Vice President, Global Event Marketing Strategy, SAP
My team is responsible for more than 1,000 events globally, and I definitely think that we will see our internal meetings happening in person before customer-facing ones. Our sales meetings were always regional, but the regions are large; everyone in North America went to one location. Maybe in the future they will be more local, but then you have issues with scalability so it’s not a guarantee.
Right now, our China team is anxious to hold in-person events again and is not too concerned about size limits. Here, though, there are so many variables that will impact how large we can go; maybe we get to 250-person events in North America by the second half of 2021. But even if there is a mass rollout of a vaccine in early 2021, it would probably take until the end of the year before we could safely host events of considerable size.
With our customer events, we recently developed a new strategy that’s meant to last, not just be a band-aid until we can go back to what we did before. We spent months doing research, including interviewing more than 100 company stakeholders and surveying thousands of customers; taking a deep dive into our past event data; and studying the macro-environmental conditions including what we could learn from industries that had already gone through major disruption such as newspapers, advertising, and education.
We also looked to answer the question, “Why use an event for that objective?” Because in the past, we only focused on getting as many customers and prospects as possible to our events, and honestly, we held too many of them. But this will take a huge mind shift, not just for ourselves but also our stakeholders who have relied on traditional event models to accelerate business performance.
Large events are like a Swiss Army knife, trying to be everything to everyone. But now, who wants to be attendee number 20,000 or spend days trying to navigate through hundreds of sessions? Our customers told us they prefer local; they also said they prefer smaller events that allow more meaningful interaction with our people and with each other. I believe companies will focus on interacting with customers in a different way, such that really big events no longer will make sense. Many companies will still host them because they have costly financial commitments with venues, but I doubt they will remain as successful as they once were
Our new approach will focus on engaging the majority of our audiences digitally and then using in-person events to bring the right people together, in the right way, at the right time in their journey. The value delivered from attending in person must surpass anything people could get digitally or through another channel.
For hybrid events, the analogy of a sporting event is apt: The experience you have at the arena is completely different than the one you have watching the game at a bar with friends, or the experience you have watching it from home. One is not better than the other, but they are very different and offer unique benefits. So, we need to leave the concept of the event venue behind for tech-based attendees, and unbundle and re-bundle event elements to succeed with those attendees. There’s another reason the event landscape won’t be the same in the post-COVID world. With many companies closing or downsizing, planners and suppliers are leaving the events industry. This is going to have an impact on in-person events; the industry as a whole might need time to get back up to speed.