In-Person, Virtual, and Hybrid Event Marketing: Your Ultimate Guide to Weighing the Pros and Cons of Each

Kathleen Reed

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In-Person, Virtual, and Hybrid Event Marketing: Your Ultimate Guide to Weighing the Pros and Cons of Each

Kathleen Reed

The event landscape has changed dramatically. Moving forward, marketing experts will be booking more virtual and hybrid events to accommodate attendees. This strategy avoids the potential of last-minute event cancellations, travel restrictions, or reduced travel budgets for marketers.

There are benefits and disadvantages to each type of event, and they should be weighed carefully to make an informed decision.


Kathleen Reed

In-Person, Virtual, and Hybrid Events: Weighing the Pros and Cons

Whether you're a marketing team leader looking for strategic insight or an on-the-ground field event marketer trying to expand your event scope, here are some pros and cons for in-person, virtual, and hybrid events:

Pros

In-person events:

  • Offer a unique experience to attendees
  • Allow salespeople to forge connections and move deals through the pipeline faster
  • Are the perfect place for networking between sales, customers, and prospects
  • Create great opportunities for brand awareness through giveaways and swag

Virtual events:

  • Make it easy to collect attendee data and background information
  • Open up attendee options to a larger audience of people 
  • Organically build evergreen content through video, social, and other platforms
  • Are traditionally cheaper to execute than in-person events and do not require traveling expenses

Hybrid events:

  • Combine the in-person engagement and unique experience of in-person events with the online reach and ease of virtual events
  • Can be developed for more people across different buyer or attendee profiles (aka local and remote attendees)
  • Take the most impactful parts of both in-person and virtual events into account to build the ultimate event marketing experience

Cons

 In-person events:

  • Require extensive budget approval for travel, booth setup, merchandise, dinners, etc.
  • Can alienate potential attendees who may not be ready for in-person events or traveling yet
  • Don't always allow for accurate attendee data collection from conversations
  • Are confined to the finite time period of the event itself without creating evergreen content

Virtual events:

  • Can't provide the physical in-person engagement many prospects are looking for from new vendors
  • Rely heavily on technology and third-party platforms to execute flawlessly
  • Make it easy for registrants to not attend or leave early with little control

Hybrid events:

  • May require substantial planning and strategic effort beforehand to execute across multiple platforms and channels

Considerations for Hosting a Hybrid Event

It's hard to replace in-person connections with virtual platforms, regardless of how great the technology is. But, the lower cost of virtual events can help supplement some more significant items at in-person events.

The best solution for your field marketing event planning may be to consider hybrid event marketing.

If your team is considering hosting a hybrid event, ask yourselves these questions to determine if this is the right approach:


Will your target attendees embrace this hybrid approach?

While your internal team may be excited about a hybrid approach, does your audience feel the same way? Before you start planning your big hybrid event, do a quick pulse check to see if this is something the market is interested in attending.

Is your team equipped to host a hybrid event?

Hybrid events require some pretty specific technology applications to run smoothly. Ensure your team has the right equipment and technology to deliver an optimal attendee experience, regardless of whether the attendee is virtual or in-person. Consider how your field marketing strategy will adapt to a hybrid event.

How will this event fit into your larger event marketing strategy?

While the cost of hosting in-person and virtual events may vary from event to event, hybrid events combine the costs – and the value – of both of these approaches in one. Hybrid events should have a clear value in your larger event marketing strategy to warrant the time and investment.

Hosting Successful Hybrid Events in 2021 and Beyond

With so many benefits, we believe that hybrid events are here to stay. Here are a few things to remember as your team works to host successful hybrid events in 2021 and beyond:

Plan your virtual and in-person strategies simultaneously

71% of event organizers say connecting the in-person and virtual audience is a significant challenge. Hybrid events require a seamless combination of virtual and in-person initiatives, so it's important to plan both halves of your event simultaneously. If not, your hybrid event could come off as an in-person event with a virtual component or vice versa.


Make it easy for your attendees to choose the option in which they're most comfortable

One of the most significant benefits of hybrid events is that they allow events to cater to all attendees, even those who may not feel comfortable attending in-person events quite yet. As you're planning the registration and attendee experience, make sure both options are just as easy to complete.

Build your ideal audience profile for both event elements

Unless your event is a multi-day, multi-channel affair, you're probably going to have different audiences for the in-person and virtual portions of your event. To effectively market to these diverse populations simultaneously, you will want to build ideal audience profiles before starting your marketing efforts.

What does an in-person attendee look like? Is it someone in the city where your event is being hosted? Is it a specific job description or seniority level? On the other hand, what does a virtual attendee look like? Is it someone who may not need to attend the in-person networking event? Is it remote prospects?

Building out these audience profiles can help your team identify exactly which channels to use to market to these segments down the road.

Promote your in-person and virtual event initiatives where they will have the most significant impact

Just as event marketers look to the differences between in-person and virtual events to identify KPIs to measure, they should also look to the different initiatives to determine where to promote their events. For many marketing teams, in-person events are often promoted through industry newsletters, personal communications like emails or phone calls, and even high-dollar direct mail invites. Meanwhile, virtual events are often promoted through social channels, links, and sponsored posts on LinkedIn.

With your ideal attendee profile in hand, your team can pinpoint the best channels to reach these audience segments. Just remember, you don't have to promote both the in-person and virtual event elements in every campaign. Instead, try picking and choosing to highlight the aspects that will significantly impact that channel. 


Leverage learnings from past virtual and in-person events to influence your marketing initiatives

Even if this is your first hybrid event, this probably isn't your first rodeo for marketing event initiatives. Look back at your previous events to help influence how you will market your event to potential attendees. Do you have a population that is highly receptive to email marketing? What about shout-outs during other events? Tracking what works and what doesn't for these online and offline events can help ensure you're using the proper channels to promote events moving forward.

Make sure your registration process is comprehensive and cohesive

While not technically a marketing initiative, the registration process is vital for hybrid events. If an attendee must select which tract they will be attending, in-person or virtual, the registration process should be seamless and easy for both. There needs to be clear instructions and explanations around how your hybrid event will work and what both attendee groups will need to do. In addition, the value needs to be explicitly spelled out for both groups.

Technology will play a significant role in running a smooth event

More than a third of event markets say they lack knowledge or experience with virtual meetings and the technology to drive them. In fact, they rated that as their biggest concern about going to a hybrid or virtual event focus.

Virtual events' success is contingent on the technology your team is using, but this is just as important for hybrid events. With the right technology working behind the scenes, your attendees will have an ideal experience regardless of how they engage with your event.

Have clear KPIs in place that accurately represent your hybrid event

For event marketers to know without a doubt that an event was a success, there are clear KPIs in place that require tracking. For a hybrid event, this means that your virtual efforts, in-person efforts, and your entire hybrid event as a whole will all need their own KPIs assigned for measurement.

Hybrid Event Marketing: The 5 Metrics Every Executive Needs to Track

For many marketing teams, tracking event ROI has always been pretty straightforward. There were in-person events and virtual events, each with its own set of associated metrics. Registrations, attendees, demos given, demo requests, brand reach – the list goes on. However, over the past year or so, marketing events have morphed into a best-of-both-worlds approach that combines elements of in-person and virtual events: the hybrid event.

Here are the key metrics event marketing executives need to track during your next hybrid marketing event: 


—  Attendees per channel: While a hybrid event combines in-person and virtual event activities, it is good to track attendance and registration across the different channels. This way, your team can have an informed look at which activities perform higher across the board.


—  Marketing efforts per channel: If your team sees that your virtual speaker session, for example, has a higher attendance rate than your in-person demos, take a look at your marketing efforts. Did you promote the online speaker sessions more than the in-person activities? Tracking your results back to marketing and promotion efforts can help calculate ROI.


—  Brand awareness: One of the most important metrics to track across in-person and virtual events is brand awareness. This means Google Analytics (how often your brand was searched online), social mentions, interactions, and even content downloads.


—  Customer/prospect growth: To truly move the needle and show your executive team the relationship between demand gen efforts and sales, you need to track account growth. Was your in-person networking session able to move a prospect from 'lead' to 'opportunity'? Did an online demo video result in a customer upsell for a new feature? Track it and let your executive team know.


Overall ROI: The overall ROI of hybrid marketing events combines all of the above data and other more straightforward metrics, such as budget, leads, registration, etc. If you're presenting to your executive team on hybrid events, you will need a precise number to show them just how successful things are.

Hosting Your First Hybrid Event? Your Complete Pre/During/Post Execution Checklist

Your field event marketing strategy begins with pre-planning and continues through the event to your post-event follow-up. This checklist can help you ensure a successful event.

Pre-event


___ Set your hybrid event KPI goals

Like any marketing event, a hybrid event requires clear goals and KPIs to be defined early on in the planning process. This will allow your team to develop marketing strategies to address these goals and build impactful event execution strategies. Make sure you identify KPIs for both your event's in-person and virtual elements and the overall event itself, so there is data attributed to every part of the event.


___ Determine which elements of your event will be virtual and which will be in person

One of the biggest misconceptions of a hybrid event is that the virtual and in-person details need to be mirror images of each other. Not only is this wrong, but it is also more strategic to have different yet complementary elements across the board.

Let's say, for example, that your team is sponsoring a speaker session at an in-person conference. Perhaps you broadcast a pre-session roundtable with the speaker virtually beforehand, stream the session, then have a live Q + A post-session. Anything the two attendee groups may miss can be sent as a follow-up or posted on social media for general consumption.


___ Market your virtual and in-person event elements both together and separately

As you're planning an event, make sure you have a clear attendee profile in mind for both your virtual and in-person event elements. This will help your team market and promote your event more effectively. One example is to promote an online speaker session as a webinar with messaging that the webinar is part of a more significant event with more content and opportunities for engagement. Or, on the other hand, promote in-person options to potential attendees who may live in the same city or region where your in-person event will be held. Just try not to alienate virtual or in-person registrants by being clear that, as a hybrid event, there will be similar learning and engagement opportunities regardless of how people attend.


___ Ensure you have the right tools in place to track your hybrid event KPIs and metrics

The worst position to be in as an event marketer is to be mid-way through an event and realize that you aren't even tracking the data you outlined in your KPIs. Instead of waiting for your event to discover this, take the time before your hybrid event to double-check your technology. Do you have the correct virtual meeting platform to host your content and sessions? Do you have the right on-sight technology to stream in-person content virtually? Do you have traditional event tools like badge scanners and CRM integrations? Trust us – getting this out of the way before the day of your event can save your team a massive headache!

During the event


___ Make sure your online and in-person event staff are in sync

Unless you run all your event elements from the same place, your virtual and in-person event staff may be in different physical locations. During your event, make sure there is an open line of communication to keep things running smoothly.

This could be as simple as a dedicated Slack channel to keep people on task or as complex as a project lead checking in with different element owners throughout the day. Staying in sync is incredibly important for virtual attendees who may be subject to downtimes or 'waiting rooms' throughout the day if there is a lag in your online programming.


___ Check-in with your attendees and adjust strategies accordingly

One of the best parts of hybrid events is the flexibility they offer. If someone registers for an in-person session and doesn't attend, you can send a note in real-time asking if they would rather participate in the online viewing later that day. Or, you can check in with virtual attendees and update session content to reflect better what they're looking for – it's all manageable and at your fingertips.


___ Remember to post on social media

Social media is the hybrid event marketer's secret weapon and constantly posting throughout your event is critical. Include links to register and attend your virtual sessions as they are happening in real-time. Post highlight pictures, videos, or recaps during and after any in-person programming to get people engaged. And, don't forget to do daily wrap-up emails or notifications if your event is more than one day.

Post-event


___ Review the numbers – but know how to make sense of them

Understanding hybrid event marketing data can be tricky, especially if there are different KPIs for your in-person and virtual event elements. Instead of just looking at the data as black-and-white (we had 15 demo requests from the 1 pm virtual speaker session), try to look at the numbers as part of a bigger picture. How many overall demo requests came in throughout the event? How many of these were from virtual sessions? Was the 1 pm slot one of the highest attended sessions? Understanding the numbers you see as part of the larger event context can help your team make strategic recommendations and decisions moving forward.


___ Identify areas of success and opportunity

While hybrid events combine the best of both event marketing worlds, they're also a great space to test new event ideas and strategies. Once you've crunched the numbers, it's time to identify what worked and what didn't. Maybe a customer demonstration that worked great in person and garnered some excellent responses didn't translate to a virtual audience, but the recorded demo by a salesperson did. It's all about testing and identifying these areas of opportunity so your team can optimize your next hybrid event.


___ Share your results with team and company leaders

Event marketing is one of any marketing team's big-ticket items, which means it has plenty of eyes on the prize. Once you have your outcomes and findings, packet those numbers up to share with other team members, marketing leaders, and company executives. If your hybrid events show great ROI, don't be surprised if more sales leaders and executives take a more vested interest in your campaigns next time.

Introducing Circa for Marketing Executives


Marketing executives are constantly looking for new ways to bridge the gap between demand gen efforts and field marketing campaigns. With Circa, your marketing team can deliver unique hybrid events without incredibly high budgets. Plus, by tracking the correct data through Circa, your team can show the right ROI for the right activities, even for hybrid events.

You can learn more about Circa for marketing executives here.


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