So you have a platform, but how do you create an experience?

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Success born out of a crisis comes from adaptation. The world is currently experiencing an unprecedented crisis that has forced rapid change on everyone. This brave new world of social distancing, remote work and restricted physical gatherings has completely altered the way we do business – potentially forever.

On the surface, this has produced a particularly dire outlook for the events industry. However, brands that are willing to look deeper will find new solutions and new ways of connecting. There is an ever-growing number of digital platforms that can host an online event. This may seem like an easy solution, but just because a brand has a platform doesn’t mean they can create an experience – after all, the platform is just a tool.

The problem with platforms

A cursory Google search for an online event platform will return about 1.3bn results. Now, past page two or three, the majority of these results will be irrelevant. Still, even when you narrow down the search, things are just as complicated. For example, a top comparison site lists over 50 event platforms and compares different features and pricing. With so many platform options offering similar functionality, it can seem overwhelming to choose and so arises the paradox of choice (ie too much choice leads to paralysis and the decision may be rushed). It’s a lot and can leave one to wonder: ’Which combination of tech is right for my brief?’ and ’How do I curate compelling content that facilitates productive guest interactions – and present it all brilliantly?​’

There are, of course, the big names – ON24, Zoom, Teams etc – that offer great functionality with plug-and-play capabilities. But a great platform does not an event make. This is a single step in the process, sort of like booking an event space in the good old days. Just because you’ve booked Alexandra Palace or Cutty Sark doesn’t mean you have a physical event. Similarly, just because you’ve signed up to ON24 or Teams doesn’t mean you have an online event. Sure, the walls and ceiling will be there and maybe a projector, but is that enough to create a memorable experience that will encourage attendees to actively engage with your brand? I think not. There are, however, some solutions available.

Creating connected experiences

Creating an online experience is not so much about the platform, but what you do with it. To create a truly outstanding experience, you need to reimagine how events can be.

When creating a digital event, you must cover all bases – from the audience needs and content production to the tech requirements and presentation preparation. It all must come together and mimic the feel of a physical event. This involves creating connected experiences that are exciting and drive active participation. A connected experience is about creating personalised moments of human interaction that inform, educate and celebrate. With digital, your connected experience will have greater reach.

To genuinely reach your audience online you need to give them a reason to engage with you, which means you need interactivity and excitement. The event must be both dynamic and engaging by using the platform to its fullest, through a mix of content formats. This could be creating a 3D world filled with content for users to explore, a film that users can watch on-demand or creating a mix of live, on-demand and simu-live content. These aren’t the only elements to consider, but if you use some of them your event will have a much better chance of success.

While it might be tempting to think you can host an engaging digital event with just a platform, in reality this just isn’t the case. Smart brands know they can’t do everything on their own. It’s essential that you receive the right advice and the right technical expertise when planning and running a digital event.

Digital was always going to be the future over purely physical events. This was mirrored in a wider shift in thinking and working – ie increased agile working, climate change considerations etc. So this isn’t a new thing. It’s just thanks to Covid that we have accelerated to digital. But creating an engaging digital event is more than just picking a platform. It’s about what you do with it and having the right people makes a big difference. Perhaps, when the dust has settled, physical events will return. But it seems likely they will have evolved into something new. In the meantime, the current climate calls for radical change and those who adapt will survive. Those who don’t… well, only time will tell.

For more information about creating an online connected experience, contact the team at ICF Next.

Dani Batty, executive creative director, ICF Next

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