In the darkest days of COVID, event organizers had no choice but to take their gatherings online. A host of new virtual event platforms arose, and there were questions as to whether anyone would ever go back to in-person events.
However this year we saw a resurgence in live events that exceeded all expectations. It seems event organizers, and attendees too, can’t wait to get back to meeting in-person.
Late in 2021 we saw trailblazers like Salesforce host their flagship conference Dreamforce in-person in San Francisco, significantly smaller than usual and with many safety precautions and testing procedures in place. In early 2022, once the initial spike of Omicron faded, we witnessed the return to massive events with South By Southwest (SXSW) hosting their tens of thousands of people in Austin, Texas. Spring saw many live events return and the fall conference season is going to be jam-packed with in-person gatherings.
With the return to live events, marketing budgets have shifted back to events according to Gartner’s recent CMO Spend Survey. Following record lows in 2021, marketing budgets as a percentage of company revenue climbed from 6.4 to 9.5 per cent in 2022, with event marketing and sponsorship showing the largest increase in spend.
Virtual events will continue to fill the gaps between live events, but we’ve seen that they are a poor substitute. While moving events online allowed event organizers to attract attendees who might not have made it to a live event, it often reduced engagement dramatically. Events that were used to interact with attendees for three or four days in-person had to make do with talking to attendees for one or two hours online.
But what about hybrid events? In 2021 we saw event organizers brainstorming how they could host a conference that equally served in-person and virtual attendees. Where attendees on-site would network with virtual attendees. Where exhibitors would be in their physical booth and on Zoom calls with online participants.
In 2022 we saw conversations about hybrid events drop off dramatically. While event technology companies, including Eventbase, built some novel technology to support hybrid use cases, very few organizers are asking for them as they direct their efforts to the live event experience.
The one exception is video content. During the pandemic organizers had no choice but to record every session, and now we are seeing a lot more sessions recorded and shared online. Interestingly, much of this video content is being consumed on mobile devices post-event. Rex Serrao, sr. director, marketing technology (brand and events) at Salesforce, said that during Dreamforce 2021 90 per cent of video content on their Salesforce+ portal was viewed on desktop but after the event 90 per cent of video content was viewed on mobile devices.
It’s exciting to see organizers once again embracing the challenge of creating memorable in-person attendee experiences, and applying their newly acquired digital marketing skills to reinvent their events. Long live live events.
Jeff Sinclair is co-founder and CEO of Eventbase, the gold standard in event technology with a software platform powering mobile events apps for many of the largest events on earth. Customers include dozens of global enterprises such as Salesforce, Adobe, IBM, Deloitte and Charles Schwab, and mega events like South By Southwest (SXSW) and three Olympic Games. Five time Gold Winner for “Best Event App” at the Event Technology Awards, Eventbase has won more awards than any other event app company. Eventbase is based in Vancouver, Canada.