Covid-19 has created a new kind of audience – and it is vital event marketers cater to it

Covid-19 has created a new kind of audience – and it is vital event marketers cater to it Toby Lewis is CEO of Live Group. Having transformed Live Group from one of the UK’s leading events agencies into an integrated communications powerhouse, he’s on a relentless mission to deliver messages that engage audiences and inspire action. Not one to sit still, Toby can typically be found sharing bright ideas with clients, associates and industry professionals across the globe.

For event marketers, Covid-19 has fundamentally changed the nature of an audience. With the pandemic confining people to their homes and drastically limiting or downsizing in-person events, audiences now tend to exist behind a screen, participating in events through their mobiles, tablets or laptops. But this new, primarily digital, audience opens up new possibilities for enhancing and extending the level of engagement companies have with their audiences. By adopting a blended approach to events through specially designed digital platforms, companies can cater to their audiences in new ways, offering more meaningful content over a longer period of time, increasing accessibility and even helping the environment, too.

Catering to a new audience

Event audiences can largely be split up into three different groups. The first are those who thrive on traditional engagement. This group loves networking and meeting new people, they welcome being approached by other participants, and enjoy attending main plenaries and learning with a group of people around them. These are the people that will often ‘grab the mic’ and contribute to discussion. The second group are in the middle – they can be swayed in their interest one way or another depending on the event. The third group is at the other end of the spectrum, made up of people who by and large don’t enjoy events, who don’t like networking being forced upon them. Engaging this segment is invariably the most challenging, and, with 45% of adults in the UK considering themselves to be shy, the scale of the problem is often underappreciated.

Yet, looking at the audiences that have been using our digital events platform over the last year, it is actually this last segment where we have seen the most dramatic growth in audience engagement. This is because a blended approach to events that seamlessly combines the offline with the online ensures that content is more meaningful and targeted. Data can be used to measure engagement more accurately so that this output can be tailored, adapted and become more impactful over a longer period of time. Such a strategy can put different audience types on an equal playing field, allowing them to navigate the content and engage in a way that suits them. There was always potential for the last audience segment to engage with events; they just never had the platform that was right for them.

Positive behaviour change

Richer experiences for event participants drive greater engagement, which means a greater return on investment for marketers. But we should also be considering the return on behaviour too.. The ability to more accurately measure engagement means that businesses can develop more refined KPIs and extend event experiences and interactions far beyond a single keynote speech or fireside chat, for example. We believe that real engagement takes time, and so elongating interactions with participants both before and after the event or peak of activity maximises the chance of inducing positive behaviour change.

Live Group’s virtual platform, for example, which acts as a central hub for the events we organise, puts the user experience front and centre. Collaboration between participants is facilitated in a number of ways, through online forums for debates, instant messaging, video chat, content libraries and dedicated galleries for sponsors. We also have an interface with LinkedIn to ensure lasting engagement post-event.

Enabling a more sustainable future

An underappreciated outcome of the digitalisation of engagement is the social and environmental benefits it brings. The average event, for example, wastes 15%-20% of the food it produces1 and a 2019 report found that the UK events industry emits 1.2bn kg of CO2e from diesel generators every year2. With more environmentally conscious consumers than ever, the impact of events engagement on the planet is now high on the agenda. It is why we have developed a Sustainability Calculator for clients to determine the environmental impact of an event, taking into account factors such as delegate travel, food and water usage and energy consumption.

With the pandemic only accelerating the trend toward a blended approach, it also represents a way for the events industry to play a pivotal role in fostering the relationship building, networking and engagement that can help revive the UK economy in an environment where conference centres are standing empty. With the pre-pandemic events industry estimated to be worth £70 billion in direct spend and accounting for over 50% of spending in the UK visitor economy, it’s vital we begin to embed new approaches such as blended events that breathe new life into the sector and enable a more sustainable future.

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