Pivoting to the “New Normal”

I'm Bob Chain, experiential marketing professional,  event producer, and one of Swapcard's Strategic Accounts Managers. . Having worked with many of the leading associations in North America, I get a behind-the-scenes look into what is driving the industry. I'm also the host of the Inside Events podcast by Swapcard, where I interview professionals on the cutting edge of the experiential world each episode and share insights on key trends in the industry.

There’s been a lot of upheaval in the events industry this past year, which has caused a pivot away from traditional or “normal” in-person events to a “new normal” that includes more virtual and hybrid options. Hybrid can often be seen as a dividing term, but instead should be looked upon as the next step in the evolution of our sector. 

I see hybrid as a connected experience across mediums that gives people a choice on how they experience content. Whether the experience is mainly in person with some digital elements or a virtual-first event with small groups of in-person meetups, there is nothing to restrict how you define hybrid. Ultimately, your audience and goals should define how your hybrid event is run! With the increased emphasis on digital innovation, there are significant benefits associated with the pivot to hybrid and virtual meetings that did not exist before.

Ultimately, your audience and goals should define how your hybrid event is run!

Advantages of running tech-centric events:

  • Potential for increased margins
  • Greater audience reach and increased accessibility
  • Integration of field with digital marketing
  • Ability to do more with less
  • Lower carbon footprint
  • More personalized and tailored event experiences
  • Increased access to data for how your audience spends their time 
  • Lower entry cost to test new markets
  • Greater efficiency – every $ or minute of an individual is being scrutinized, help them achieve exactly what they are looking for


The question some event planners might be asking themselves is: can virtual or hybrid meetings & experiences actually work? Swapcard’s data scientists reviewed 461 of Swapcard’s largest events, which had a total of 52,000 exhibitors and 1.6 million attendees. The research found three key insights on why exhibitors at virtual events were having a hard time generating revenue & ROI. Let’s take a look at them and dive into some strategies to tackle these.

Lead generation is best BEFORE the event starts

For a two-day virtual event, 80% of all leads are generated before the first minute of the first piece of content airs.   This means that the majority of leads at a virtual or hybrid event are derived before the first session even begins!

If your event includes a virtual component, it is important to create key goals and strategies specifically for the virtual audience. Using an event platform with features and digital tools that are tailored specifically to maximizing ROI for a virtual audience are some ways you can capitalize on the pre-event period.

Also remember: simply having these tools for audience engagement is not enough. Be sure to take the time to educate all participants on how to use these features to their advantage. Layer in platform-specific education to drive value to our audience and promote ROI.


Pay attention to inbound leads

Organic inbound outreach by an attendee to an exhibitor is the most valuable ‘hot’ lead you can receive– this type of proactive outreach is most often sent post-event. Swapcard’s research showed that 41.8% of all inbound leads in this manner went unanswered. So the question is, how do we reduce the chance of our partners missing out on post-event networking or revenue-generating opportunities?

The easiest way to model this is to create an event structure like a wave, one that begins with the event experience and then builds into 365 community engagement that ramps towards the next event. 

How exactly does that work? If you use an all-in-one platform such as Swapcard which provides a community hub as an add-on option, you can extend the lifespan of your event and create the ideal space to maximize ROI This is done by keeping attendees engaged in this multipurpose space by providing ongoing content and activities that are released throughout the year. How you choose to structure this community and its membership is up to you!


Content is king

One of the most important discoveries coming out of our research was that 60% of all leads generated during the days of the event came directly from the content! There’s also good news for sponsors: Sponsors (or elevated exhibitor listings) received 2.1x more bookmarks (favorites) & generated 3.1x more leads than ordinary exhibitors.

All of these statistics tell us the importance of content through virtual mediums. Not only is it the best way to draw in an audience, but investing in quality content will keep participants engaged well beyond the event days. 

Virtual should be your testing ground for different types of content – an event planner must take a scientific approach to test what their audience responds to best. Remember: ROI does not just mean financial returns – it means increasing accessibility as well as reaching a broader audience. Lean into what virtual is best at, and use it as a means to test and develop before scaling over time.


The future isn’t just hybrid - it’s about community, too

Research shows that the majority of all leads are generated before an event. This is why we must use technology to drive ROI for our partners and our community. Educate, educate & educate your audience on the tools and features of their virtual platform so they can optimize their investment.

If there’s anything that the past 15 months have taught us, it’s that we have a proven vehicle to extend events beyond their historically confined timeframes and physical only locations. Our innovation cycle can no longer be a calendar year – communities are a way to potentially reach new audiences and drive new revenue opportunities.

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