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After COVID-19, the Future of Events Is Omnichannel

Learn how events can take a page out of the retail playbook and leverage omnichannel to transform conferences and large gatherings

The global pandemic put a temporary roadblock in place for the events industry, but iconic events like the Adobe Summit have already found a way to let the show go on.

Instead of postponing the Las Vegas conference or scaling it down to a 200-person audience for social distancing, Adobe launched a digital event on March 31 to deliver the same content and keynotes without asking attendees to assume any personal risk by traveling to a packed auditorium.

The virtual Adobe Summit was a smash hit with over 400 keynote speeches and 400,000 attendees in nearly 200 countries!

Vaccines for COVID-19 aren’t slated to be available until 2021, which means Q3 and Q4 of 2020 will be spent social distancing for millions of Americans. That means less event participation and attendance, so the event industry must pivot now to close the gap.

Even 2021 events are starting to plan for a COVID-impacted future. Instead of hoping the annual CES event will be able to go on as normal in January, The Consumer Technology Association is moving the show online for 2021. The digital event is already being planned, and no live CES event will be attempted until at least 2022.

Even after the vaccine is available and life starts to return to normal, 63% of American consumers say they will be more concerned about public health risks at events than before. Another 44% of consumers say they’ll attend fewer events after the pandemic.

It’s unlikely that event planners will be able to simply go back to the way things were before — the pandemic has changed public health attitudes and people won’t forget that quickly.

Does that mean all brands that throw events should shift to a virtual-only experience? Not necessarily.

Instead, an omnichannel event strategy could be the solution the industry needs. Why choose either remote or in-person when you can have it both ways?

Look to retail and plan for omnichannel experiences in the Future Normal

We’re squarely out of the normal we used to know and moving into what we think of as the Future Normal. In the months and years ahead, some parts of old school event planning will stay, but many will change.

Expect events to leverage omnichannel tactics, much like retailers do, to transform conferences and large gatherings. Instead of throwing an in-person or remote-only event, why not have it both ways?

Think of omnichannel events like the experience of shopping today: You can go to the store, order for pickup or delivery, or interact in whatever way is most convenient for you. In other words, you can have the experience in the manner that best suits your needs, whether that is online, in-person, over the phone, on social channels, or in ways we haven’t even pioneered yet.

Events are content-generating machines — and they’re infinity extendable

As we move back toward relaunching in-person events, it’s important to avoid constraining those experiences, especially now that remote experiences are gaining traction. Your event doesn’t have to be on every channel, but it should offer a physical experience AND a digital experience. You can even offer time-bound and time-shifted experiences, like in-person shopping versus always-on online shopping.

This expands the reach of your content after the event. Perhaps the event is on Facebook LIVE, but afterward, you post it to YouTube.

That’s far from where the benefit ends. Omnichannel events let you cater to attendees who might not be able to interact due to their own needs and situations, as well. That might include people with disabilities, new moms, people with anxiety disorders and much more. Why not be more inclusive?

In fact, 66% of people surveyed prefer to choose their own channel and journey, racking up anywhere from 5 to 20 touchpoints that can include social media, streaming media and much more. Some users are actually growing to prefer an omnichannel experience.

Experience design can help you boost attendance at events

Event planners are facing brand-new challenges to fill all event “seats” — physical and virtual ones. It doesn’t matter how many years of event planning you have under your belt, this is the year to throw out the event experience as you know it and start fresh with experience design to guide you.

Events are powerful — it’s programmed into our brains to find a tribe and connect with them, and events build those connections en masse. Experience design for events must take into account that the event experience is now access- and attention-driven, and it likely will be for months or years into the future.

The Future Normal may include:

  • Enhancing virtual participation with gamification or other compelling incentives

  • Having dual production teams to focus on in-person and remote experiences

  • Smaller satellite events that complement a larger main event

  • Physical layout and design elements that consider social distancing at live events

Emotional connection is the most valuable currency your brand has. What’s more emotional than brands helping people reconnect through carefully considered events?

At The ExperienceBuilt Group, we collaborate with the change-makers and the expansive thinkers of the world to improve every experience and each touchpoint. That includes the omnichannel event transition and all the innovation strategy, journey mapping and design research you need to build a better event in the face of an evolving industry. Connect with us to learn how we can help you be more valuable to the people who matter!

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