Post-COVID-19 events: A seamless, online-offline hybrid experience

Post-COVID-19 events: A seamless, online-offline hybrid experience


Tyronne O'Callaghan
Vice President, Strategy, Global Activation


Workplaces may be shut down and entire countries under lockdown, but there’s one thing that hasn’t slowed down as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic - the ongoing shift from offline to online. In fact, the shift has not only accelerated, but developed in ways that will impact the events industry and its clients for the foreseeable future.

A sign of the 'new normal’ is provided by The Tonight Show, America’s long-running television celebrity chat programme. In response to lockdown and social distancing requirements, it dispensed with the in-studio format and forged ahead with a 'home-made’ The Tonight Show: At Home Edition. Produced entirely online, it features videoconferenced hosting and guest chats, as well as novel content tailor-made for the new medium. The result was a hit with audiences that set a template for other chat shows to follow.


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Reimagining brand events for virtual venues

Tonight’s transformation is being echoed in the events industry, which is busy reconfiguring what were once 'in person’ events into virtual ones. Product launches by major car brands and names like Microsoft and Apple have gone online, as have cultural events such as Art Basel. A recent PCMA survey revealed that seven out of 10 respondents had already switched their in-person events partially or fully to virtual platforms.

Starting in January 2020, Pico proactively reached out to clients to understand their challenges and needs in transforming their event marketing strategies to survive the pandemic. Pico’s COVID-19 Impact Research provided further evidence of change; but while 53% of respondents surveyed are looking to increase their strategic effort or investment in virtual or online events, only 37% had some previous experience with virtual event technologies.


Source from Pico’s COVID-19 Impact Research (April 2020)


It is important to realise that simply transferring all the elements of the original event to a virtual platform could lead to a clumsy, unsatisfying result. Reimagination is the key: To take a cue from Tonight, an online event can be even more effective than an in-person experience when it generates enough 'awe’ to retain an audience’s attention while offering enough intimacy to engage them as individuals. In these respects, the virtual format can be ideal – interactive, not bound to spatial, geographical or even time constraints, and guaranteeing an audience that is generally more relaxed, informal and natural than one that is physically present.


Conveying brand value online

Pico is no stranger to using technology to create enhanced audience experiences. An example of this competitive technological edge is 'Pico Virtuosity’, a suite of virtual event solutions from Pico Digital, designed to deliver real emotion, deep engagement, and high performance. 'Pico Virtuosity’ can deliver everything from online viewing booths and showrooms to live content, 360-degree imaging and interactive maps.


Case: Alibaba Cloud Virtual Showroom

Alibaba Cloud commissioned Pico to develop online and VR showrooms that bring the experience of its in-person exhibition centres in various locations in China to overseas customers. The new platforms have ushered in a new level of customer service convenience for Alibaba Cloud’s sales representatives and staff around the world.


(Image courtesy of Alibaba Cloud)


The fate of events to come

As humans we require social interactions, and there’s no doubt that in-person conferences, exhibitions and launches will stage an eventual return in the wake of COVID-19. There’s just no substitute for the sheer engaging power of being there, interacting and feeling physical things in real time.

But at the same time, these events will never be the same again. What the 'fixes’ during the pandemic have demonstrated is that there are definite advantages to going online, such as transcending geography and venue capacity, and perhaps even reducing costs.

What is likely to result is a growing trend towards 'hybrid’ events that blend the best of both worlds to amplify effectiveness and customer experience. The PCMA survey bears this out: 62% of respondents didn’t worry about virtual events 'cannibalising’ physical ones, while many believed that virtual events are here to stay alongside in-person events.

For event professionals, COVID-19 has brought the future of their industry and work forward. Now is the time to explore the potential of the new world of hybrid events and the practical means to deliver them. It’s time to get solutions ready for the post-pandemic market.