By: Cathy Planchard
As the reality of COVID-19 pandemic set in earlier this year, organizations focused immediately on the safety of their people, activated work-from-home mode and planned for the essential shifts of the quarter ahead. They reconsidered how to accomplish their missions and adapted their business models, comforting themselves with the notion they could simply delay their events and product launches to fall when the coronavirus’ grip would surely be over.
But a few months into this new world, we can now see the pivot will need to be even deeper and more prolonged than anyone expected. Things did not go according to plan.
Events postponed to later in 2020 have now become events moved online or just canceled altogether. After considering a move to summer, VMWorld announced plans to go online for the first time. Microsoft decided all of its events will be digital until July 2021. And Cannes Lions will not hold its festival or hand out awards in 2020. With lingering uncertainty, brands understandably don’t want to subject their employees or their customers to possible coronavirus exposure at large events.
They also know that even during a pandemic, business must continue. Organizations still have to launch their products, and their sales teams still need to demo and sell those products. Trade shows have long been ground zero for lead generation and absolutely critical to the sales funnel. So critical that a third of marketers were spending 20% or more of their budgets on event marketing pre-COVID-19. But for the foreseeable future, those large, in-person events will be off the table – creating an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the ROI of those event budgets.
The easiest solution is to move events and product launches to the digital world. In recent months, many have discovered it’s not as easy as firing up a webcam and connecting with a reliable dial-in number. Not everything translates automatically or easily into the virtual webinar environment. Even if it did, webinar fatigue has set in – no one wants to sit on another conference call staring for hours at the Brady Bunch video boxes. And replicating online the memorable human experiences and the entertainment buzz that comes from live events is difficult.
Marketers still have to get their messages out, they still have to entertain, and they still have to prospect. That means they need to redeploy and reconsider their marketing budgets with the end game in mind. The idea is to reimagine, not replace, the events.
In any case, do not underestimate the need for production support. Digital experiences require different skills, tools and thinking to be impactful. Concepting, pre-event logistics, technical direction, building the audience and asset creation are some of the many elements that can make the difference between a curated, professional event worthy of your brand, or one that feels home-grown.
Want to see it in action? Allison+Partners brought an 8-hour livestream Cook-A-Thon to life with client Impossible Foods in support of No Kid Hungry, featuring celebrity chefs like Traci Des Jardins and Eric Warehiem, musicians like Sister, and top-tier talent like Justin Baldoni and Sia. Watch the full stream here.
Cathy Planchard is global president of All Told, overseeing the company’s content, digital, creative, research and measurement teams. She is an avid traveler, Saints fan and spicy Cajun cook.