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The pandemic has upended how events and work gets done. Where work is done is no longer a one size fits all; and when work gets done is also debatable since companies have shifted to remote working.

Employees now have more flexibility with where they work from, and events have also gone virtual, offering those who were previously too shy to network in person a chance to mingle and ask questions.

The rules of which day and time are best to host an event now no longer apply as a result of the pandemic. Hence, it’s no longer about expecting people to meet us where we are, but rather align events with people’s journeys and psychographic needs.

In this new episode of In Conversation With, Cathy Novelli (pictured), CMO at Hubilo, shares how the industry can rethink what events can and should look like in this new landscape.

Listen to the podcast here. This conversation is powered by Hubilo.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: It’s no secret that traditional boundaries have shattered over the past two years. Work venues and time frames have also completely changed. What are some of the biggest changes you’re seeing in terms of people’s attitudes towards events?

Novelli: It’s going to be a pendulum swing for a while. Initially, I was really keen to stay at home and join more events virtually, but with the world opening up, there might be more people clamouring for in-person events. And what I think the business world and the consumer world around events is realising is that there is a perfect format for different reasons and occasions.

I think for some cases, where in-person is really necessary for that next level of engagement or networking, or whatnot, then in-person events will make sense. It might have to be for safer purposes, done at a smaller level than one might wish to, however.

On the flip side, if you’re looking to really open up and educate the masses, and really democratise education and knowledge across the globe, virtual will be a lot more cost-effective, and drive the demand that you need.

So it’s really about figuring out what’s your ultimate goal and then figuring out the format that works for your economics and resources that you’ve got. So there will always be a different answer. And I think adding virtual and hybrid into that mix of what an event just gives marketers a lot more tools in their toolbox.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: People today are tuning into content from all over the world. With so many people from different parts of the globe, how can creators cater to the different needs and expectations, and their psychographic needs?

Novelli: It’s such a good question and lots of layers to that. Before I dive into psychographics, I would actually touch a bit on demographics because what’s really interesting is the expectations of audiences today are very different by generation.

Someone like me who is a Gen X, I grew up in the world of boring webinars being the first form of virtual events. So my expectations of engagement and entertainment are very low, and when it is entertaining and really engaging, I’m blown away.

But if you talk to my nephew, who is a solid Gen Z, if it isn’t actively engaging within the first 15 minutes, he’s gone. And so things such as gamification, leader boards, all of those sorts of ongoing activities during an event he’s actively engaged in, such as leaving a session to go on part of a scavenger hunt before coming back and multitasking, I’m not like that.

But it really speaks to the expectations of different audiences based upon their region, age, and the segments they are within.

At Hubilo, our three top segments or cohorts of audiences are event management companies, corporations, and associations. Associations tend to have more of that traditional business model; they’re not often injecting a lot of these gamification elements. However, in event management companies, and agencies which are hired by companies to activate next-level events, they are very much trying to test and input new features all the time to see what’s really engaging.

Going back then to your first question, I think psychographics has emerged during the pandemic. Before that, you had engaged attendees and those who were more passive. People who were really engaging were networking and going to booths. Then there are those whose bosses had paid for their tickets and are just listening, but not really engaging beyond that.

During the pandemic, you actually see a lot more slices of psychographics, the people who are generally shy are actively engaged in chat and contests at virtual events. And you see that same person actually downloading a lot of the content from the event. The people who were very much not engaged in-person are much more engaged virtually.

You will also see people who never had access to go to certain events – probably because the ticket price was too high and their company was not going to fly them out to the location – now able to go because it’s virtual.

You’re just seeing these new psychographics of very engaged people virtually if you give them hybrid options. So what’s interesting as an event marketer is getting all of this real-time data about our audiences, and really understanding how much of our audience is interested in receiving content in one format versus another.

And when you’re testing out different formats and different regions, you’re actually realising the difference of different cohorts, different generations, different psychographics.

As a marketer, I get so excited because very few times in my history in marketing has a technology rolled out that has fundamentally changed the way that I think about marketing. When search came, and when Google came and upended the marketing industry, it was a total 180. And it’s happening again right now with events giving us this real-time audience data that is making us rethink our entire digital strategy.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: So how can event planners then bring together all this real-time data and create specific experiences that really cater to all these different audiences? And what are some of the challenges you think they will face?

Novelli: I would say the opportunities are endless such as how quickly technology provides marketers with the entire tech stack that they need. For example, here’s the number of people who registered for your event and attended, and here’s the amount of time they stuck around for your event.

However, where I think the market needs to go, and where I think Hubilo is already very much ahead in this area specifically, is providing much more rich 360 real-time analytics so that I can see everyone who came to my event – by region, cohort, what content were they most interested in, how were they most engaged when listening, and chatting online?

So that tomorrow, I can actually take that cohort of attendees and actually push that into my CRM, and deliver a campaign against it if I have content ready to go.

Generally, marketers have content ready to go for any topic for any cohort for any region. And as they are queued up for that, their event can tell them in real-time: here’s 500 people who are deeply interested in that, who, by the way, are not customers of yours.

But if you send them the right piece of content tomorrow, because it’s top-of-mind, there’s a very good chance that you can turn those audience attendees into a warm pipeline, right for your sales team. And that’s a power that no other marketing source can provide as quickly.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: As you know, we have gone through the world of virtual over the past two years. What do you say was the biggest struggle for the event industry?

Novelli: I’d say it’s twofold. One is the reality that the market had to pivot and you’ve got these event organisers who are not organically technologists. They are organically, what I like to term, “half creative genius and half OCD master”. They have to be intensely creative, but also intensely organised, and detail-oriented to activate and manage all of the spinning plates. And so they had to dive into a very uncomfortable world of technology to still hit the KPIs their business needed.

From an event perspective, that itself was a huge pain point. But obviously, with the world opening back up we are going to go back to in-person.

Now comes the pain point of the year 2022, which is the CFOs of the world and the CMOs of the world now telling their VPs of events: “What happened to the great ROI that we had from events last year? We’re able to reach a lot more people a lot more cost-effectively. You’re spending way too much money and we’re not seeing the ROI.” Again, the pendulum swings.

Like it or not, I think more people in events are going to have to, whether they love the technology or not, embrace that they’re going to have to use it. This is why I always talk about the marketers’ absolute need to become early adopters, whether they like it or not.

I talk about my own pain when I was a media planner back in the day when Google came out. By coming out with its solution, Google made me rethink my media budget, how I staffed my media planning, and buying teams had to rethink the way that we allocated all of our resourcing internationally.

And, I was like: “That’s OK, Yahoo Search is working fine.” I fought off Google for the longest amount of time because I was going to have to retrain a team of 40 people on what search means and how to do it. I was fighting it tooth and nail, but there’s only so much you can do and the rest of the world is pushing you in a direction.

Of course, finally, we adopted it and we had to really learn it quickly because we were then falling behind the industry. So I think events were the last non-digital channel for marketers and I think we’re starting to see like, some of this push and pull with the technology and sort of wanting to get back in-person.

But if there’s one lesson I always say is: you don’t have to love it, you don’t have to adopt virtual 100%. But it’s going to be a good idea for all of our careers to embrace it, see the benefit of it, and try to meld it into a cohesive event strategy that drives all of the business results that we need in a cost-effective manner.

Related articles:
In Conversation With Hubilo: Why DIY still isn’t enough for events
Hubilo bags US$125m in funding, aims to transform future of events

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