Hybrid events aren't particularly new to large companies. Ever since video conferencing solutions became the norm, organizations have been experimenting with ways to conduct and host virtual events with hopes of reaching a broader audience. However, these 'virtual events' were never considered to be on par with in-person events. Virtual attendees were often relegated to the bottom when it came to curating experiences and were often broadcast over generic platforms such as Facebook Live (or YouTube Live) as opposed to purpose-built software.
For the financial services industry, this was doubly true, as it is steeped in a long tradition of doing things in person. For finance firms, technology adoption – especially for events – was relatively slower. However, today, the financial services industry is able to reap disproportionately high benefits by curating bespoke hybrid events technology as the scope of finance is becoming increasingly global. Financial technology (Fintech) has seen the rise of products and services that serve international audiences, and curating hybrid events would significantly boost a company's marketing efforts on a global scale.
At a time when few firms pay attention to the needs and wants of virtual attendees, it's possible to pull ahead of the competition by hosting a well-designed hybrid event that assigns equal weight to both in-person attendees as well as virtual attendees. This would translate to advantages like broader reach, a higher conversion rate, stickier brand presence, and ultimately, a high cost-to-benefit ratio, all of which are attractive for the financial services industry, as it relies on scale and brand recognition to outpace the competition.
Building the Case for Hybrid Event Technology
The most obvious benefit of hosting a hybrid event is a significant increase in the number of leads that feed into the top of the funnel. While in-person attendance is unlikely to cross a certain threshold, the scope of virtual attendees is, in theory, limitless – this is what’s known as the “hybrid multiplier effect.” A slight increase in setting up the digital infrastructure can potentially bring about disproportionately large rewards.
The hybrid multiplier effect will result in greater attendance. Even though the conversion rates for the virtual audience are going to be lesser than that of your in-person audience, it can still result in an overall higher conversion rate relative to the total event cost. The result will be a slight increase in total costs but a significantly higher increase in the ROE (return on the event). Yet, hybrid events do come with their own challenges. The most prominent ones are tied to the execution of the event, maintaining engagement across both audiences, and capturing (as well as activating) data across both audiences.
The Six Pillars of a Successful Hybrid Event
Here, we have identified the best practices in six key areas of a hybrid event experience that financial services firms must pay closer attention to while planning their next hybrid event:
When it comes to marketing a hybrid event, your organization is likely looking at two sets of people with different motivations for attending. The in-person attendees tend to be the kind of people who are driven by the tangible experience. Considerations such as building deeper relationships, traveling, fear of missing out (FOMO), exclusivity, and even proximity would play into the reasons behind why a prospective attendee would want to attend in person.
Similarly, virtual attendees would be motivated by savings (both time and money) and might be motivated with the intention of sampling your brand for the first time. Either way, the magic lies in the shared digital experience that both these groups partake in. This means that extra attention should be paid to the registration process and content engagement mechanisms like polling and Q&A to ensure a uniform experience across both audiences.
While in-person events require organizers to scout venue locations depending on proximity, cost, and sometimes even novelty, hybrid events (especially in the post-pandemic era) bring in a very different set of constraints while choosing the venue. The first (and most important) constraint would be a combination of safety and technological savvy. Both are essential to inspire the confidence of attendees – many of whom are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic.
Other considerations would include A/V planning, including equipping the venue with the right equipment such that it facilitates an engaging online experience in addition to the in-person experience. Finally, venues would need to be screened for their readiness to implement contactless technology, thereby making the event seamless and safer.
Content is at the heart of a hybrid event experience, both in terms of substance and delivery. Furthermore, content consumption trends have steadily drifted away from live events toward other forms, all of which cater to varying budget levels, audience strategies, and event goals. Keeping this in mind, it's always a good idea to partner with a production consultant to tailor your content strategy in accordance with your needs.
Content delivery formats in the present day come in four forms: live, live stream, simulive, and on-demand sessions. While the former two are time-sensitive, the latter two are more flexible in terms of how and when they can be viewed. Selecting the right format depends on the profile of your audience as well as your budgets and event goals.
Once you have a content strategy in place, you must ensure the availability of certain production and delivery systems to ensure your event goes off without a hitch. You'll need to start with a production partner who can manage lighting and the implementation of audio and video systems; they will also need to be able to accommodate different content delivery formats and support the design of the event. Finally, you will need to round it off with a reliable streaming provider and an online video or event platform that allows attendees to choose how they wish to engage with the event.
The ability to make connections with like-minded partners, businesses, and even individuals are what makes events such an attractive proposition for in-person attendees. However, with technology, this can also be extended to virtual attendees as well. Incorporating features such as live Q&A sessions, chatrooms, virtual booths, etc., make virtual attendees feel like more than mere observers of events. With the right set of tools, financial services firms should be able to facilitate pre- and post-event engagement across both in-person and virtual audiences.
Sponsors and Exhibitors
In-person events limit the scope of sponsors and exhibitors to a narrow set of marketing packages. Typically, these do not go beyond things like signs, booth visits, banners, etc. However, when you add virtual spaces to the equation, the scope of engagement dramatically expands. From dynamic VOD experiences to a virtual counterpart of almost all in-person marketing events, sponsors and exhibitors will find that they can advertise to a much wider group of people, thereby making it a win-win for both the event organizers as well as the sponsors.
Investing in hybrid event technology might seem like a no-brainer considering the reasons listed above, but ultimately, the proof lies in the pudding. For event organizers to measure their return on investment (ROI), they will need to capture engagement metrics across both audiences. Having a comprehensive attendee engagement scoring system in place would allow organizers to see what's working and what isn't and then prioritize their efforts accordingly. This works best with a strong technology provider that provides robust reporting capabilities that enables the team to make course corrections as often as necessary. Finally, for all this data to be put to good and timely use, organizers will need to build integrations with their core marketing and customer relationship platforms so that it trickles down to the sales and marketing departments as well.
As of the time of writing this article, the financial services industry is seeing something of a renaissance. Fintech firms are becoming increasingly influential, and the ongoing digitization of money has created new opportunities for tech-enabled financing solutions. For the incumbents and the newer crop of financial services firms, broadening event reach is essential to thriving in this new era of global finance.
In the era of cryptocurrency, fintech, and open banking models, financial service providers will have to go beyond their local spheres of influence and establish a transnational presence. The likelihood of achieving this would require more cross-border collaborations, the costs of which can be trimmed significantly by leveraging hybrid events best practices.