How CMOs view ‘NextGen’ events

How CMOs view ‘NextGen’ events

A survey of chief marketing officers by the CMO Council has revealed what they really think about virtual, hybrid and in-person events.

Chief marketing officers (CMOs) are ‘champing at the bit’ to return to in-person events according to a study of CMO Council members.

Some 60% of the organisation’s 16,000-plus CMO membership said that it’s very important, even critical, to restart in-person or hybrid events in order to nurture face-to-face customer relationships for higher conversion rates.

CMO’s enthusiasm for face-to-face may also stem from an admission by 64% of respondents to only being ‘moderately effective’ or ‘not effective at all’ at executing virtual events that deliver value to their organisations.

So, what’s stopping them?

The value problem is likely the result of mismanaged expectations. When the pandemic forced events online, marketers wanted virtual events to deliver the same outcomes as in-person events. But virtual and in-person events play different roles.

The CMO Council study urges CMOs to now take advantage of what it calls the ‘NextGen’ event channel by encouraging virtual, in-person, hybrid and webinar formats that are more aligned with individual business outcomes – such as brand awareness, lead generation, retention and loyalty.

“When it comes to top of the funnel and you want to reach more people, digital events will stick around,” says Gonzalo Garcia Villanueva, global CMO at GfK. “The ratio of digital to live will be skewed toward digital, because digital has proven it will get you those numbers. Audiences are enjoying the flexibility of being able to register for a virtual event and then choose whether to watch ‘live’ or to play the recording at a time that is more convenient to them.”

Tony Arnold, CMO North America and head of strategy at HCL Software says: “Virtual events are about presenting knowledge to a wide audience, whereas in-person events are about interactivity and are good for executive briefings and product rollouts.”

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The future of hybrid events for CMOs

Eying the best of both worlds, many CMOs say they’re now planning to run hybrid formats in order to gain the benefits of customer intimacy and brand reach. For one reason or another, many people are still unable to travel to an in-person event. A hybrid event opens registration to them.

However, CMO Council members warn of two factors to keep in mind when planning for hybrid events – the financial reality and the potential cannibalisation of in-person registrations.

If marketers promote the virtual path too much or send hybrid-event invitations haphazardly, fewer people may physically attend the event. Hybrid events therefore require savvy orchestration.

“A hybrid event is double the cost, double the resources, because you’re essentially doing what you did in 2019 and adding a virtual presence like you did in 2020,” explains Sonia Sahney, CMO of MI and CT at GE Healthcare. “At least in my marketing budget for next year, I’ve allocated close to 1.8x for hybrid events.”

GfK’s Garcia Villanueva says: “For hybrid events, you know who you want to form closer bonds with, so you invite those people only to the live event. You know who’s probably not going to travel, so you invite those to the digital one. For those who haven’t engaged with your communications, you offer digital at the last minute. That was a massive learning for us.”

Digital components can lend a helping hand

If marketers can infuse in-person events with digital elements, they can create a more immersive attendee experience for their NextGen event programmes.

According to the study, the top three digital components that marketers plan to add to in-person events are online platforms (both web and mobile), on-demand content and connecting digital and in-person audiences.

Digital components also lead to richer attendee profiling and ROI measurement, better digital content delivery, deeper engagement and better outcomes.

HCL Software’s Arnold, for instance, is focused on his video editing team producing high-quality videos of presentations at in-person events. This will extend the longevity of his in-person events by making the content available on-demand.

Also, NextGen in-person events are more likely to be smaller, more numerous, and more specialised. When the CMO Council asked how in-person/hybrid events will compare with pre-pandemic in-person events, marketers overwhelming said they’ll be smaller in size.

Moreover, there are still a lot of unknowns with NextGen events. Which event formats best match which event types? What digital components and content produce a more immersive attendee experience? Which event activities lead to attendee satisfaction, higher engagement rates, and lead volume and conversion?

CMOs are taking measures to find answers to these questions.

When respondents were asked how they’re preparing for NextGen events, 71% said they’re experimenting and trialing new event formats, agendas or designs. This year is shaping up to be a year of learning.

“We know events are going to be a massive channel for not only lead-generation but brand-building and retention, and that’s why I’ve restructured my team and put into place a much more strategic play,” says CMO Roni Millard of Equifax Australia.

“Throughout 2022, we’re testing and learning about different event types and technology to see what’s working and to track how we’re doing. We need to be smarter in the formulation of ROI.”

In terms of the events themselves, Millard plans to inject hybrid elements. This way, she can deliver face-to-face customer interactions while still informing others virtually.

“The pandemic has shown us what we can do virtually, how we can have presenters on different screens and has educated us on how to use technology a lot smarter,” she says.

For HCL Software’s Arnold however, he plans to take a more cautious approach. tracking attendance and engagement before pivoting to a hybrid format.

“We need to first get some data around live events before we make any major changes,” he says. “We’re going to keep virtual and live events separate for now and maybe shift down the road when we understand what attendance is going to look like.”

For more insights into how CMOs are shaping their events for the future, download a free copy of NextGen Events – Optimised for Outcomes Aligning Strategy, Teams and Tech for Success in a New Era of Events via the CMO Council website.

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Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for over 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.

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