Since the vast majority of the United States is currently practicing social distancing through stay-at-home orders, the ability to visit stores, restaurants, and events has come to a screeching halt.
Huge events including the 2020 Summer Olympics, the Cannes film festival, the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament, and most major trade shows, such as Mobile World Conference, SXSW and Google I/O have cancelled, and we're continuing to see cancellations and postponements roll out seemingly every day.
While the inability to host in-person events feels like a huge set-back, we, like many in our industry and beyond are getting creative and innovating the way we reach and engage with virtual audiences. Some industries are finding incredible success, here's two recent examples.
The NFL draft is one of the most popular events of the year for casual and avid sports fans alike, drawing in thousands of people from all over the country. This year’s draft was scheduled to take place in April in Las Vegas and was anticipated to be one of the highest attended drafts to date. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the NFL had to forgo their Vegas event and quickly come up with a new solution. The league decided to host the draft virtually on ESPN and NFL Network, using hundreds of individual live streams right from the homes of potential draft picks across the country. Since the event has never been conducted remotely, many fans and critics were skeptical as to how it would be executed successfully. The live-stream approach went off without a hitch, and even gave the draft experience a bit more authenticity that fans responded to. In total, the virtual event drew in a record 55 million viewers, a 35% increase from the previous year’s draft, making it the most watched NFL draft in history.
Looking at the concert industry, many major acts have canceled their 2020 tours. Instead of cutting their losses, some artists have turned to the digital realm to continue to perform and entertain fans. Perhaps one of the most talked about example of this is rapper Travis Scott’s recent collaboration with video game Fortnite. The 5-time Grammy nominee launched an exclusive live performance on the Fortnite platform on April 25th where he played several of his hit songs and even debuted a new one. The creators of Fortnite, Epic Games, announced that the concert drew in a stunning 12.3 million viewers, not including millions of additional views of the concert on other streaming platforms once the show concluded. On a smaller scale, numerous other virtual concert series have been introduced, including Verizon’s ‘Pay it Forward’ series, which gathers some of the biggest names in entertainment to perform a live concert every Tuesday and Thursday evening. Both examples, big and small illustrate how out of the box ideas that give viewers an unexpected experience, really amps up the entertainment value.
So, in the pivot to virtual, what can event professionals learn from these examples? Here are 3 takeaways.
1. Be Authentic with your Brand Voice Of course, you want your brand to be personified in your virtual experience through key visuals, messaging and promotions, but your focus should be on doing so in a way that is authentic and true to your brand voice. With all that is going on in the world right not, and emotions running high, it’s important to be empathetic to your audience and their current care-abouts. Show them that you’re here for them, and educate them on how your solutions, and your people can make their lives easier. This tone should be carried out throughout your campaign messaging, and in the way content and live presentations are delivered.
2. Bring the “Wow” Factor With today’s audiences, attention spans are already at an all-time low. Virtual audiences are even tougher to keep engaged, let alone for long periods of time. This being the case, it’s crucial to layer in as much entertainment and interactivity as possible, while balancing the educational integrity of your event's content. There are several ways to achieve this such as enabling two-way communication channels, incorporating live elements such as keynotes or concerts, integrating interactive content like trivia or collaborative white boarding, and adding unique incentives for high engagement attendees. Remember, a virtual event allows you to completely step out of the confines of a traditional in-person event, in both time and space, and opens a whole new world of opportunities. Use this to your advantage!
3. Take Virtual Baby Steps The NFL Draft and Fortnite concert are events carried out by billion-dollar companies with expansive resources. Just because your company may not be in the same realm as these big players does not mean that you can’t create an amazing and successful virtual event. For a lot of companies big and small, this is their first time ever doing something like this and it is a learning curve for everyone.
Approach your virtual event strategy with this in mind and keep your efforts focused around business goals. People are hungry for content and entertainment right now, and with a vast amount of technology at your disposal, you can deliver this without having years’ worth of knowledge in the virtual industry or endless funds to do so. In fact, creating a virtual event is far cheaper than conducting one in-person, with much less overhead. Take this time to try new things, take virtual “baby steps,” learn and grow from them, and use your findings to inform your strategy in the future.
And while we do believe virtual events are here to stay in some way shape or form, as our “new normal” continues to evolve, it’s important to keep in mind how you can leverage what you are building now in the future when live events are back on and flourishing. Afterall, in person events are still one of the best ways to truly connect with your audience. So, how can you leverage a virtual events platform to extend your reach to complement your live event experiences? We have some thoughts on that as well, but we'll save that for the next time!
It's important to note that you’re not in this alone. There are plenty of virtual platforms and experts in digital experiences, including our own ExperiDigital ™️ team, who can support you in developing and carrying out a virtual engagement strategy that’s appropriate for your brand, yet enables your virtual audience to explore and engage with your content in unique and novel ways. We're here to chat and show you what’s possible in virtual experiences.
ABOUT MSM is a woman-owned, award-winning brand experience agency based in Rochester, NY. With a focus in exhibits, events and activations, MSM solves face-to-face marketing challenges through one-of-a-kind experiences that tell brand stories, captivate audiences, engage the senses, and inspire customer loyalty.
MSM is a Top Workplace in its region, was the first agency RFP-certified by the Experiential Designers and Producers Association (EDPA), is a top industry fabricator with recurring placement on Exhibitor Magazine’s Find It Top 40 List and Event Marketer’s Fab 50 List, and opened sister agency The Experience Shop in 2018 to expand its offerings in non-traditional event marketing experiences.