By Rayhan Perera, CEO and Founder, OneDash
COVID-19 has transformed events as we know them, taking everything online from conferences and comedy gigs to sports events — and the shift isn’t over. After its virtual event in June, London Fashion Week opted to keep much of its September schedule digital, including 50 web-only activations. Meanwhile, many major conventions and flagship industry events – like DMEXCO – are being hosted online for the first time.
Although this evolution isn’t likely to mean the end for real-world events, it does signal the start of a multi-channel future. Organisers and attendees alike have discovered the power of digital to not only help navigate current restrictions but to unlock future possibilities; especially when it comes to enhancing reach. The recent Louis Vuitton men’s wear show in Shanghai, for example, was watched by 85 million online viewers in China alone, while Formula 1’s Esports Virtual Grand Prix pulled in an audience of 3.2 million.
For brands, the increasingly hybrid outlook for events offers an opportunity to explore new horizons and experiment with what technology can do for them. The only question is how they can use this expanded scope to maximum advantage.
And the answer? Stepping up their interactivity and analytics.
Tapping hotspot capabilities
For many brands, creating ‘interactive’ media is often a simple case of inserting links to their sites and products in digital media. But this is ‘interactivity’ in its most basic form; and if brands want to make the most of extended online audiences, they must aim higher.
In short: they need hotspots. Also known as touchpoints, these buttons give audiences more for their clicks than redirects to other pages, opening up a diverse range of additional content. What makes them especially attractive for events is their use of overlays that display information on top of live streams, meaning hotpots can bring extra value to events without the risk of lost attention or attendees.
At a wider level, this might entail clickable hotspots over speakers that allow viewers to find out more about their expertise or company profile. For specific events, such as online fashion shows, the possibilities to boost interaction and results are even greater. Not only can fashion brands provide details about what catwalk models are wearing, but they can also enable audiences to buy in real-time. With direct in-cart integration – as well as deep-level integration with payment platforms – brands can take attendees directly from inspiration to checkout, all without redirecting the audience away from the video environment.
And the ‘shoppable’ opportunities don’t end there. Thanks to recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI), brands in almost any sector can now harness sophisticated tools to upload their entire range of products and automatically tag different video elements with useful information for prospective customers — such as makes, models and prices — alongside purchase buttons.
Making events more personal
Virtual events, however, aren’t entirely free from challenges. As more brands move to leverage their potential, competition is heating up and it’s becoming clear the standard ‘sit and view’ model is no longer enough. To stand out, brands need to deliver events that go beyond the basics by offering a deeper level of personal immersion.
Achieving this will call for seamless tailoring from the moment audiences dial-in. By immediately introducing interactive choices, brands can cover multiple objectives at once: simultaneously minimising passive attendance, while maximising their chances of gaining individual engagement that limits drop-offs, strengthens relationships, and boosts loyalty.
Of course, approaches will vary for every brand, but branching — where audiences can choose from an array of digital media options and live sessions — is one proven method for driving engagement. Using branching technology on welcome pages will create a greater sense of control and ensure attendees are viewing content that genuinely aligns with their unique interests. Alternatively, using AI tech to assess specific preferences and present individuals with bespoke recommendations will provide valuable guidance for those struggling with that age-old event issue: what to do first.
Embracing data-driven efficiency
Once brands have the right interactive mix, the final ingredient is accurate performance data. By running intelligent analysis before, during, and after the main event, brands can generate granular insight that forms the ideal foundation for optimisation.
In the short-term, AI-assisted evaluation that looks further than overall content views will give brands a better understanding of live results and how to enhance their impact. By merging unique attributes with deep measurement of individual interactions — including content consumption, preferred hotspots, and view duration — brands can define what works for each attendee and which changes are needed to improve real-time engagement.
On a longer-term basis, analysing collective event knowledge will allow brands to spot successful tactics they can take forward to continuously improve each event. Moreover, the ability to generate rich insight automatically will also negate traditional feedback problems, such as the limited uptake of post-event surveys and feedback forms that often plague real-world events.
We may not be headed for a completely digitized world, but events are unlikely to go back to how they were before. Recent adjustments made due to lockdown regulations have shown the variety of ways real-world events can be virtually augmented and extended, with the focus firmly fixed on taking them to the next multifaceted level. But as brands adapt to the new normal, it will be critical not to overlook the importance of utilising efficient interactivity and assessment for bolstering audience engagement and building better experiences.