Some 4 in 10 B2B event organizers plan to hold a virtual event in 2021, according to a new report [download page] from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) on trends in the virtual event space. Based on a poll of more than 340 executives at organizations running or managing physical, in-person B2B exhibitions, the report suggests that virtual events are sticking around for now.
Some 62% of respondents held a virtual event in 2020, per the report, and 4 in 10 also intend to hold one in 2021. The vast majority (86%) feel that virtual events are a necessary short-term option due to the pandemic, agreeing that “COVID-19 forced the cancellation of our physical event. The only option at this time is running a virtual event to serve the needs of our communities.” However, nearly 7 in 10 (68%) also agree that virtual will be a bigger component of physical events moving forward, leading to more hybrid events.
Proving Event Value
In order to maintain the success of virtual events, the vast majority (93%) of respondents said that they provide exhibitors or sponsors with one or more metrics that prove the value of their investment in the event. The most popular of these metrics are the number of visitors to a virtual exhibitor booth (78%), and the number of attendees to sponsored sessions/activities (73%).
To a lesser extent, brand marketers are being provided with other metrics to prove the value of the investment in virtual events. These include contact info of attendees that visited an exhibitor booth (59%) and demographics of exhibitor booth attendees (57%), while some are providing social media metrics such as impressions tied to the virtual event in total (30%), tied to sponsored sessions/activities (25%) or tied to the exhibitor/sponsor (24%).
Outside of these metrics, organizers of virtual events think that sales lead generation is motivating brands to participate – 32% of respondents listed this as the top reason, where 24% said branding and 15% said face-to-face engagement.
Separately, respondents believe that the leading motivation driving professionals to attend is education for professional or personal development, which one-third listed as the #1 reason. It follows that event organizers are focused on educational offerings, of which the most popular include participant Q&A/polling during session (80%), plenary session either live (74%) or on-demand (74%) and education sessions on-demand (73%).
When it comes to offering networking and special activities to make virtual events stand out, text chat between participants was the most popular choice among organizer respondents (72%), though plenty of other activities were cited – including virtual meeting rooms (exhibitor-to-attendee: 63%; peer-to-peer: 48%), discussion forum boards (47%), games (46%) and virtual happy hour (41%).
Virtually all (94% of) organizers are also offering more than one option for exhibitor promotions, including a searchable exhibitor directory (72%) and virtual exhibit booths (70%). Half use a virtual exhibit hall as a landing page for attendees.
For those brand marketers not wishing to purchase a virtual event booth, the survey suggests that organizers are offering a range of other sponsorship opportunities including website advertising (64%) and social media advertising (41%), or content sponsorships like sponsoring education sessions (50%), networking activities (37%) and general sessions (37%).
Read the full report here.
About the Data: Results are based on a survey of 346 executives at organizations that run or manage B2B exhibitions or corporate events.