Oct 06, 2020

The Future Is Human Connection … In Virtual Spaces

By: Josh Dougherty

Innovation Marketing

In the thousands of hours I’ve spent building and executing marketing efforts for clients, and my own agency, I’ve learned two things that remain true, no matter how much technology has evolved:

  1. Any effective marketing effort must build a human connection, speaking to the fundamental needs, wants, and desires of the real people that make up a target audience.
  2. The best approach to marketing is to be radically helpful so that those who really need your services fall in love with the work you do and can’t help but make the decision to hire you.

My business partner Polly and I have built our agency on the fundamental belief that digital channels are the best way to build connections with your audience at the scale and specific targeting that most people need. But we’ve also learned and taught our clients that digital relationship building takes time.

That’s why we also believe in the relationship-building power of in-person events: whether it be a hosted happy hour, a workshop, or a trade show. With these types of in-person interactions, we have an opportunity to accelerate the trust-building  process and establish credibility through conversations in a more dynamic  way.


But, as you already know, COVID-19 crashed our party back in March and for now, big in-person events like Adobe Max and CES have gone digital. We’re all left scrambling to replace our reliance on physical events with digital experiences.

The question we’re all faced with is this: How much of an investment in digital should  we make?

Data Shows the Viability of Investing in Digital Marketing Channels

Since the beginning of COVID-19, marketing platform HubSpot has been tracking data about the performance of digital marketing efforts. The data (aggregated from the companies using their platform) shows what we would all expect: your investment in digital marketing is more important than ever. Here are a few of the takeaways.

Marketing emails are the best way to reach your audience right now

While sales email open rates have dropped around 25% below pre-pandemic levels, marketing email engagement increased by 20%. There’s a simple takeaway here. People are less responsive to sales asks right now, but are more interested than ever in getting information that will make their work better, easier, and more efficient.
















People want to have conversations

While email open rates are up slightly, one tactic has grown astronomically over the course of the pandemic: conversational bots. 

Since the middle of March, there has been a steady increase in engagement with conversational bots. In early September, levels are up nearly 75% over pre-pandemic levels. If you haven’t invested in this tactic, it’s probably time to start.


Websites are seeing healthy traffic growth

Since the beginning of the crisis, website traffic has been up 15-30% above pre-pandemic levels. This demonstrates that consumers and prospects are visiting sites to get answers to their questions more than ever before. 

This is what we would expect when people are dealing with lockdowns and reducing in-person interactions due to the pandemic. It is, however, instructive of the investment you should be making in your site as a fail-safe for future crises.

What This Means for the Event Marketing Industry, Now and in the Future

The event marketing industry has obviously been hit very hard by the pandemic. It’s hard to say when major events will be back. 

As mentioned above, CES, the world’s largest technology trade show, has announced that it will be fully online next year. Others will surely follow, while more shows will begin to explore what a new normal, in-person event could look like. 

Regardless of whether you're bullish on the return of in-person events in early or late 2021, I think this data should encourage you to make an investment in virtual experiences for prospective customers. There are three main reasons why:

  1. The data shows that people are using digital channels like never before to look for help with challenges their businesses face. This was a trend before the pandemic. The data shows that the trend is accelerating. It won’t slow down when in-person events return.
  2. The data on conversational bots I shared above shows that people have a strong desire for interactions that feel human. A virtual experience, if the barrier to entry is low enough, will provide that interaction with a real person rather than a bot in a digital setting.
  3. We are all more comfortable today than ever before about building human connections online. We’ve done it by having Zoom happy hours with friends or doing work meetings via video conference. Human patterns for building connection are changing, and although I for one believe digital experiences will never replace the in-person ones, it definitely will be accepted going forward. 

There’s reason for optimism that any investment in digital event experiences made now will continue to be relevant and useful far beyond the end of the pandemic. Research from Grand View Research shows that the virtual event space will grow by a compound growth rate of 23% over the next seven years, growing from $78 billion to $774 billion in that timeframe.

This type of growth means making an investment in a virtual event experience should drive a healthy return.

The pandemic has accelerated the move to digital for numerous experiences, including events. Even as we return to in-person interactions, sporting events, and even trade shows, this shift toward digital isn’t likely to slow down, but rather, will add a whole new dimension to marketing efforts. It’s up to you to harness the innovation so that your brand can go along for the ride.

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