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Live, Virtual, or Hybrid? What’s the Right Experience for your Brand?

  • Ann D'Adamo

From Cannes to Coachella in-person events are back in full swing. As conferences, trade shows, and consumer events return, does that mean that virtual events are in our rear-view mirror? Not quite.

While consumers may not want to sit behind a screen all the time, live streaming and virtual technology have made it possible (and more affordable) for consumers to virtually participate in events they would have otherwise missed.

These “hybrid events” have opened an entirely new world of opportunity for marketers and consumers alike. When deciding to invest in a brand experience, how do you know which event type will help you to meet your goals? Here, we offer insight into several factors that can help you decide.

Sensory Elements Are Best Experienced In-Person

If you can taste, smell, and touch the product, the experience will have a bigger emotional impact through a live, in-person event. In-person experiences foster a community that digital engagement can’t replicate and that’s especially true when sensory elements are present.

Additionally, when done right, in-person experiences offer a sense of escapism and an emotional connection to the brand.

While digital elements should be part of the experience, for example, virtual or augmented reality integrations, social sharing, and interactive touchpoints that digitally bring the brand and experience to life, the one-to-one connection with like-minded fans and the brand itself should be the central element of the activation.

Virtual Events Build Communities Over Space and Time

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve seen the power of gaming communities and how brands are integrating themselves into platforms like Roblox, Fortnite, and Twitch.

As marketers explore opportunities on these platforms and the looming Metaverse boom, we’re going to see more brands vying to get in on the action. Virtual platforms offer an engaging way to incorporate brands in these spaces – with one caveat, the engagement must feel authentic and offer value. This digitally savvy audience is hardened against insincere attempts to cash in on a trend.

Similarly, online events such as live stream shopping and online brand community events led by influencers can help to build a community around your brand. This is especially true for beauty and fashion brands where educational content has proven to be hugely successful on social platforms.

When developing these strategies, ensure that you’re working with a proven technology partner and, if the experience is influencer-led, be sure to select influencers who can communicate your message and keep the audience engaged throughout the live stream.

Hybrid Events

Having the best of both worlds may look easy, but it’s not. One might naturally think it’s enough to simply add a Zoom or live stream to a live event and expect that the experience will be the same for those attending virtually as those in-person – it’s not. The key to a successful hybrid event is engagement.

To ensure that the content is engaging to both live AND virtual participants, marketers need to design two experiences – one for the live audience and another completely different experience for virtual participants.

If your team doesn’t have experience doing this, we suggest hiring a company or agency that has significant experience in designing hybrid events, understands how live and virtual audiences participate differently, and knows which technologies have the best track record for achieving your desired results.

Hybrid events generally work best for remote company meetings, trade shows, and other events where audiences have the freedom to choose to participate in education modules or panel discussions. While networking is often a key component of these events, offering breakout rooms and other opportunities for smaller discussion forums can help to bridge that gap for those participating remotely.

While we don’t know what the future holds, one thing is certain: whether they’re in-person or virtual, people want to connect to their favorite brands and build communities around them.