Back to live! The summer of 2021 will be all about easing: Incidences are falling, temperatures are rising, restaurants are opening, even festivals are taking place again. So everything is back to live? Yes and no. The «digitalization push» of the last few months has changed events and opened up new potential.
While many events were canceled outright last summer, there were also some pioneering organizers who explored new horizons, taking off in virtual terms. Two prominent examples were the “Sundance Film Festival” and “Tomorrowland”. At first there were a lot of concerns: Is it really possible to digitize glamor and the flurry of camera flashes on the red carpet or the bass in the pit of your stomach coupled with the smell of sweat and damp earth? Can you simply stream the festival vibe into your living room at home?
2020: Digitization as a reach boost
Of course not – and yet success proves the organizers right: Tomorrowland doubled its visitor figures with the purely virtual event in 2020, and Sundance almost trebled them. Both festivals gained new and enthusiastic participants in 2020. Whether live in Belgium or at home at the kitchen table: It’s never been easier to join the Tomorrowland community.
2021: From virtual to hybrid
In the wake of successes like these, the trend will not be reversed in 2021. Both festivals are planning hybrid events this year, with a physical festival crowd on-site and a virtual live stream for anyone who has stayed at home. Hybrid event strategies are already becoming established in the festival sector and the potential is being used. What does this mean for corporate events? How can you develop the potential of a hybrid event strategy for corporate events?
- The brand as a lodestar: The starting point for developing hybrid events is the brand. If you have clear ideas about your brand identity, you know what your story should sound like – whether physical, digital or hybrid. Without a focus on the vision, purpose and values of a brand a seamless brand experience on different channels is impossible.
- One story on two channels: One thing is for sure: hybrid communications require the story to be packaged in two different ways for the physical and virtual versions. The staging and dramaturgy of physical events is very different from those of virtual ones, even if the content is identical. Here’s a brief overview of some guidelines:
- Physical dramaturgy: A slow ramping up of tension, a clear climax, linear sequencing, a fairly long concentration span, a multisensual opening address (the 5 senses can be addressed physically), informal communication among the participants, a physical group experience.
- Virtual dramaturgy: Rapidly rising tension, several small highlights, a dynamic process, a shorter concentration span, an audiovisual opening address (only 2 senses are usually addressed virtually), more formal communication, a virtual community experience.
- The hybrid customer journey: For hybrid events, two customer journeys must be developed accordingly. The intersection of both journeys gives the hybrid event its very special individual character:
- The moderator’s address brings both groups of participants together in a hybrid community.
- Importantly, co-moderation can give virtual event participants their own voice, and opinions and comments from the digital community can be fed back into the event.
- Interactions (polls, quizzes, word clouds, …) create a we-feeling across formats.
- In playful activations guests can physically compete against virtual participants or collaborate with them, for example by working on two halves of a picture.
- All the participants should experience the opening, climax and conclusion together. In between, however, the opportunity should also be used to offer participants different format-specific program items.
From a hybrid event to a hybrid event strategy
The successes in the festival world show that live events with a virtual counterpart can potentially multiply reach. That in itself is impressive. However, planning beyond the individual event yields even greater potential. With a hybrid event strategy events are not stand alone but form part of a communication strategy in which content and events go hand in hand.
A hybrid trade fair presence, for example, is accessible to participants from all over the world, whether physically at the location or virtually on the screen. The trade fair event becomes a content supplier for communication channels: The making of, snippets, edited highlights of the press conference, live tours, interviews, live podcasts, PDFs of presentations, etc.
Combining communication measures like these with your own event platform means you can build up your very own long-term community around your live measures. It’s then up to participants to decide whether their diaries and travel budgets allow them to take part in a hybrid event physically or virtually.
Tomorrowland Press Officer Debby says: “We think the virtual event can be a very nice thing next to the real festival.” A consistent hybrid event strategy turns the “very nice thing” into a powerful instrument which companies can use to maintain contact with their community before and after the event. By planning beyond the individual event with a hybrid strategy you have a powerful tool at your fingertips to build a growing community out of occasional guests.
In the short term the momentum of the digitization push will slacken off a little, as people now have a strong desire to meet up again. But the digital has come to stay and the potential of hybrid event strategies is only just being tapped!
We’re looking forward to it.