The Return of the In-Person Event, Part One

The live, in-person event is regaining its popularity. In this two-part post, we look at its advantages and how B2B companies can run one successfully.

Any B2B marketer is entitled to read our title and say, “Just hang on a second. The return of in-person events? When exactly did they go away? Did I miss the memo?”

After all, B2B companies have consistently seen in-person events as a mainstay of their marketing efforts. About 80% currently see event marketing as their single most effective channel. So when we say the return of the in-person event, it’s more a question of attention and focus.

To explain: for the last few years, webinars have dominated the marketing event conversation. We’ve seen it in the general online buzz and in our own clients. Marketing teams have been clambering over each other to get aboard the webinar bus.

There’s nothing at all wrong with that. Marketers have to remain agile, to embrace new technologies and to explore every method of getting their message across. We’re a big fan of webinars and more than once have blogged about their advantages. We continue to support our clients in planning and executing them.

But recently, we’re seeing more demand for in-person events. We’re talking particularly about smaller scale events, such as seminars, with perhaps ten or twelve attendees. These types of events never went away, but it’s as if companies are rediscovering their enormous marketing power.

With that in mind, perhaps it’s time to remind ourselves of where that power lies.

What’s so good about in-person events?

The advantage of in-person events can be summed up in one word: engagement.

Assuming that the event is well-run, and the team has the requisite skills, audience engagement is often far higher at live events than in any other setting. That’s important, because engagement is a key part of the sales process. The greater the engagement with your company, your staff or your product, the greater your ROI.

We think there are three key reasons why in-person events engage so strongly:

1. Attendees are compelled to focus. When we’re watching a webinar, even a live webinar, there are plenty of other things competing for our attention. In fact, electronic devices lend themselves to attention-switching. Delegates typically watch a webinar, for example, on the same device where emails and messages arrive. For many people, checking these is automatic — but each check takes another slice from the attentional cake.

In a live event, our behaviour follows a different script, one that’s learned from thousands of human interactions. If someone’s talking to us in a small group, we feel obliged to return eye contact, to pay attention, to interact. To do otherwise risks being judged as rude. The social rules about interaction forces us to focus more at live events, increasing our engagement.

2. Attendees are more likely to commit. Social Psychology has shown us that commitment is central to the buying process. The more we commit to the buying process, the more we invest in it, the more likely we are to proceed to a sale. Lying behind this is a deep human need for behaving consistently and avoiding cognitive dissonance.

In the context of events, attending a live event requires far more commitment than watching a webinar. Attendees will typically travel to the seminar, which may be inconvenient and time-consuming. Then they have to interact with the presenter, the other attendees, and (as noted above) to listen. All of these are gradually ramping up their investment in the process and their commitment — making an eventual sale more likely. No wonder the conversion rate is so much higher for in-person events.

It turns out that the webinar’s major strength — its convenience — can also lower its conversion rate.

3. People buy from people. Yes, we know its the most shopworn of marketing clichés, but it’s still true. Even in the rational, carefully-weighed, multiple-stakeholder world of B2B, people still buy from people. Human interaction, discussion, the back-and-forth of conversation are all crucial in engaging. Successful sales-people are very good at this. However, they’re best at it when operating face-to-face. Even the best video link eliminates many of the subtle cues that underpin our daily communication.

Making good in-person events great

In Part Two, we’ll consider whether the day of the webinar is over, and how to make in-person events go with a bang. See you soon.

For support with webinars, in-person events and just about any other form of B2B marketing, please get in touch. Specialising in the tech and IT sectors, and with over two decades of industry experience, we’re confident we can help.