Freedom (not to have) to choose

What's beyond July 19th's event horizon and the irreversible path to the new normal?
Read time:
5 mins
Author:
Shay O’Carroll
Date:
July 19, 2021
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Freedom Day

Never has such a jubilantly-titled 24 hours split opinion like July 19th 2021.

Yes, so many people crave a return to normality, but many others want to err on the side of caution. Both sides probably have good points to make (even if many don't really want to listen to what the other side has to say). It's a topic that'll probably run and run for a while yet too.

But away from rolling news, pilot schemes and warring factions on social media, most grounded people would probably conclude the way forward is a bit of both.

Locked down but not out

Looking back, the past 18 months have changed so much. Especially about the way we work and work alongside other people. What even is normal anymore?

Necessity has been the mother of invention for many businesses – particularly when it comes to deep-rooted human needs, such as staying in touch with everyone.

The world of weekly work is signposted by and scheduled around events for many companies. We're not just talking about marketing events or network conferences here, we're also talking about regular team meetings and employee get-togethers.

All that structure and opportunity went in the early weeks of 2020.

Within days of the first lockdown, live events and conferences, months in the planning, and with decades-long heritage in some cases, were suddenly postponed, and ultimately cancelled.

Over time, we turned to technology to help keep us together.

Everyone knows about Zoom's immediate and meteoric rise: a 2,900% increase in users.

But equally important (if not quite as stratospheric) to the future world of work was the emergence of virtual events.

Let's look at some figures from the US where virtual events are most established. They show the  global virtual events market ballooned to $94.04 billion last year.

Ok, that's to be expected with all the circumstantial reasons that lockdowned workforces provided.  

But more interestingly, the market is not forecast to burst, nor even deflate, post-restrictions.

In fact, it's predicted to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 23.7% over the next seven years.

Why's that? Don't they know about Freedom Day and the fact we can have real world events now?

It's because it no longer has anything to do with Covid-19 or lockdowns. The predictions are founded on pure business sense.

At this point, I need to make clear what a virtual event is.

A virtual event is not a webinar, where a promotional talk is streamed to your phone while you cook dinner. It's also not a well-produced, and well-meaning sharable VOD after the real event has happened either.

No, a virtual event is a seamless integration of technology that opens up a world of experiences for your audience in ways that have hitherto been unimaginable.

What's more, if you analyse some of the big reasons that companies and brands hold corporate or marketing events, you'll see something really interesting.

Speaking to one of the steering committees formed by PixelMax – a group of individuals who are all seasoned events holders and organisers – we pinpointed the main benefits that events bring. They are:

  • Create revenue
  • Add another marketing channel
  • Staff and client training, and career development
  • Showcase a new product or show they're a thought leader
  • Collect audience insights
  • Improved company culture and team cohesion

And you can go through each of these one-by-one to see that these benefits are only heightened virtually.

Create revenue

More people can attend virtually and costs reduce over time as it's so easy to recreate successful events.

Add another marketing channel

Again, you can have more attendees virtually and you also have more control over the lasting impression they get of your brand as everything can be pixel perfect.

Staff and client training and career development

Training is only as good as the effort people put into it and with virtual events you can be really creative with the simulations and visualizations you create, ultimately making it much easier for your workforce to understand complex issues.

Showcase a new product or show they're a thought leader

Once more, this is about reach and spectacle, both of which have fewer limits in the virtual world

Collect audience insights

This is massive. Nobody wants to be filling in feedback forms or collating data manually and creating a one-time app for an event isn't always viable

In fact, there's only improved company culture and team cohesion that you look at and don't immediately think 'virtual events would make that better'.

There are some arguments to be made here, however. For instance, we are aware that in some organisations, there are members of staff who will actually stay in more from July 19th.

Indeed, the UK government's advice for clinically extremely vulnerable people - (not an insubstantial community of 3.7 million in England alone) was updated a few weeks ago telling them to be cautious.

People who feel the need to lockdown come Freedom Day don't want to be worried about missing out on team bonding meetings they are excluded from on medical grounds. I don't need the knowledge and experience of the HR professional who was explaining this to me to know that's not how to improve company culture.

But I'm not here to persuade you that categorically virtual events are the future.

They're not.

Only part of it.

Event horizon

Honestly, we've worked with so many new clients over the past 12 months all eager to get their virtual events platform up and running.

To many, virtual events are the new normal – especially as they now have their bespoke, fully branded, replaceable platform in place.

We've worked alongside them and made a lot of learnings along the way and it's clear that the events themselves are just the start.

We now know there's serious demand to hook-up virtual events with the equally needed deployment of unified communications as a service.

We now know that there are similar but uniquely different use cases for virtual events across all professional sectors.

We've had it confirmed that although video conferencing businesses are a decent stop-gap, the immersive experience, so crucial to successful live events, just isn't replicated.

We now know companies want to make virtual events an integral part of the workforce ecosystem – and Pixelmax is helping them do it.

But the biggest lesson we've probably learnt along the way, is that there is no one-size-fits-all, silver bullet solution. In fact, we know that while virtual events have their benefits (and amplify existing benefits), we hope live events will remain and thrive too.

The best of both

That's why hybrid event planning makes so much sense: host a physical event when you need to, host a virtual event when you need to. But dual host a physical and virtual hybrid whenever you can.

We've worked hard over lockdown with our steering committee to make that the new normal, the same event online, and on foot, replicating venues, overlapping interactions and combining feedback.

While we've been doing that, throughout England’s lockdown roadmap the Prime Minister has insisted the return to freedom and the easing of Covid-19 restrictions is an ‘irreversible’ process.

And yes, the growth of virtual events is certainly not reversible either.

But as with your views on Freedom Day, it's not one or the other, the best answer probably lies somewhere in the middle with a bit of both and hybrid events will be the more sensible option over purely virtual and purely physical.

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