Virtual Event Platforms Insights

An insightful interview with CEIR CEO Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM and Evolio Marketing President Joe Federbush as they discuss the research presented at HCEA Annual Meeting.

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Joe Federbush is President and Chief Strategist of Evolio Marketing. He and CEIR CEO Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM recently presented research findings during the Healthcare Convention and Exhibitors Association (HCEA) Annual Meeting. CEIR interviewed Joe and Cathy for their perspective.

Joe, first tell us about Evolio Marketing.

EVOLIO Marketing focuses on helping all those in the event industry ecosystem (show organizers/associations, exhibitors/sponsors, and suppliers) deliver the best experiences and achieve the greatest results.  Whether it’s developing strategic plans for attendee acquisition and exhibit/sponsorship sales, or helping exhibitors and sponsors obtain an awesome return on investment and experience, our workshops and research/survey services really do enhance decision-making and quantify results – online or in-person.

You conducted an Event Outlook survey of the HCEA membership measuring the satisfaction of event platforms. What were some of the top findings?

Joe: We measured the overall satisfaction with event platforms among both corporate marketers and show organizers, and the key takeaway is that the vast majority of respondents were not overlay satisfied. Directionally, only 25% of organizers were extremely or very satisfied with the remainder indicating they were neither satisfied or dissatisfied, or not satisfied. Whereas 54% of corporate marketers indicated they were not very or not at all satisfied and only 15% said they were extremely/very satisfied. On the partner side (exhibit house, agency, supplier) 52% indicated they were not very/not at all satisfied.

It became apparent from the research that Associations/Show Organizers can be even better aligned with Exhibitors/Sponsors needs and expectations regarding platform analytics, visitor data-sharing, driving traffic, and determining what features are most important to offer in-platform versus will allow out- of-platform.

Exhibitors’ greatest challenges with using platforms provided by show organizers are the lack of engagement opportunities, along with limited time, design and functionality. Low traffic, ROI/costs versus value, and the number of various platforms out there are also challenging.

In terms of objectives, corporate marketers said that brand awareness and promotion are most important, followed by conducting meetings with prospects and customers, and ultimately generating leads.

Cathy: CEIR’s Global Virtual Event Trends study found that organizers have a good understanding of their exhibitors’ motivations for brand marketers to participate in a virtual event is branding, lead gen and face-to-face (F2F) engagement.

Joe: CEIR’s Global Virtual Event Trends Study is right on track regarding understanding exhibitors’ motivations. This additional research added exhibitors’ priorities for those motivations. For example, while lead gen is important, it ranks 4th relative to other factors like brand awareness and promotion because many exhibitors have come to understand that generating leads can be difficult at online events, due to lighter virtual booth traffic and significantly less engagement. When in-person, lead gen tends to be in the top two objectives.

Cathy: Over the past year, so many have been scrambling with trying to hold some type of event – whether it’s a physical in-person event or a virtual/digital one. Organizers were trying to minimize their losses, while at the same time connecting their exhibitors to attendees. With data privacy laws, providing a lot of detail on attendees may not be possible unless the attendee opted-in. Platform analytics, speaking from personal experience is one we all need to have a better understanding of what the platform provider will provide and how clean it will be. It will be important for organizers to have a clear understanding of what and how the data will be delivered. During the RFP process, they need to better understand the analytics of what they will receive.

Joe: Absolutely agree. The survey found that exhibitors (87%) want those who visit companies in the virtual hall or digital marketplace to be able to access the exhibitors link to their own microsite, which of course takes them out of the event platform, however, only 50% of organizer respondents allow external exhibitor sites. The bigger issue is that the research revealed that the majority (60%) of show organizers do not share attendee data from their online event platform to the exhibitors’ external sites.

Cathy: I think the technology will get better. Again, everyone was scrambling, or “drinking from a fire hose,” over the past 12 months. And, the findings of your study revealed this to be the case!

Joe: Yes, we all learned quite a bit.  Organizers said if they could have a “do-over”, they would have started planning earlier and add more time – an average of 7 additional weeks! Of course, those virtual shows held earlier in the pandemic did not have that luxury.

Cathy: Some organizers had to make the decision with just 6 to 8 weeks in advance! CEIR’s study revealed that the likelihood of digital offerings will continue in 2022, respondents overall 64% said likely, with 18% saying they did not know. Respondents in the Health Care Sector indicated they held a digital event in 2020 and are more likelihood to hold this year (91%), with 58% of them saying they are likely to hold 5 or more virtual events.

Joe: Among HCEA corporate exhibitor respondents, most plan to exhibit and sponsor hybrid events in late 2021/2022, however, only 34% will have the necessary budget to do so, and 50% are unsure on how their budgets will support it.

Cathy: I do believe that health care will be one of the industry segments that will return to live more slowly. And, IT as well. What do you think?

Joe: Completely agree with you and the data supports it for sure. While most companies we work with are extremely eager to get back to in-person, health and safety still comes first. Exhibitors are going to be leaning on associations and organizers for best practices and protocols – and of course, understanding the new costs associated with it.

Cathy: CEIR’s economist, Dr. Allen Shaw, has been advising that in order for recovery to happen, there needed to be a robust vaccine rollout, along with downward falling cases, and this would raise consumer confidence. We are seeing that happening, but with new variants appearing, we are not out of the woods yet.

Joe: It’s amazing how much has improved over the past two months, let alone weeks, in terms of the vaccine rollout and how the vaccines are solving for the variants.  Interestingly from the research, 61% of exhibitors anticipate their first in-person event being held in either Q3 or Q4 2021, however, 66% are not yet sure when their company’s travel ban will be lifted. Anecdotally, I’ve been hearing that those with travel bans forecasted until January 2022 have moved them to September 2021, and conversely, those with scheduled travel bans until summer 2021 have moved theirs to September.  So, it seems that September is the sweet spot – again anecdotally.  As more cities are opening up, and as more people are vaccinated, we’re all on the edge of our seats to see how it plays out.  Looking at how organizers and exhibitors think about attendance – the shift from focusing on attendee quantity over quality is key. In the short-term, attendance figures may be down, but it seems logical that a greater percentage of those who do choose to attend tradeshows and events in-person will be influencers and decision-makers.  Organizers should focus on collecting registration data to support this (i.e., be sure to ask attendees for their buying role, job level, and products/services interested in) to help put exhibitors at ease.

Cathy: These findings also coincide with CEIR’s forecast that recovery will begin in Q3 and Q4 this year and gain momentum into 2022 and by 2023, we will be down by just 10% over 2019.

Joe: The tradeshow and event industry has had its fair share of ups and downs, just like most other industries, and like all of us, it’s resilient. It’s without question that many associations and organizations have been crushed by the pandemic, it will take time to bounce-back, but it is safe to say, it will. And be even stronger.  If there’s any good that came out of this, it taught us to rethink and re-strategize events and how to continue delivering amazing experiences however possible.

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