Will Live Event Marketing Ever Return? Why To Shift Budgets To Digital Channels

Live events have long been a cornerstone of marketing strategies, fostering brand connections and engagement. But a question lingers: in today's digital age, will live events fade away?

Traditionally, live events have played a critical role in marketing. Trade shows, conferences, product launches – these experiences allowed companies to connect with customers on a personal level, showcase products with live demonstrations, and build brand loyalty through face-to-face interactions.

However, a significant shift is taking place. Marketers are increasingly allocating budgets towards digital channels. This trend can be attributed to several catalysts. Global events, like pandemics, have forced a reevaluation of in-person gatherings. Technological advancements have opened doors for innovative virtual experiences, offering wider reach and cost-efficiency.

So, is this the end of live events? Not necessarily. Let's delve deeper into the factors shaping the future of live event marketing.

The Evolution of Marketing Events

Live events haven't just been popular marketing tactics; they've played a crucial role in shaping customer relationships, brand awareness, and have provided an unmatched opportunity to create a tangible brand experience. 

Think of historical product launches – the unveiling of the first iPhone, introducing significant eclectic cars, and more. These weren't just product announcements; they were immersive experiences that sparked excitement and built a lasting emotional connection with the brand, something a simple printed advertisement could never achieve.

Evolutionary steps leading to the integration of digital elements in live events.

Live events haven't just adopted digital tools; they've undergone a digital transformation. With the introduction and proliferation of email, the first digital elements of live events had to do with email marketing. While it may seem silly today, being able to reach such a broad audience and even get online registration was a game-changer. 

From there, in-person events took their first steps outside the showroom floors and into people’s homes or offices with live webcasts of special product moments. While live-streamed product launches are ubiquitous today, they were once novel and groundbreaking.

Then, with the rise of social media things like hashtags, live tweeting, and interactive polls/surveys added new layers of engagement that just weren’t possible before.

Now, with smartphones, new apps, VR and AR, the sky’s the limit. 

The Monetization of Learning: Balancing Revenue and Access

The rise of "pay-to-play" speakers in live events presents a complex challenge. Event organizers require revenue streams to cover the costs of hosting events. Traditionally, sponsorships played a major role in generating income. However, with the rise of "pay-to-play," some events are positioning speaking slots themselves as a sponsorship opportunity.

The Downside of Pay-to-Play:

Limited Diversity of Voices: When only speakers who can afford large sponsorships are featured, the pool of thought leaders becomes homogeneous. Attendees miss out on valuable insights from those with limited financial resources, potentially hindering exposure to diverse perspectives and innovative ideas.

The ROI Challenge for Attendees: Events with high speaker fees often lead to higher ticket prices for attendees. This can be a barrier for those seeking valuable learning experiences, especially for budget-conscious marketers who are already under pressure to maximize ROI.

The impact of global circumstances on accelerating digital transformation in marketing.

Global events, particularly recent ones, have had a significant impact on accelerating the digital transformation of marketing. The most significant one being the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Social distancing measures and lockdowns forced a rapid shift towards virtual experiences. In-person conferences and events all but ceased for over a year, replaced by webinars, livestreams, and virtual summits. This not only ensured safety but also showcased the potential of digital tools for marketing purposes.

Even as the world adjusts to a post-pandemic reality, the digital shift in marketing is likely to be permanent. Marketers, challenged by budget constraints and the need to adapt quickly to changing consumer behavior, are increasingly allocating resources toward digital channels.

Advantages of Digital Channels Over Live Events

Cost Effectiveness:

Live events require substantial upfront costs for venue rentals, equipment, travel, and logistics. Digital campaigns typically have lower initial costs, often involving lower platform fees, content creation, and targeted advertising.

Think about how a targeted social media campaign with a modest budget can generate leads and brand awareness for a fraction of the cost of a trade show booth rental, staffing, and travel expenses, typically ranging from $10,000 to $50,000, or even more depending on the size of the booth and the spectacle you want to put on.

Greater Reach and Accessibility:

Live, in-person events, by their nature, have limitations on who and how many people can attend. Digital channels, on the other hand, offer unparalleled reach and accessibility, allowing you to connect with a wider and more diverse audience.

Imagine a company hosting a live marketing summit in New York City. This event might attract a few hundred attendees located primarily in North America. By offering a simulcast webinar and recording the sessions, the company can reach a global audience of thousands, including those who wouldn't have been able to travel to the physical event due to cost or location. Plus, digital channels can be more inclusive for audiences with disabilities. Features like closed captions, transcripts, and adjustable video settings can improve accessibility for attendees with hearing or visual impairments.

Enhanced Data Collection and Analytics:

Digital marketing campaigns generate a wealth of data, providing a goldmine of insights into customer behavior and campaign performance. With a digital campaign you can track things like;

  • Website traffic and engagement
  • Social media interactions
  • Email marketing performance
  • Campaign performance
  • ROI

Digital channels provide a significant advantage when it comes to data collection and analysis. The wealth of data generated allows for a deeper understanding of your audience and campaign effectiveness, empowering you to make data-driven decisions and optimize your marketing strategy for long-term success.

Flexibility and Adaptability:

Live events offer a fixed experience, but the beauty of digital channels lies in their flexibility and adaptability. Digital campaigns allow you to gather real-time audience insights through website analytics, social media engagement metrics, and email marketing performance data.

Imagine you host a live webinar and notice a significant drop in attendance halfway through. Unfortunately, there's little you can do to adjust the content mid-stream for the live audience. However, with a digital recording, you can gather feedback through polls or surveys after the event. Based on this feedback, you can edit the recording to shorten a section attendees found dull or add additional information on a topic that sparked interest. This improved version can then be repurposed for future marketing efforts.

The Role of Live Events in the Digital Age

While digital channels offer undeniable advantages, live events remain a powerful tool in the marketing toolbox. They provide a unique value proposition that digital experiences simply can't replicate.

Live events foster face-to-face interaction, building a sense of community and connection that's difficult to achieve online. Networking opportunities, shared experiences, and the energy of a live audience create a lasting impression on attendees.

The future of marketing events is likely to be a hybrid model that leverages the strengths of both live and digital experiences. Live events can be combined with digital elements like live-streaming or virtual participation options. This allows remote audiences to connect with speakers and participate in discussions, expanding the event's reach beyond geographical limitations.

Technology is constantly evolving, and live events are poised to benefit from these advancements. Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies can create immersive experiences that enhance attendee engagement. Imagine attending a product launch and virtually experiencing the product in a simulated environment.

Strategies for Marketers Considering the Shift

The transition from live events to digital channels requires careful planning and a strategic approach. Before diving into the digital world, take a step back to assess your brand's unique needs and capabilities. Things like identifying your target audience, clearly defining you marketing goals, and determining if a digital campaign is something you can handle in-house or will need to outsource are key components when considering a shift.

Building a Digital-First Strategy

Once you've assessed your brand's DNA, it's time to build a data-driven digital marketing strategy. This will include the following:

  • Content is King: Create high-quality, informative content tailored to your target audience's needs and interests.

  • SEO Optimization: Ensure your website and content rank well in search engine results pages to attract organic traffic. Keyword research and website optimization are key components.

  • Embrace Paid Advertising: Consider platforms like Google Ads, social media advertising, or native advertising to reach a wider audience and achieve specific marketing goals.

  • Email Marketing: Build an email list and nurture relationships with subscribers through targeted email campaigns.

  • Social Media Engagement: Be active on relevant social media platforms, share valuable content, and interact with your audience.

Leveraging technology

Several powerful tools and platforms can enhance your digital marketing efforts:

  • Content Management Systems (CMS): Platforms like WordPress or HubSpot simplify content creation, management, and website optimization.

  • Email Marketing Tools: Mailchimp and other companies facilitate email list management, campaign creation, and performance tracking.

  • Social Media Management Tools: Hootsuite or Sprout Social help schedule posts, monitor conversations, and analyze social media performance.

  • Marketing Automation Tools: Platforms like Marketo or Pardot automate repetitive tasks, personalize customer journeys, and streamline lead nurturing processes.

  • Analytics Tools: Google Analytics provides valuable insights into website traffic, user behavior, and campaign effectiveness.

Maintaining engagement and connection in a digital-first world requires creativity and audience focus

  • Interactive Content: Incorporate interactive elements like polls, quizzes, and contests into your marketing efforts to boost engagement.

  • Live Video Sessions: Leverage platforms like YouTube Live or Facebook Live for interactive webinars, Q&A sessions, or product demonstrations.

  • Personalized Communication: Use data analytics to personalize your marketing messages and offers to resonate with individual audience members.

  • Build a Community: Create online communities or forums where your audience can interact with each other and with your brand.

  • Focus on Customer Experience: Throughout the digital journey, prioritize a seamless and positive customer experience across all touchpoints.

There’s no hiding from the fact that the marketing landscape has undergone a significant shift, with a move from live events to digital channels at the forefront. This change is continuing to evolve, and the single most important takeaway is the need for adaptable strategies. Marketers who can embrace new technologies, analyze data effectively, and adjust their approach based on insights will be best positioned for success.

Live events are not entirely obsolete. The future likely holds a hybrid approach, leveraging the strengths of both live and digital experiences. Live events will continue to provide a platform for face-to-face interaction and brand connection, while digital channels will offer broader reach, in-depth learning opportunities, and continuous engagement through data-driven strategies.

As technology continues to advance, innovative solutions like VR/AR experiences and interactive sessions will further enhance live events. The key lies in creating compelling, data-driven marketing experiences that resonate with your audience, regardless of the platform.

As we've seen, embracing digital channels offers a wealth of advantages: wider reach, deeper audience insights, and the ability to constantly optimize and improve your strategy.

Let's keep the conversation going. Share your experiences transitioning from live events to digital marketing. What strategies have worked best for you? What challenges have you encountered, and how have you overcome them?

By working together and sharing our insights, we can all navigate the digital marketing landscape with greater confidence and achieve marketing success in the ever-evolving digital age.