The Chinese will celebrate 2009 as the Year of the Ox. For B-to-B marketers, I’m convinced that 2009 is the Year of the Virtual Event. While virtual events have already taken shape – in the IT space, 2007 was a growth year and 2008 was even stronger – I believe we’re facing a watershed moment when a “perfect storm” of factors will lead to a phenomenal surge in virtual events.
I believe that companies who provide products and services around virtual events will experience 50%, 100%, 200% and higher annual revenue growth in 2009. On the flip side, companies whose primary business is around supporting B-to-B face-to-face events will experience diminishing demand and all but the top 5-10% will struggle to survive.
Here are the factors I see contributing to this watershed moment:
- Attendee demand – let’s consider the IT Pro. Those who survived a layoff are facing significant internal cost controls. It’s likely that all travel has been cut, which means that Joe IT Pro will not be attending a face-to-face event, even if it’s in the nearest major city. This is one factor driving B-to-B event marketers to scale back their 2009 event plans.
- Exhibitors’ requirement for cost efficiency – if you’re lucky enough to have marketing budget for 2009, you don’t want to spend it on a high-end hotel (with their elevated food and beverage costs), along with the travel and lodging costs for your colleagues. Instead, you could pay less for an online event. Today, more than 50% of a virtual event’s cost is associated with the headcount required by the platform provider to configure the event. The virtual event platforms, however, are moving to a full-blown SaaS model, where the exhibitor becomes a mere tenant on the multi-tenant platform – and configures the event 100% on her own. This means that the costs will trend downward over time (imagine that).
- The Green Movement – who hasn’t been encouraged lately to think and act Green? A virtual event is virtually carbon-free. Exhibitors stay at home (or in the office); attendees stay at home (or in the office).
- Measurability – with a virtual event, exhibitors can track and analyze all of the discrete actions taken by an attendee. In addition, with tools like text chat (the equivalent of instant messaging), exhibitors can interact with attendees and have all the chat transcripts available for later review. Other tools, like search, allow exhibitors to identify (and connect with) target attendees who are online in the event right now. What this means is that exhibitors can measure and calculate their Return on Investment with higher precision and accuracy.
- The human touch – event marketers will tell you that nothing beats a face-to-face, in-person meeting. 2009 is a year where virtual events will merge with telepresence – with early adoption most likely in closed/private event spaces. There are cost factors with telepresence – but, imagine virtual events combined with high fidelity video and it’s like you’re in the same room as the person half way around the world. With telepresence costs bound to come down over the long term, I see virtual events + telepresence being a killer combination.
All in all, I look forward to 2009 with great excitement. For folks in the virtual events space, the Year of the Ox may be better labeled the Year of the Racehorse – as it’s off to the races we go.