Everyone is aware of the cold winds currently sweeping across such sectors as technology, media, advertising, and education with a gale force bluster that includes uncertain economic conditions, global geopolitical turmoil, a wide range of social and environmental crises, and, one might say, the effects of a lingering Covid hangover.
As a strategy, communications, and events consultant, it was under those circumstances that I was most intrigued to tune into Virtually Live, a premier industry event that took place last November 15. I joined Virtually Live as the Event Commentator through a collaboration with Kaltura (event commentator/producer). But I was also curious to find out if the “events party” might still be rolling on as some might get the impression from trade press releases and photos from various events/conferences.
Under that business-as-usual veneer was a much more nuanced (perhaps cautiously reserved) reality check that uncovered both the very real pain points, challenges, and exciting opportunities for the coming year ahead and beyond.
I believe it will be of tremendous value for any marketer or event professional to watch the Virtually Live sessions (again) on demand to get insights and strategic guidance from industry leaders and marketing experts. However, in true too-long-didn’t-read fashion, I’m sharing my main takeaways from the event, curated with edited excerpts from several of the talented and accomplished Virtually Live guest speakers (in no particular order):
What got you here, won’t get you there.
There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. The transformation of the events industry from primarily an analog “brick and mortar” business to digital is well underway.
Jill Kramer, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Accenture mentions during the Virtually Live leadership panel session,
In-person events might not have been as ROI-oriented as digital spaces. We all must learn from digital experiences and use those muscles to apply to all events. She adds, we’re at a moment in time where we have to rethink and challenge our assumptions about events. Grant yourself the permission and space to think differently.
The most practical tips don’t matter if you’re facing the wrong way.
Future-ready event leaders recognize that traditional understandings about what an event is and where its boundaries lie are being upended by a new value eco-system that is constantly changing in ways that can’t be tapped solely by a company’s traditional, core business (i.e. one revenue stream, etc.). Successful companies need to excel at blurring boundaries, taking a ‘systems’ view rather than a ‘mechanistic feature/ functional’ one, and embracing fluidity over fixed plans. Accenture’s Jill Kramer adds one needs to be thinking of the arc your brand needs to take, not the moment it is in now, but where it needs to go next. If you’re investing for today, you’re way behind.
Embrace the paradox mindset of both/and over either/or.
A paradox mindset moves us outside conventional thinking of “either/or” and can uncover new opportunities found at unexpected intersections. Based on neuroscience, it essentially provides our brains with a conundrum to contemplate, adopting mindsets and underlying beliefs that enable us to cognitively hold two opposing forces at the same time – therefore allowing the creative part of our brain to generate new ideas and possibilities.
In this similar vein, I enjoyed watching Mohanbir Sawhney, Associate Dean of Digital Innovation, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management in the session titled, The future is made of multichannel reality as he discusses how we have fixated too much on the modality – i.e. online or in-person and now the new model should start with the experience you want to create and identify the best one that is equipped to deliver that experience.
Then he goes on to say, we should no longer start with whether this is an online program or an in-person program but what is the learning experience we want to create. Then work backward to determine the modalities we want to create or the combination of modalities.
This was also evident in the conversation between Bob Bejan, Corporate VP Global Events, Production Studios, and Marketing Community at Microsoft and Kaltura’s EVP Marketing Lisa Bennett when he discussed his team’s “digital core” philosophy, now the centerpiece of all events.
With virtual events’ superiority in terms of audience reach and accessibility, he has also successfully converted in-person experiences to be primarily about regional/ local activations, versus any kind of a post-pandemic return to big destination events.
Have the patience and discipline to discern the difference between “heat and light.”
Light can provide that x-ray on an organization to uncover new opportunities, whereas the heat of the moment bounces around to the comfort of the familiar.
The importance of building an ongoing first-party data relationship through great customer experiences shouldn’t be underestimated in providing a North Star towards the light. Much more than tracking and reporting, data can empower thoughtful decision-making. As Ada Agrait, SVP Global Head of Corporate Marketing at SAP said to Lisa Bennett, “we must better identify the sets of data that matter and assist your customer through their journey. It comes down to impact over activity.”
Diverge from the temptation of groupthink and inhabit a “beginners bubble.”
Innovative ideas must often fight the forces of an entrenched legacy by organization leaders who believe they possess the key to success. However contrary, the digital transformation forms a great opportunity to scramble up that preconceived notion.
It is those who ask the questions what if? and why not? that drive the engine of change. Bob Bejan later added in the previously mentioned session (referring to this past May’s Microsoft Build Developer Conference) that the way you stage in-person events now is different from before. No longer should it be about creating a traditional theatre set-up, but modern workspaces, hang-out spaces where people can experience the digital content either alone or in viewing areas that include larger screens.
Attention is the highest form of generosity
Brands must identify and qualify active buying teams that accelerate the sales pipeline at multiple touchpoints across the customer journey. It’s important to build trust and then engage in opportunity, that we’re thinking life cycle, not a one-time sale; how do we drive outcomes through the entire process, explains Alvio Barrios, SVP Customer Experience at Cisco at Virtually Live in his conversation with Ofer Luft, VP Business Development at Kaltura.
Make learning a daily habit.
We heard this quite often in various sessions. Possessing a growth mindset is imperative in the uncertainty of the current state of the economy. Ongoing skill acquisition is critical to remain professionally relevant. Much more so than reading the occasional trade article or obtaining a company-mandated certification.
Nimble is the new black
As connectivity and automation increase, and as the expectations of younger generations change, event leaders must be prepared for nimble and constant adaptation if they hope to grow with any consistency.
Not to be conflated with speed, haste, or prescriptive busyness as I’ve experienced at times at various organizations, the pandemic was the ultimate litmus test for many – with no better example than Coursera.
During their session Never stop learning, virtually, Leah Belsky, Chief Revenue Officer at Coursera, told Kaltura’s Senior Director of Product Marketing Samuel Thompson, Senior Director of Product Marketing, how Coursera quickly recognized a big shift in the corporate marketplace and immediately transformed from a content company to a full skills platform. Pre-Covid, corporate leaders were primarily focused on enabling learning as a benefit to the overall corporate culture. The landscape quickly shifted to place much greater on specific skills and job preparation for the short term and future mapping those to ROI and business goals.