I hear many people talking about a “digital strategy”. In fact, everyone should really be working on a strategy for the digital age! After all, COVID is not responsible for creating virtual events and engagement; it merely accelerated a trend that has been bubbling under for many years.
True, navigating the live vs hybrid vs virtual ecosystems is not easy or straightforward. So, here’s a quick guide to some of the myths and facts surrounding virtual events – and the exciting opportunities inherent to the post-COVID “new normal”.
Myth: Virtual events are not as profitable as live congresses.
Fact: Associations must adopt a clear 365-day engagement model offering multiple virtual events. That, together with 60-90 days of personalised pre- and post-activity for the main congress, provides AI-enabled, revenue-friendly and attendee-insightful data. The result is a growth from 1,000 live delegates to 10,000 participants across a variety of channels.
Opportunity: Virtual events enable associations to reach up to 300% more attendees from new and low-income markets, whilst also removing any entry or cost barriers for youth participation. Conversion rates of digital participants to live delegates are highest amongst young professionals and developing countries.
Good question to ask: Can I finally survive on my monetised educational content (and offer membership for free)?
Your post-COVID mantra: 365 Days (and not 3-5 Days) is the new education.
Myth: More virtual participation will cannibalise my live audience.
Fact: Actually, the opposite is true. 95% of all associations understand that, if done well, their virtual events motivate and increase physical attendance. Virtual participants always prefer - and aspire - to be “in the room”, and switch to become on-site delegates for live congresses at the highest conversion rate.
Opportunity: By removing the cost of participation, you can maximise the educational impact of your association for 365 days – especially for young professionals and low-income countries. Any 1,000 traditional live delegates can be expanded in a 3:1 ratio to grow by another 2,000 virtual participants.
Good question to ask: How long will (or should) my new normal virtual event last – 11, 14 or 19 days?
Your post-COVID mantra: Volume is the new new business model.
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Myth: Delegates will not pay a decent registration fee to attend my virtual event.
Fact: It’s true, delegates will not pay for a cheap copy of their live event online. Participants have a sophisticated understanding of what to expect from a quality virtual congress and are definitely prepared to pay for a superior educational online experience. This should be enjoyable, personalised and deliver valuable CPD/CME points.
Opportunity: Delegates remain frustrated that they can never attend more than 15% of all live sessions. That’s 85% of all education lost! Digital solutions allow you to capture 100% of all speaker presentations, questions and conversation. The content can be consumed Netflix-style without any artificial schedule, at any time.
Good question to ask: Will I price online attendance for growth or profitability?
Your post-COVID mantra: Cookies & virtual are the new delegates.
Myth: Industry will not invest more as sponsors or exhibitors if I go fully virtual.
Fact: Sponsors are excited by having up to 15x more qualified AI-driven data, especially if supported with 60-90 days of pre- and post-congress engagement. Being able to generate thousands of targeted leads and better customer understanding (and capture all questions) helps justify any extra investment.
Opportunity: Supplying access to new markets, thousands more qualified participants and 365 days of engagement will require new digital products via additional investment from industry. This can add up to 25% more revenue to support existing (or create new) sponsorship loyalty programs over multiple main congress rotations.
Good question to ask: How can I sell my sponsor a monthly subscription instead of a once-off package?
Your post-COVID mantra: Data & AI is the new exhibitor and sponsor.
Myth: A virtual event is cheaper to organise compared to a traditional congress.
Fact: A proper virtual experience needs production and design at a higher level than a live event, involving multiple geo-locations and speaker recording sessions. AV and tech companies do not offer LMS platforms to integrate congress content into the association’s educational library, or to provide CPE/CME points. Any savings are likely offset against reduced online fees.
Opportunity: Many conference attendees, especially first-timers, struggle with meeting new people, reaching out with confidence and being able to network with the right peers. It is much easier to meet online via virtual icebreakers, interest profiles, scientific peer searches and organised match-making – enabling delegates to establish deeper, personalised connections.
Good question to ask: Is my technology choice only meant to show content, or do I want it to capture valuable data and learning behaviours?
Your post-COVID mantra: Technology is the new congress centre.
Digital should fit the strategy, not be the strategy.
With strong insights in audience engagement and experience design, we can help your association ideate a strategy for the digital age that future-proofs your congress, engages delegates, ensures sponsors ROI, and leverages the latest technology.
Get in touch with our experts to discuss your association challenges and objectives.