The Future of Events: The Rise of the Virtual Attendee

The Future of Events: The Rise of the Virtual Attendee

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Future exhibitions and events solely rely on attendance. But, they will need to adapt if they want to target and attract the lucrative 'virtual attendee'.

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branding virtual events

During these challenging times of lockdown and social distancing, more and more businesses that are dependent upon exhibitions & conferences – whether as venues, organisers or exhibitions contractors (and, of course not forgetting exhibitors themselves) – are now looking at hosting and branding virtual events in order to maintain profile and business continuity as well as expanding their organisation’s audience and reach.

Of course, this is not new tech that’s been created because of the lockdown, many successful business events are already run online and have done so for quite some time. However, lockdown has forced more companies to recognise the flexibility of the virtual event. From the local networking event hosted on Zoom through to the international conference that provides access to downloadable content, streaming podcasts, video training, etc.

The future of exhibitions post lockdown
No doubt, long after lockdown is over and business & social interaction once again becomes socially acceptable, real world exhibitions will become commonplace once more. inevitable, however, you will see these events are also being set up and made available for virtual attendance too. And, the ‘virtual attendee’ will become the new target audience for event marketers.

More and more seminars & conferences will be live streamed as standard, with speakers presenting from remote locations and virtual audience participation & engagement through digital Q&A and break-off rooms.
Attendees will be able to attend multiple seminars at one time should they wish via existing multiscreen solutions.

Physical attendance at an exhibition itself is inevitably going to change, and you would expect exhibitors to set up ways in which they can attract the virtual visitor. For example, via on-stand access via video link. Those who choose not to attend in person can still visit the show and, specifically visit each stand via the video link.
This means that whilst physical footfall will reduce (which will, in turn, lead to an increased demand for smaller venues), virtual accessibility will open the up the event to a wider, global audience. Attendee numbers via virtual footfall will dramatically increase.

With the visitor able to attend the show virtually, it is expected that attendance time per visitor will significantly decrease with many just virtually ‘popping into’ the show for a moment. Here they can attend that single conference or meet with a single exhibitor, and then leave.

Of course, for those events that have a fee to attend, this can be applied to virtual attendance too. Either a one-off fee or, perhaps better set at a cost per minute. The longer someone attends, the higher the value.
But this then incentivises visitors to stay for shorter periods and not hang around like they may if they were physically attending an event. And that means lower revenues.

So, how do exhibitors and conference organisers gain extra revenue from the virtual visitor?
This is where premium content comes into play. The virtual event can be set up to provide premium access (eg. a ‘closed’ seminar or deeper access to an exhibitor, such as a ‘meet the buyer’ session). Add on ‘products’ like these can be bought through a click of a button, thereby increasing event profitability.

In terms of marketing, those creating exhibition websites will need to adapt to the virtual attendee – adding links to multiple exhibitor hall cameras as well as to each individual camera (or ipad) set up on each exhibitor’s stand. The virtual attendee will get to see what is on offer on each stand, to meet with the company contacts and to quickly get access to the premium content (via pupil movement perhaps).

This all leads to much improved metrics. Because virtual attendance is digital, event organisers and marketers will have access to a wider range of data than ever before: how many people ‘virtually attended’, who attended, how many stands did they ‘visit’, how long did they stay on a stand, what information did they take, etc.
And all of this and more, is highly valuable to the exhibitor who can then modify and personalise their brand message to deliver exactly what their audience actually requires.

The future for exhibition agencies and especially design agencies will also focus on branding virtual events and ensuring that the virtual experience provides the same (if not a better) brand experience as it would if you were there. For both the event as a whole and also the individual exhibitor. Ensuring they have ongoing brand visibility will be the key to virtual event marketing.

As a branding agency with many years experience in branding exhibition venues & events, the future for virtual attendance certainly looks interesting. When exhibitors, conference organisers and marketers have access to the global visitor as well as the specific virtual attendance metrics, it is going to be an a very exciting time for exhibitions.

We certainly already have the capabilities and infrastructure for events to also become virtual events now. But, whether they will, we have yet to see.