These three challenges of delivering online events threaten ROI. Chan Wee Teck talks through strategies and examples for overcoming them to create effective experiences online.

The sudden tilt toward online events during the first half of 2020 triggered an onslaught of digital and virtual event solutions of wildly varying degrees of usefulness. What actually works?

What works of course depends on what challenges you’re addressing. So let’s approach the question by reviewing some common ROI-affecting challenges to reaching customers online, and offering proven ideas to solve them.

Challenge 1: Nobody’s coming
Online events aren’t limited by time and space constraints, and attendees can join in from wherever they happen to be. On the other hand, online events won’t inherently grab the attention of potential attendees either. To get your online space bustling, you’ll not only need to let the right people know about it, but get them excited about it.

Better audience segmentation: Understand why your brand is connecting with its target audience and focus on relevant data points. For example, if your virtual event’s objective is to generate leads for a B2B service offering, data points for desirable audience members might include downloads of your presentations, white papers or e-brochures, or requests for proofs-of-concept—all actions indicative of a particular stage within the sales funnel, and which help marketers determine follow-up tactics and content.

A deep understanding of customers helps to set the tone of a successful event strategy. Demographic parameters like ‘age group, gender, work role and company’ merely paint a generic picture of an audience. So don’t stop there: keep digging for details of their opinions, perceptions, motivations and inhibitions towards a brand or product. These are critical in helping marketers address their concerns and considerations and accentuate or iterate positive sentiments or selling points. Marketers should also balance content with context to achieve the desired engagement outcomes.

Well-planned pre-event promo: The idea is to build anticipation with a hint of the fascinating, highly relevant content and fresh experiences attendees can expect. When done in an engaging way, it will keep your upcoming event on their minds and convince them to stay tuned.

A recent virtual press conference by Global-Link MP provides an example. Global-Link MP is a leader in trade events in the Philippines, and organizes a number of offline shows in the region every year. A highlight of this year was its launch of VX Events, a new business division aiming to pivot traditional offline events to virtual while allowing buyers and sellers to stay connected.

To that end, Global-Link MP needed to convince its offline tradeshow audience to go online. Therefore, its virtual press conference hammered home the potential of VX Events with impressive demos of virtual exhibition hall and speaker-attendee dialogue. It wowed the audience with a clear picture of what to expect from online events and showed them to be a sound long-term proposition.

Challenge 2: Nobody’s staying
Online events are as easy to leave as they are to join—it just takes one click. Typically, online events will suffer a high dropoff rate if they offer too little audience communication and engagement. Experiences that keep your target audience vital and refreshed are the key.

Relevance is key: Make sure you provide your target audience with relevant, engaging content that can naturally attract your audience. The more targeted it is, the easier for them to stay and engage with your information.

One example of this is the OMEN Underground virtual livestream event, which featured a live video game ‘face-off’ between professional skateboarders as its centrepiece. The face-off was irresistible to the young gaming community—precisely the market this gaming laptop brand of HP wanted to reach.

Incentivising attendees also goes a long way to keeping them in your space. The incentives could be anything from unlisted download links to event materials and deliveries of special event kits, to various giveaways. OMEN Underground’s livestream notably featured an OMEN product giveaway that helped generate 4,600 engagements for this one-day event.

Manage your content wisely: It’s important to note that overcommunication can also drive away attendees in droves. Piling it on may result in a long event that will leave your audience drained. So how do you get the balance right? If you have lots of content to share, it can be best to distribute it across digital platforms with an integrated ecosystem. These should offer an established reach, bespoke media for engagement, and practical help in driving the path-to-purchase.

Challenge 3: Nobody knows what works
Online platforms collect a vast range of audience data. It can be a huge challenge to digest it all — and even harder to dig out actionable insights for ROI measurement and strategy optimisation.

Know beforehand which specific data matters to your ROI, whether it pertains to the diversity of your audience, the sales generated by the event, or both. Knowing what you need in advance will also enable you to blend the appropriate data collection points into the audience journey, in the form of interactive features and content.

Don’t forget attendee sentiment: Better brands respond to real customer sentiment, and the higher the quality of the dialogue, the stronger the emotional connection will be.

Apart from hard numerical data, emotional data can reveal what really matters to online audiences and generate valuable actionable insights for future digital engagements. Online events can paint a picture of attendees’ emotional experiences via collection points such as buttons for emoticon reactions, comment boxes and post-event surveys. Facial recognition tools can also be very useful in revealing precise sentiments.

A snapshot of consumer sentiment for a brand or product in the context of virtual event can also be acquired through Google Analytics and a quantitative capture of trending keywords in conversations, questions and answers from the experience. When virtual event data are cleaned, transformed and analysed, they generate observations and implications that enable marketers to decide on follow-up tactics.

With the right approach, tools and expertise, the core competencies of experiential design, brand engagement and digital enablement can allow businesses to continue effective dialogue with consumers in the current environment of uncertainty.

The article above was first published in Campaign Asia on 17 August 2020.