As we head into the final 2 months of 2010, it’s time for another round of predictions. First, let’s review my 2010 predictions:
- The 2010 Predictions for Virtual Events
- The Mid-Year Report Card on the 2010 predictions
- A posting on the Future of Virtual Events
I assigned myself a mid-year grade of B. And now, I’m designating a final grade of B-. I hope to improve in this year’s predictions. To assist with my predictions, I invited a few experts from the community to chime in, so I’ll be including their predictions with my own.
To date, “market expansion” has meant a growing number of “pure play” virtual event platform providers. In the US, we started with a handful of major vendors and we’ve seen new entrants into the market in 2009 and 2010. We also saw the emergence of platforms outside the US, notably in Europe – and in 2009, in Asia Pacific as well.
For a large Requests For Proposal (RFP) in 2009 and 2010, the virtual event platforms knew whom they were competing against (each other). Starting in 2011, it gets cloudier (pun intended), as the blending of virtual, social and Enterprise 2.0 means that a wider set of vendors are vying for the same business that virtual platforms got in 2010.
Consider the following vendors, each of whom has offerings that (in part) look, feel and smell like virtual events or virtual business communities:
Jive Software, Yammer, Pathable, Facebook Groups, Socialtext, SharePoint (Microsoft) and Lotus (IBM).
Virtual event platforms can expect to sell against some of these players in 2011 and some platforms may go the partnership route, to build a combined offering as a competitive advantage.
Service Level Agreements (SLA)
The virtual events industry is at a point in its growth where Service Level Agreements (SLA) make a lot of sense. With a growing number of vendors, SLA’s help separate the contenders from the pretenders – if you’re offering money back (or a credit) if an event fails, then only the strong will survive.
I predict that one vendor will lead the way and proactively hit the market with an SLA – forcing others to follow suit later in 2011. Expect SLA’s around availability and simultaneous users.
Later in 2011 (or perhaps in 2012), SLA’s will be defined around “quality”, such as response time. This development helps the market – the assurance provided behind an event allows the market to expand, attracting new customer growth that exceeds 2010’s figures.
Market expansion and SLA’s mean the strong get stronger. But lesser platforms have a challenging year ahead. According to Cece Salomon-Lee, Principal at PR Meets Marketing, “some players will be bought by larger organizations, merging to bring together complimentary strengths or even some disappearing from the industry all together. No matter how, we will begin to see some consolidation within the industry.”
Meanwhile, Miguel Arias of IMASTE believes that US platforms will look abroad for acquisitions. To “gain presence, customers and market knowledge” in Europe, Latin America and Asia, Arias believes US platforms will look to partner or acquire in-country platforms in those same regions.
In my mind, there is an enormous, (largely) untapped market within the US, which means that US-based platforms will continue to focus domestically in 2011. Global expansion will occur in 2012 or beyond. In addition, due to the “strong get stronger” phenomenon, I predict that one of the prominent US-based platforms will cease operations in 2011 – or, be sold at a below-market price.
Technology A La Carte
Today, virtual event platforms are “monolithic” – you enter an event and all of the functionality provided by the platform sits within that event. You can’t experience the platform’s features outside of an “event”. In my futures column, I predicted that virtual events “move closer to the end user”.
Driven by market demand, platforms will “break out” pieces of their technology platform in a la carte fashion. Customers who do not need a five course meal may opt just for an appetizer and coffee. This may surface in a number of ways, including:
Thin desktop clients, mobile apps, browser toolbars, virtual booths embedded in banner ads, group chat embedded on a web page, etc.
Hybrid Innovation & The Year of the Hybrid
In 2009, some INXPO colleagues and I predicted that 2010 would be The Year of the Hybrid. This was partially true – in fact, Cisco received the 2010 Grand Ex Award for their hybrid approach to Cisco Live and Networkers. However, the mass adoption of hybrid events (that we predicted) did not ring true. But that’s OK, it’s always better to be a year early than a year late.
Event and experience marketing agencies have adopted virtual in varying degrees – 2011 is the year where they demonstrate the most aggressive push to date. You’ll see strong adoption from the “big brands” in 2011 and it will come by way of these channel partners to the virtual event platforms. 2011 will set the foundation for growth – with “hockey stick growth” coming in 2012.
Another major adopter in 2011 will be associations. They’ve done a number of virtual events to date – in 2011, you’ll see 200%+ growth. Local chapter meetings will continue to occur at physical locations, while the annual, national chapter meeting of the association will move to a hybrid event, with the virtual component serving those members who were not able to make it to the physical gathering.
More generally, 2011 will see innovative technologies that blend the virtual/online world with the real world. And these same technologies will be integrated into hybrid event experiences, blurring the lines between physical and virtual. I’m referring to location based services (LBS), mobile, augmented reality and QR codes. Expect to see a lot of hybrid events innovation, which benefits everyone.
From Miguel Arias, “After some virtual events vendors, marketers and event organisers have shown in 2010 with successful case studies what are the benefits of virtual events we will see much more events and movements in Europe and South America specially. I expect a 250-300% growth of the total market size in those regions.”
From Cece Salomon-Lee, “I believe the players that will remain on the landscape will begin building out an ecosystem of services to plug-and-play on the platforms.”
From Miguel on vendor specialization, “With more vendors in the space and more clients asking for more tailored solutions we will probably see a leader in the corporate events environment, a leader in the generic trade show market, other for hybrid events, for virtual career fairs, etc.”
I’ll sum up this piece by using a number of nouns to describe what I expect to see in 2011: innovation, shake-out, growth, change, adaptation, expansion, excitement. Check back here in 6-8 months for my mid-year report card!