How will hybrid happen? 3 ideas B2B marketers can consider for a 2021 event.

Hybrid is the 2021 buzzword in the B2B events sector as we all navigate the new normal. For marketers, the challenge is to regain the serendipity of in-person events, without losing the reach of the virtual community.

In 2020 we saw event abruptly pivoting online, but there was an upside: reach. In the last year Marketers have seen how this gives their event more reach by creating a virtual community. It’s not yet certain how quickly these people will want to return to in-person events. So organisers need to keep the online community interested, whilst offering the benefits of in-person events.

Here are some of the ideas we’ve been working on this year to make hybrid happen:

  • Managed return
  • Content journey
  • Two Audiences

Managed return

We hope that 2021 will see an easing of restrictions, but we’re still expecting a managed return to B2B events. It’s unlikely to be a case of packing a venue to the rafters with delegates. Smaller scale events may be the best places to start and test the hybrid model. A more focussed event also gives marketers the opportunity to make the content relevant for both audiences: in-person and online.

We anticipate hybrid meaning fewer in-person attendees, balanced by reaching a wider online audience with an improved digital offering. It will allow delegates to make their own decisions about meeting in-person, which they may not yet feel comfortable with, whilst giving others the opportunity to network and catch-up less busy space. This was the recent experience at VivaTech in Paris which welcomed 26,000 people, but 114,000 digital attendees.

Hybrid can also mean a managed return for speakers, which can benefit organisers. They can speak at more conferences and combine online keynotes with the excitement of presenting to a buzzing hall. It also removes the challenges of business travel, which has come under scrutiny in the past year. Executives and speakers have learned to manage without it. Potential event attendees may look for a combination of in-person and online events to visit throughout the year.

Content journey

One advantage of online events is the ability to catch up on content at a time that’s convenient for the virtual delegate. They have greater access and are better able to personalise their content journey; watching one presentation in real time and viewing another, which was happening at the same time, later in the day.

A content journey can also combine flagship events with online sessions throughout the year. For example; the VivaTech Tour acted as a curtain raiser for the main event. It engaged with the online community of start-ups, corporates, VCs by offering local speakers and content relevant to the city it digitally visited. This niche content complimented the wider tech stories being told at the main event.

For delegates, pre-recorded sessions, replays on-demand and a greater range of speakers, mean they can customize their own event journey. The new digital event platforms help with this, offering features specifically developed to build a smart, thematic journey for each participant.

For organisers, online events can be easier to curate, as they don’t have the challenges of a live venue. The marketer can therefore take more risks, especially since the no-show rate online has no negative impact in terms of image or cost.

Two audiences

Pre-2020, online audiences were an afterthought. Then suddenly, they were the only audience and the focus switched to creating a positive delegate experience online.  

In 2021 we have a new challenge; creating serendipity for both audiences. These different audiences also reflect two event offerings; networking and education. The first needs to be in-person and immediate, the latter can be online and happen over time, curated by the delegate from the whole of the event’s content.

This is where a hub and spoke model can work. We’ve already been working on this idea for a future VivaTech. The plan is that participants and speakers could gather at the same time in different physical locations, perhaps distributed over different continents.

A combined approach brings people together locally for networking and gives the spoke venues online access to the speakers at the hub. The unexpected meeting, networking tables, speed meetings, workshops, sponsored sessions, can all be created in-person at the satellite event and include online attendees too.

It’s an exciting time to be involved in B2B events as we negotiate these dramatic changes and build back better. We are developing a new way of doing events and conferences in real time.

We believe that face-to-face events are irreplaceable because we need the serendipity of in-person meetings and exchanges. But this does not prevent us from remaining in contact with our communities throughout the year, providing regular local and niche content, which acts as a curtain raiser for the in-person event.

Hybrid is the future; but we are only just at the start.

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