brands at events testing the grounds of hybrid. Many are sticking mostly with virtual, but testing out a lot of micro in-person events and figuring out how to best bridge those experiences.

Five years from now, will virtual still have the same amount of prominence?

Song Novelli: I have got a different vision and I hope it comes to life. I think by fall of this year we are going to start to see a lot more virtual events really pushing the boundaries and focusing on engagement.

Engagement is the number one KPI for event marketers and event organisers so I think the big trend as mentioned is going to be testing and dipping toes into micro in-person events; still having virtual, but bridging those attendees all together.

There are going to be different cohorts of audiences and [we need to figure out] how do we build engagement for the majority of these people. It is going to be different region by region, and then [we need to figure out] how can we unify the attendees so they feel they are all still altogether.

I am thinking about events totally differently. For example, hybrid is not new because every major sporting event is hybrid. You have your in-person attendees and you have people watching on TV. People watching on TV have benefits that in-person people don’t. They get to have a commentary, they get to see the replays, they get to hear all the stats. There are benefits to watching it on TV, and of course, there are benefits to being there in-person like the energy and being with the crowd.

That to me is the north star for our industry. How do we make virtual as exciting and as all-encompassing as being there in-person? It’s a challenge for all of us and I am looking forward to solving that challenge over the next year.

What advice do you have for event organisers struggling to engage their audiences because audiences might be tired of yet another online event?

Song Novelli: The blueprint for success for events before [the pandemic] is still the same now. An event can only be as successful as a team that supports it. I think that is going to be key because once an event organiser has the right platform with the right support, with the right vendors and the team all there, they can get back to the creativity, and figure out what is going to wow their audiences and engage them.

One thing we have noticed is how many people are experiencing Zoom fatigue. But everyone is pushing their emojis and emojis are a huge thing and that is a relatively new feature for us, and who knew that this is the most coveted feature that attendees want! People don’t want to chat, they want to respond to the emojis and so it is about being in touch with what is going to engage attendees, and what is going to get them to lean-in more, download more content, and visit more booths.

It’s a totally different formula than in-person and what is great with virtual is that you get that behavioural data about what your attendees loved, what they didn’t and what got them to be engaged so you can take that data and see what worked well and make each event better and better.

Watch the full interview to find out how brands can create hybrid experiences at scale, the changes the industry is expected to undergo and the future of events.