Leadings brands are engaging audiences, magnetizing new leads, and creating valuable experiences with these popular virtual event types.
Virtual events are surging in popularity, but virtual events are more than just webinars or live Q&As. There’s a whole range of virtual experiences and virtual event types your company can consider as you shift to a hybrid events model. Here are some different virtual event use cases depending on your business goals.
1. Virtual Summit
Virtual summits are as close as you can get to mimicking an in-person conference online. These events feature tons of speakers, a variety of session topics and product demos, depending on the industry.
Event goal: Virtual summits are beneficial for lead generation, brand building and creating long-tail content. Companies often make the sessions, keynote addresses and other speeches from their virtual summits available on-demand for anyone to access online — as long as they provide an email address. These multi-day events also can be revenue drivers if a brand is able to draw renowned speakers or offer unique content.
Example: Data management company Looker will host a virtual summit in October, the Join @Home Digital Data Conference. The two-day summit will include self-guided workshops, breakout sessions, interactive learning sessions where attendees can schedule a one-on-one virtual session with a Looker expert and roundtables where peers can share best practices and learn from each other.
WNorth, a community focused on nurturing female business leaders, also plans to hold a virtual summit in October. The seven-hour event, which will take place on Oct. 29, typically happens in person in Whistler, Canada. However, organizers have shifted the conference online due to pandemic. The event will focus on leadership development and will feature nearly 20 diverse female executives, authors and leaders from various industries. To make the conference as interactive as possible, WNorth is giving attendees the opportunity to purchase a virtual experience package that includes virtual dinners with guest speakers.
2. Virtual Conference Series
Like a virtual summit, a virtual conference series is a large-scale event. However, it can span multiple days or even weeks. This allows attendees to pop in and out of the experience whenever they wish and allows companies to break up content into more digestible chunks and formats.
Event goal: Aside from the potential for ongoing audience engagement, companies can use a virtual conference series to collect valuable data they can use to improve their products or services. Companies also can repurpose the content from these events to bolster other parts of their marketing strategy, whether it’s for social media or the creation of white papers, blogs or infographics.
Example: The Unleash Summit series and the #SMWOne conference series both provide examples of these event types. The Unleash Summit series will be divided into three parts: exceed, pivot and build, which will take place over three weeks in September. Each day will feature three to four sessions, most of which are under an hour, which is a great approach to get screen-wary audiences to engage with the content. #SMWOne, a virtual conference for digital marketing leaders, took a similar approach. However, its conference ran from May 5 – 28, allowing organizers to spread out the conference’s 171 sessions over nearly an entire month.
3. Virtual Trade Shows and Expos
Similar to their in-person counterparts, virtual trade shows and expos are all about showcasing products and services — but at a fraction of the cost of an in-person event since exhibitors don’t have to worry about travel, lodging and shipping expenses.
Event goal: With a virtual experience, you lose a lot of the tactile engagement you get with an IRL trade show or expo, but a virtual take on these events is still useful in terms of product discovery and generating qualified leads. Exhibitors also can reach a wider audience since registrants can attend from the comfort of their own homes.
Example: In June, IPackEXPO, which serves the packaging industry, launched its first-ever virtual trade show. The show runs until the end of the year and the expo area is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for attendees to browse products from more than 2,000 exhibitors. Along with this non-stop trade show, the event also features virtual company booths and sponsor-led webinars, product launches, demos and workshops.
4. Virtual Workshops
Virtual workshops are a simple, compact way to deliver content on a specific topic. Attendees get to engage with and learn from professionals who are experts in their industry, and hopefully, take something actionable away from the event they can use to help their companies achieve their business goals.
Event goal: These events, which typically take place over a few hours or over the course of one day, are beneficial for thought leadership, brand building and skill-building. They also can be a good way for professionals to get continuing education.
Example: Intuit hosted a virtual workshop on Sept. 11 focused on design thinking. The company anchored the event around its own design thinking process, giving attendees insight into how it creates leading financial services products like TurboTax and Mint.
5. Virtual Happy Hours
Virtual events don’t all have to be about learning, product demos or big-name speakers. They can be super casual, too. Enter virtual happy hours, which allow people from all over the world to log on — cocktail or mocktail in hand — and talk shop (or even better, not talk about work at all).
Event goal: In a time where we have to stay socially-distant, virtual happy hours give people the chance to connect with their colleagues and peers. It lets them socialize and network, even if they can’t physically be in the same space. For companies hosting these events, bringing people together and fostering a sense of connectedness and community is a noble goal that doesn’t necessarily need to be rewarded with clicks or leads — though virtual happy hours do help organizations stay in touch and top of mind with their customers, clients or members.
Example: Women in Sports and Events (WISE), which has chapters across the country, has held several virtual happy hours in recent months. The San Francisco chapter hosted an event in June that allowed attendees to first come together as a group for casual conversation and then break out into smaller groups for targeted discussions, which is pretty similar to what happens at a typical networking event.
6. Virtual Lunch & Learns or Breakfasts
Virtual lunch and learns or breakfast events are good for skill-building and brand building, but with foodie twist that makes these events more laidback.
Event goal: These events are beneficial for thought leadership, training and development. You can use them as part of the onboarding process for new customers if you have a technical product that requires a bit more guidance, or to position your brand as an expert in a particular field or topic area — without making as hard a sell as you’d have to at a virtual trade show or conference.
Examples: On Sept. 23, the University of Houston – Clear Lake will host a free virtual lunch and learn where business owners can learn about topics such as financial management, business planning and how to navigate the current uncertainty. They’ll hear from expert speakers, including a business professor at the university. This event showcases how an organization can be of service to its community while promoting its brand in a way that feels authentic.
Source: UH-Clear Lake Twitter page
7. Hybrid Event
A hybrid event combines the power of a live or in-person event with the convenience of a virtual event. Obviously, companies who put on these events must abide by CDC and social distancing guidelines, but in areas where it’s safer for people to connect in-person — at a social distance — hybrid event ideas can be an invaluable part of a company’s overall event marketing strategy.
Event goal: Interactivity and flexibility are two of the biggest benefits of a hybrid event. Attendees can choose to attend some parts of the experience in-person or engage in sessions virtually. And just like virtual summits or conference series, the brand awareness and lead generation opportunities with these events can’t be beat.
Examples: Frontiers Health and Event Tech Live showcase how companies can organize hybrid events during this tricky time. Frontiers Health plans to hold its global hybrid conference in November, allowing attendees to engage with content virtually and with each other in-person at several local hubs. Event Tech Live will take place online from Nov. 2-6 and in-person on Nov. 4-5 at a London brewery. Splitting the event into two parts will give attendees access to a two-day physical show and five days of online educational content and networking opportunities with exhibitors and representatives from different countries.
Key Takeaways: Choosing the Right Virtual Experience
Not all virtual event ideas are created equal and every event type won’t be right for your brand. Before you proceed with creating a virtual event, keep these things in mind:
- Consider your goals: Are you launching a virtual event production to drive leads, to build brand awareness or to showcase your products since you can no longer do face-to-face sales meetings? Think about what your larger goal is and what outcome you want to achieve before you pick an event type.
- See what’s already out there: Look to other companies, both inside and outside your industry, for best practices and lessons in what not to do when organizing a virtual event. Also think about some virtual events you’ve attended in recent months and pinpoint what you liked and what you didn’t. This can help to inform your own approach to virtual events.
- Survey your audience: Ask your customers — either through an informal poll, email or phone conversation with some of them — what content would be the most relevant and engaging. Finding out how you can best meet their needs will put you in a better position to create a successful virtual experience.
- Pick the right technology: There are tons of virtual event resources and platforms on the market. Do your due diligence and compare different vendors based on your event goals and the core KPIs you want to achieve. For example, if interactivity or metrics are important to you, make sure the virtual event platform you pick offers these capabilities.
Virtual events can help you connect with your customers, but taking the time to choose the right one can ensure the effort you put into creating your event actually pays off.