The Future Of Bringing Virtual And Physical Events Together

By Jason Anderson, Digital Director at Avantgarde

The shift from physical to digital events is an unavoidable necessity in the current climate. Even pre-COVID there was a significant movement towards hybrid events, but the pandemic put a rocket up the entire industry when it comes to virtual. However, it’s not as simple as just shifting everything that was once physical to digital.

There was already brand demand for something that helped translate physical environments into digital, specifically when it came to large-scale projects. So many brands were unhappy with what was currently available across the marketplace – platforms that did not provide them with the required functions, appropriate branding, or seamless UX to deliver the type of events that matched the high caliber of their brand. Most offerings were not flexible. Brands needed more, and in the current climate, they can’t afford to compromise by using an off-the-shelf platform. In other words, what was missing was the capability to translate and unleash the advantages of digital spaces in clever and unique ways. Our recently launched platform, VITE, is an example of one that helps bring the two worlds together.

Boosting attendees and reach

Physical events have always had a finite reach. There was the problem of professionals being unable to travel to the event location and venues have always had a capacity limit. One of the key selling points of digital events is that they come with no size concerns. This gives event production teams the ability to expand on audiences and in turn, reach.

The future is of course not just digital. Whilst we can still monetize virtual, when physical interaction increases again, we’ll be able to tier events and open up monetization in novel ways. Attendees could pay different prices for online access vs. physical access. Similarly, events could offer different sponsorship tiers. Recently Avantgarde offered a sponsorships function for a client via the VITE platform. Sponsors remain important for events, so tailored options need to be included in any effective online platform.

Increasing interaction through a platform

Networking in a digital environment is an ongoing issue. Too many virtual platforms let attendees access content, but that’s it. Not good enough, right? That’s why recreating real interaction and connections in a digital environment is key to developing a successful digital event.

Events are a two-way experience. It’s no good just delivering a stream of content – people will get bored and switch off. We need to work at turning audiences into active participants. As so much of our lives are supported through digital, it’s easy to leave a virtual event simply by closing the browser or moving to a different phone app.

A good platform must therefore have engaging content to ensure the audience remains interested. Attention spans are shortening, meaning brands need to work extra hard on making their experiences engaging and the event itself needs to prompt audiences to get involved. Whether this is through suggesting people to talk to, meetings to book, or content to engage with.

Having a platform that offers its own live-streaming service is key. VITE has video calling and video breakouts built-in, but it’s also important to be able to connect to the likes of Zoom or Teams to accommodate client needs. Better still, if you miss a live feed then having pre-recorded content available to catch up on anytime also helps. Involving clients in the functionality of the platform and giving them complete flexibility always helps to drive the process of innovation.

Having developed events on VITE for a leading e-commerce platform and a top FS business, Avantgarde was tasked with making previously physical events fully virtual, without losing impact. Moving events from physical to digital came with a host of additional benefits, including the experience becoming more cost-effective compared to a pure-play physical event, whilst also giving brands the ability to capture significant metrics over and above what’s possible at physical events.

By innovating our take on events via VITE, we’ve seen a considerable uplift in attendee numbers as well as client interest in producing additional events that wouldn’t usually happen in their yearly calendar.

The long-term environmental benefits of virtual events

An ancillary benefit of the pandemic is that over the last year, virtual events have helped reduce the industry’s carbon footprint, as more experiences have moved online, with the majority (93%) of event marketers planning to invest in virtual events moving forward.

Sustainability has been a long-standing concern for the brand experience industry – whether that’s single-use staging or people being more reluctant to travel so far and so frequently with a green agenda in mind. With the right sort of platform, virtual will be a longer-term solution to the sustainability issues.

As we move forward, getting the balance between digital and physical rights will become pivotal. Much like what happened with books. When the likes of Kindle appeared, there was a big swing to e-books, meaning paper books suffered. However, now we have reached more of an equilibrium, with books and e-books being used for different types of content – they are able to co-exist, just like physical and digital events will.

The future

Virtual events will be sticking around for the time being, meaning innovation in this space is key to stand out from the crowd.

Developing something unique, and engaging is no mean feat, as even a brilliant platform needs brilliant, creative and compelling content – in fact it’s even more important to match the value between the two things. It’s no good having an innovative platform with great offerings but dull and unimaginative content. The event will fall flat. Whether it’s a well-designed storyline, engaging decks, or even a 3D aspect, it needs to be something that will help translate the wonders of physical to digital.