3 New Truths about Event Marketing — Insights from the Goldcast Attendee Sentiment Survey Copy

May 4, 2023
Meisha Bochicchio
Meisha Bochicchio
Senior Content Marketing Manager at Goldcast

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If you’ve been in the B2B event marketing scene for long, you’ve witnessed some pretty massive shifts when it comes to what’s hot and what’s not in the industry.

But how do you know which event trends have staying power?

At Goldcast, we've done the research to uncover what’s really changed when it comes to the attendee experience, including exactly what it is that attendees want to see as we move forward into a new era of event marketing.

Our team surveyed over 500 business professionals who attended a work-related event in the last two years, both in-person and digital-enabled. Respondents represented companies of all sizes and industries across North America, as well as various personality types on the introvert to extrovert spectrum.

We asked respondents for their candid opinions on what they want to see more (and less) of when it comes to digital events.

And some of what we learned might surprise you.

💡 Do you know what attendees really want from your events? Get the latest data on attendee preferences with our State of B2B Events Report. Grab it now (for free)!

1. Old truth: Digital events could never live up to in-person events.

New truth: Digital events offer benefits beyond what’s possible with in-person.

From the ancient bazaars of old to the multi-session hybrid events of late, events have been a proven way of bringing folks together since the dawn of time.

When the world as we knew it began to move online in the early 1990s, events were one of the few industries that managed to stand strong and maintain their in-person presence. Even after webinars hit the scene, nothing came close to replicating our much-loved in-person trade shows, conferences, and conventions.

But with an increase in technology (not to mention uncertainty), attendee preferences began to change.

What was once considered the go-to option for networking is now one of many. As digital events became an essential part of day-to-day life post-pandemic, attendees began to see everything from basic 1:1s to large-scale multi-day events brought online.

As time went on, both organizers and attendees began to understand the value of digital events. Today, our research has found that a staggering 81% of attendees are more willing to sign up for hybrid and virtual events compared to in-person.

Their reasons? Unlike in-person events, digital events are:

  • Convenient: 74% of those surveyed enjoyed the convenience of virtual events.
  • Cost-effective: 51% of respondents liked the fact virtual events were a cheaper alternative.
  • Efficient: 48% of survey participants name efficiency as a reason they like virtual events.

To deliver increased convenience at a fraction of the cost, many organizers are also going all-in on digital events. Our research shows that 80% of leaders are actively encouraging the use of virtual and hybrid events as an alternative to in-person.

2. Old truth: In-person events are everything.

New truth: In-person events are still a thing — but not everything.

While the saying ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ is popular for a reason, the adage that ‘You don’t know what you’re missing until it arrives’ bears equal weight when talking about the world of event marketing in the post-pandemic era.

Until recently, in-person events had the market cornered from every angle. Team huddles in a spare meeting room. Trade conferences in large exhibition halls. VIP soirees in five-star venues and exclusive clubs. Whatever the occasion, in-person events were the answer.

But it’s easy to be the best option when you’re the only option.

When digital events entered the mix, attendees began questioning whether in-person events offered everything they needed.

This realization has led to a surprising new truth amongst survey respondents, with 73% of attendees predicting that hybrid will become the most common event format in the coming years.

While that may feel like a big blow to the in-person event formats we’ve come to know and love, the truth is in-person events aren’t going extinct anytime soon.

  • Networking: 90% of survey responses say networking is the top reason they enjoy in-person events
  • Booths: 73% of respondents identify visiting exhibitor booths as something they like about in-person events
  • Socializing: 67% of survey participants like the social aspect of in-person events

This data is consistent with the narrative that virtual events simply cannot replace the networking power of their in-person counterparts. But in the post-pandemic era, digital event networking can go far beyond an awkward group chat and one-way speaker dialogue.

To elevate networking interactions at digital events, attendees identified the following features:

  • 44% would like a Q&A panel
  • 40% would opt for video Q&A technology
  • 38% believe breakout rooms are the way forward
  • 36% are in favor of live chat functionality
  • 31% want peer-to-peer communication channels

These engagement capabilities are a must for brands looking to deliver a more balanced event program in 2023.

3. Old truth: The future is digital!

New truth: The future is digital (but there’s work to do).

In March 2020, if you asked any event marketer about the future of events, they’d likely point straight to digital. And according to our data, that’s still an event marketing truth.

Close to three quarters of respondents see digital events playing a major role in the event marketing strategies of the future. Thing is, only 10% rate the digital event experience as ‘excellent’.

In other words, attendees see the potential of digital events — they’re just not being offered the chance to experience that potential to the fullest.

And that’s a problem only event marketers can solve.

Because according to the data, your digital event experience is only as good as the technology and the speakers you partner with.

  • Technology: 72% of attendees said it’s the technology that makes a virtual event excellent.
  • Speakers: 65% suggest that engaging speakers make a virtual event experience excellent.

There’s a lot of work to be done on both fronts to secure digital’s place as the event format of choice, but many brands are already leading the way.

To give attendees what they really want from your digital events, focus on these three areas:

  • Keep sessions (and events) short: To achieve an ‘excellent’ virtual event rating, attendee preferences are leaning towards shorter overall events and shorter sessions too, with 90% opting for sessions of 60 minutes and under.
  • Prioritize on-demand availability: 84% of attendees indicate that on-demand content access increases their viewing time. With 96% of participants expecting event content to be available on demand, this is one area to watch.
  • Don’t scrimp on swag: 67% of respondents cite swag as an in-person favorite. The good news is you don’t have to scrap the swag when taking your events digital, you just have to get creative about what you offer.

With event budgets and attendee preferences fully on-board with digital, the only hurdle left to clear is nailing the attendee experience. And according to our participants, the right technology plays a big role in that.

Staying close to your audience never goes out of style

Event marketing often feels like a magical (and often undefinable) combination of marketing art and science.

By going straight to the source and asking attendees what they’re looking for when choosing which B2B events to attend, our mission is to eliminate the guesswork, cut through the hype, and help modern event marketers focus on the things that really matter.

While it would have been unthinkable to imagine digital events leading the B2B marketing world just three years ago, the biggest truth of all is that yesterday’s event marketing will look remarkably different from tomorrow’s.

And when it comes to what attendees want, we’re all ears. Because while we may not always know the exact sessions, speakers, and features to deliver on — knowing what your prospects and customers truly want is a timeless way to stay one step ahead.

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