“Live” to Virtual Shifting

The pandemic known as COVID-19 has already disrupted many events, spring expos, conferences and other plans for large gatherings. In addition, more city and state governments are capping the number of people who can gather together so as to minimize exposure to the virus. Consumers like to be personally engaged with a brand, but the ban or cap on large assemblies of folks precludes this for the indefinite future. What are the options in this case?

One viable strategy is the virtual event. Organized and done properly, brands can still reach their target audiences with much success. Brands can learn a thing or two from recently cancelled “live” conferences that transformed themselves into virtual events. One such event was the 89th annual Geneva International Motor Show originally scheduled for March 5-15.  Rather than displaying the latest luxury and everyday cars, its promoters allowed attendees who originally signed up the opportunity to view pre-recorded previews of the latest vehicles as well as briefings. They were also invited to participate in “live”-stream press conferences. Open Compute Project, a leader in sharing data center design products with leaders like IBM, Facebook, Dell, Cisco, the Ali Baba Group and many others, is also turning its May 11 conference into a virtual one. Conferees will be able to participate online in individual sessions, as well as many other planned activities. IBM’s May 5-7 Think Conference will also be virtual. Brands, especially those that sell apparel, can also benefit from virtual shows in place of large presentations. But to be successful, there are several things to consider and plan for.

Necessary Steps

As in any marketing plan, a goal or goals first need to be set. Analyze the brand’s target audience as to their favorite days, times, and platforms they’re online and select one.

Historically, the most popular virtual events have included one or more of the following: pre-recorded videos, “live” streaming, forums and/or panels, and animated content that educates. Another option is to  empower participants to choose what they wish to do or discuss with a panel of the brand’s experts.

The next things to think about are the kinds of powerful stories and messages that might  be employed with lots of thought and planning on how these will heighten the consumer experience. At the same time, plan on weaving some of these into high-quality videos.

Gather the most often asked questions from previous “live” events and be prepared to answer them. Gather with staff to flesh out other potential questions and answers.

Virtual events actually are more time-consuming that “live” ones and require more thought and planning. In order to get the most out of it, brands must adopt a strategy that lines up with their goals. They need the proper digital tools that will help deliver their message. In addition, the stories that are created must be captivating. Those told from another customer are extremely powerful. And participants must be absorbed in and occupied with video that is highly engaging.

Brands that have “live” shows, exhibits and exhibitions scheduled for the next few months should shift to virtual and negate last-minute scrambling if the event is or must be cancelled. Announcing the shift beforehand also signals a strong concern and respect for  the consumer and helps to maintain their interest and loyalty.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations, a leading digital pr and influencer marketing agency.