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It’s the question on every marketer’s mind: when will we get back to in-person events?
It comes up in nearly every conversation, forum, and panel discussion ITSMA participates in. B2B marketers want to know the answer. I want to know the answer!
But first, let’s look at the advantages to virtual meetings and events. Registrations are higher. Attendance is better (despite the no shows). Geographic reach is broader (no need to travel). As people have become more accustomed to the technology and tools, participation and interactivity have risen. We are also seeing more cross-industry collaboration.
The one major drawback to virtual events is less effective networking. But even that improved over the course of the pandemic lockdown. Virtual networking was all we had, and we learned to make the best of it. ITSMA’s 2020 How Executives Engage research revealed that perception of the effectiveness of virtual peer networking improved by 14% from May 2020 to September 2020, with 45% of Wave 1 respondents indicating that virtual peer networking was as effective or more effective when compared to in-person events, versus 59% in Wave 2 of our research.
Nevertheless, we humans are social creatures. And everyone is looking forward to getting back to in-person meetings and events.
So, when exactly will that happen?
The 2021 How Executives Engage research (Wave 1, June 2021) shows that buyers of high-consideration services and solutions are still living online. On average, buyers are spending 80% of their time using online channels such as webcasts, social media, and virtual events to keep up with industry and technology trends and researching solutions. This has remained unchanged from September 2020.
But executives are optimistic that they’ll get together soon!
When asked if they are planning to attend (or have already attended) any in-person events in 2021, half said, “Yes.” Of those who are planning to attend in-person events, 41% are expecting to do so soon, within the next three months, while a quarter are expecting to do so toward the end of the year.
One thing to note is that we are seeing geographic differences in the return to in-person engagement. The countries moving more quickly to in-person are the US, Canada, UK, and Australia/New Zealand. The return will lag in France, Germany, and Japan. Still uncertain are the Nordics, Benelux, and India.
With the shift to in-person moving slowly and inconsistently, marketers need to continue developing a hybrid approach to engagement. Those who can balance the best of both worlds, excelling at both online and offline, simultaneously, will be the ones who rise to the top.