B2B events are back, but not as we knew them

Sam Willoughby 17th August 2021 Customer Experience

It has been incredibly difficult for event organisers since Covid began. Attendees are reluctant to travel, exhibitors unwilling to commit to floor space in advance, starving exhibition organisers from the cash needed to market their events and sponsors nervous of investing marketing budget when uncertainties around attendance exist.

In addition, and this is particularly in relation to international events, but businesses don’t feel they can insist that their employees attend events either, especially as it may put them at risk.  It means that public exhibitions especially are struggling to get back on their feet, and our belief is that they will not recover to the place they occupied in marketer’s plans for a number of years.

Only those events who talk to niche and specialist audiences in industries which are not fast moving, or where no other forums exist for reaching the market will buck this trend.  We anticipate they will be the exception not the rule.  We’re seeing events like this reappear across our industrial clients particularly in areas such as medical device manufacturing and health and safety.

For many exhibition firms, the pandemic throttled their revenue and forced them to pivot into smaller more nimble digital events. For the smaller players, this was often not enough with many companies no longer being in business, or existing in a significantly downsized status.

 

But what of the future?  Is it just a case of returning to as before? 

No.  People go to events for 3 reasons:

  1. To network
  2. To learn
  3. To do business.

As is the case with consumer events, B2B events need to deliver an experience they don’t get elsewhere, lets face it, time is precious!  If an event doesn’t appeal to a particular need of the attendee, they just won’t go.

During Covid, buyers have found other ways of satisfying these needs. B2B buying behaviour has changed- they’ve found new ways to explore new products, learn about new initiatives, discover market developments and select suppliers.  This new behaviour will continue post covid and is explained beautifully by Gartner in their research.

 

No way back?

The world has changed. And for many event organisers the past delegates and attendee databases that have been the lifeblood, are increasingly out-of-date. Sadly, with many people changing role, attrition rates amongst these databases are growing by the minute.  The longer the pandemic lasts, the harder it will be to recover.

With different government levels of support in different countries, the rate of this attrition really hammers events that serve international audiences.  With concerns and restrictions around travel preventing wide-scale large volume gatherings, the future for large-scale public international exhibitions especially is still quite bleak.

 

The new future for B2B events

Events are far from dead.  Many marketers have launched their own digital events using platforms like Zoom, Go To Meeting or Webex.  But these events are losing their charm and the homemade nature of the experience is no longer acceptable or excused by a global pandemic. It also doesn’t currently replace that face-to-face experience, although it can be perfect for generating leads.  The appetite for leading B2B Brands is to build and grow on these foundations.

We believe that the future of events will be different.  Instead of public events, the focus will shift to brand led events, run by the brands themselves, and will fall into two categories

 

Internal events are important for communication, motivation and wellbeing when hybrid working

The first category is internal events. These are sales kick offs, team building, launch parties, training and most importantly it will be activities to support wellbeing that bring the team together to share ideas, to collaborate and to reignite the passion around a significant moment in the marketing calendar.

 

Niche brand led events for prospecting and relationship building with customers and partners

The second category is small niche invite only events for a small selection of guests ranging anywhere from 5 to 30.  These could be advisory days, roadshows, workshops, briefings, conference, product launches and more which pull together small numbers of senior and important delegates/customers to discuss significant issues of the day. The B2B brands that launched their own events as part of a nurturing journey will steal a march.

 

It is time for B2B marketers to rethink their approach to events.  B2B events are back, but not as we knew them and there is a real first mover advantage to establishing your own events before others in your sector.

 

Want to talk about how you make events a big part of your customer experience again? Drop us a line here.

Sam Willoughby

Sam Willoughby

Events Lead