As the last quarter of the year and 2023 comes into view, organizations and event profs are leaning into what has been learned over the previous two years. In-person events deliver a more traditional networking experience that has always been valued, but virtual events can be executed at a lower cost and have a much broader reach. Virtual also offers a way to create and keep audience connections amid lingering pandemic effects, economic uncertainties, or other unpredictable factors.
But when it comes to creating an overall strategy, the choice is no longer either/or. Events don’t have to be only virtual or physical.
Hybrid allows organizations and marketers to land somewhere in the middle. Within this spectrum, organizations and planners can create the right mix of in-person and virtual to achieve their business goals and meet their audience’s needs.
The sum of “meeting in the middle” is a hybrid event strategy.
A hybrid strategy is a long-term event strategy that includes a mix of in-person and virtual events. Depending on goals, budget, and audience needs, it might or might not include hosting a hybrid event.
The purpose of a hybrid strategy is to use your existing toolkit to achieve larger business goals and objectives throughout the year. And it doesn’t mean using every tool for every event.
For example, a hybrid strategy could consist of an annual in-person flagship event with options for remote participants to join, plus recurring virtual-only events to continue audience engagement throughout the year.
With many more ways to execute a hybrid event today, start with the overall strategy before outlining tactics. Here are key factors to consider:
First, define the value proposition(s) of your events.
Develop your hybrid event strategy by determining the specific value proposition – the purpose – of each event within the overall strategy.
Defining the value proposition provides planners with a focused approach to all event-related decisions, including how to execute an event. For example, there is a big difference between an exclusive, intimate networking event for senior executives and a large-scale experience intended to educate thousands of attendees.
Here are several common options:
1. Education—Give more people the opportunity for professional advancement
2. Motivation—Get more people excited about the brand, products, topics, opportunities
3. Commerce—Provide more people with the chance to do business
4. Connection—Allow more people to meet and engage with peers
Then, drill down into each proposition pillar with goal details and execution tactics.
This is where specifics start to get defined. For example, suppose your organization wants to reach prospects and current customers excited about a new product release. In that case, you may want to host an in-person product test drive event streamed for remote participants, with the opportunity to participate and engage virtually.
Building on the above options, additional levels of detail could look like this:
- Diversify offerings.
- Segment/target potential audiences based on job titles, age groups, and job/industry experience level.
- Review topics offered over the years and add new material showcasing new solutions, trends, or insights.
- Plan for synchronous (scheduled, real-time) and asynchronous (unscheduled, flexible) learning opportunities.
- Offer a library of downloadable assets or resources for all attendees to utilize pre-, during, or post-event.
- Energize audiences (in-person and remote).
- Offer incentives for demonstrated learning/advancement (determined by pre-event and post-event test scores).
- Curate topics and activities that attendees have demonstrated a desire for (conduct pre-event surveys, monitor pre-event behavior).
- Co-create content/programming with attendees (give participants “skin in the game”).
- Make it easier for buyers to buy and sellers to sell.
- Create an infrastructure for commerce, such as an online marketplace, virtual booth twins of in-person booths, software to give remote buyers access to in-person booth personnel or chat with online booth personnel, etc.).
- Bundle sponsor packages to give exhibitors options for on-site and online presences.
- Solicit input from all stakeholders on key outcomes, such as additional lead and sales pipeline goals.
- Connection Goal: Facilitate cross-platform interaction*.
- Create opportunities for online attendees to view/participate in in-person breakout sessions.
- Determine ways for in-person attendees to view/participate in online breakouts.
- Provide moments for all attendees (regardless of whether in-person or remote) to connect.
- Set up connection kiosks (on-site locations where in-person attendees can “meet” with remote attendees).
- Use matchmaking applications to schedule meetings before, during, or after the event for one-on-one conversations.
* Engagement is crucial to an overall event strategy, especially when virtual and hybrid are part of the mix. Think back to the early days of online events. With zero engagement and remote audiences primarily watching a static live stream broadcast from the back of the in-person room, these lackluster experiences likely left guests feeling more like spectators than engaged participants. Raise your game with an interactive audience engagement platform that enhances the event experience.
Hybrid event success depends on a comprehensive strategy. It acts as a framework to guide the tactical hybrid event execution.