Research, COVID-19, and Live Events: What Will Change (Probably), What Won't, and What Should

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The global pandemic caused by the coronavirus has the live events industry knocked down, but not out. Several research studies released late last year and early this year found event marketers strongly optimistic about growth prospects. That growth hasn't necessarily disappeared, it's just been delayed.

A research report titled Fuel Demand Gen with Events, produced by Demand Gen Report and atEvent, was one of the last studies released before governments started banning large gatherings, forcing the cancellation or postponement of thousands of events.

Obviously, things have changed. So rather than just summarizing a few key findings from the report, here are nine predictions—based on informed experience—about which practices highlighted in the report will change, which won't, and which should.

 

What Will Change for Event Professionals

Budgets: The report found that 54% of respondents expected their event budgets to increase in 2020. 17% expected event budgets to "increase substantially." And only 8% foresaw budget cuts.

That's out the window. With several key segments shut down or nearly so—hospitality, construction, manufacturing, travel, non-grocery brick-and-mortar retail—at least half of marketers will see their event budgets slashed, with most of the savings applied to overall reductions in marketing budgets.

Firms in other segments that are less impacted or even seeing growth in this environment (e.g., software, technology, healthcare, ecommerce, distribution) will shift their live event dollars to online events, content marketing, social media, and other tactics.

But no one's event budget is increasing.

 

Swag. Excluding travel, logistics, and venue costs, tchotchkes are often the single biggest line item in event budgets. 60% of respondents say they spend at least 11% of their event budget on swag; 28% spend 26% or more; and 6% allocate more than 50% of their event dollars to trinkets.

But attendees don't want your swag. Much of it is low-value knickknacks with no connection to the brand. Furthermore, sustainability was predicted to be a major trend for events in 2020, and that will still be the case once live events resume. Instead of physical items, more event marketers will look for ways to provide attendees with unique, memorable experiences; these will both save resources and create stronger brand connections.

 

Lead Capture: Asked to compare five different methods for lead capture, nearly half of respondents listed "business cards / fishbowl" among their top three most-preferred methods. A third said the same for spreadsheets.

These archaic, inefficient, error-prone low-tech methods are on the way out. Faster, more accurate technologies like QR codes and even RFID have gotten more affordable and easier to use. Plus, they can feed lead data directly into corporate systems, making it immediately available for sales and marketing use.

 

What Won't Change

Event Value: At the beginning of this year, per the report, 95% of marketers said they consider events to be important to their overall demand strategy, with 56% viewing events as "very important."

Live events foster engagement and build trust in ways no other medium can. Once this pandemic crisis passes, live events will rebound strongly. There will be pent up demand. The fundamental business value of live events isn't going to evaporate.

 

Promotion Channels: According to the report, "when it comes to promoting their presence prior to an event...brands are using multiple channels to connect with potential buyers."

Email tops the list of top channels to promote events, with 94% of marketers using it. It's followed by organic social media (76%), website/blog (61%), and paid social media (48%). These are the same channels now being used to promote webinars and other online events, and aren't likely to change much (except...it's odd that 39% aren't using their website or blog to promote events...that should change).

 

Engagement Tactics: A solid majority of event marketers aren't content to stand in their booths and wait for prospects to come to them. 76% take advantage of speaking or panel opportunities; 58% create in-booth experiences, like raffles and games, to draw people in; and 54% meet with prospects who responded to pre-event campaigns.

That won't change. It's just on hold for now.

 

What Should Change

Sales/Marketing Collaboration: 30% of event marketing respondents in this study identified "insufficient collaboration with the sales team" as their top challenge, while 16% said "ensuring event data is shared in a timely manner with marketing and sales" is a top difficulty.

Today's event production platforms offer a range of ways to collect data at live events. They also integrate seamlessly with CRM, marketing automation, and other systems, giving both marketing and sales groups a richer set of data to help personalize messages and address specific customer needs.

 

Success Metrics: Although nearly two-thirds (66%) of respondents still say the "total number of leads generated is a top metric for event success," analytics have moved way beyond that simple measure.

Per the report, 70% of event marketing professionals "evaluate success by looking at opportunity creation and influence," 57% track qualified leads (not just raw contacts or badge scans), and 45% look at total number of target accounts engaged.

Event pros should continue to expand the range of metrics used to measure event value and ROI to include "hard" financial ROI, soft benefits (e.g., increased brand awareness), and operational metrics.

 

Strategic Approach: As noted here previously, events should be strategically integrated into overall corporate marketing plans. This report notes that is starting to happen, which is causing more firms to engage with experiential marketing agencies. Whether the work is done within the corporate marketing team or with the assistance of an outside agency, what matters is that events are viewed strategically.

The benefits of taking a more strategic approach to events, per the report, are increased brand awareness (said 58% of respondents), improved engagement (53%), and "fueling other marketing campaigns" (31%). Setting strategic goals up front results in a more coherent event, which is both more rewarding for attendees and more productive for the brand.

 

Conclusion

These are just a few findings from the  Fuel Demand Gen with Events report. Check out the full study for more insights and statistics. Decide for yourself which findings you think still hold; which have been obliterated by the pandemic; and which should hold true regardless.