With 2021 on the horizon, Ralitsa Arnaudova, CIM Scotland events ambassador, explains how to market your virtual events.

Want to generate more leads, improve retention rates, or maybe even roll out a new product in 2021? Regardless of your business goals for the new year, events should be amongst your top priorities when it comes to developing an effective marketing strategy.

Events are a very flexible marketing tool, accommodating for all kinds of marketing objectives, from increasing brand awareness and educating your audience via thought leadership and showing off your expertise, through to gathering valuable customer data and building up a high-impact content library of video talks and attendee testimonials.  

The sudden hit of the pandemic and the following mass gathering restrictions had a severe impact on the event industry as a whole. Chances are, you have already either cancelled one (or more) events or conferences in 2020, or have been forced to turn a face-to-face event into an online experience with the speed of light. Nine months into Covid-19, virtual events have done wonders to some businesses, while other marketing and events professionals still swear by the importance of the in-person experience.


But what about 2021? Will we be able to host live events next year?

While no one can predict the outcome of the pandemic, a number of organisations have already taken the precaution to cancel of all of their live events for next year, and are solely focused on virtual for the foreseeable future. It is important to take into account that even if governments ease the restrictions in 2021, your audience may still not feel comfortable attending in person, and they should be your top priority. Therefore, even if physical events and conferences start making their way back into your marketing strategy and budget, virtual events – or at least some elements of them – are here to stay.

And there comes the question – if the market is currently flooded with virtual events, how do I make mine stand out?

How to convince my audience that my next event is not just another of those boring, Zoom-fatigue-causing experiences, and deliver on that promise?


Below are 5 tips for successfully marketing your virtual event in 2021:

  1. The Design and the Marketing of Your Event Must Go Hand-in-Hand

The brainstorming around each event must start with the ‘Why’. What purpose does the event serve; what objectives are you trying to meet? Who is the event for? If you haven’t hosted a virtual event before, keep in mind you may lose some of your traditional audience initially, but having online events also opens doors to entirely new audiences.

If you have created a Customer Persona for the business already, you may want to revisit it, edit or make additions. Have the habits of your audience changed since the start of the pandemic? How are their day-to-day lives looking now? How much time they spend online, at what times during the day they log in? Answering all these questions will give you a clearer picture of when would be appropriate to host your event, at what time of the day, the length of it. Gathering information on their technical expertise will help you choose the right platform that they won’t find frustrating and hard to navigate on the day.

Keep your audience engaged throughout the whole event design process.

Involve them in the decision making, can you run a survey to see what their current needs are? Use all the data you have available in order to create a relevant, useful experience. The better you know your audience, the better you can market to them. The same goes for your pricing strategy (unless your event is free). Consider what is the most important for your audience and research how much they will be willing to pay for it, as well as researching on your competitors.


  1. Tell a Story and Create FOMO

Creating a compelling story about your event is an essential part of your event marketing plan and will be what will differentiate your event from all other events. Ensure your tone and messaging remains the same throughout the whole time. Once you have identified the best channels to communicate to your attendees, start your promotion campaign early and keep your audience looking forward by building it up steadily. Sharing snippets of what is about to happen at the event is a great way of getting your audience into the mindset of someone who is already attending, even if they don’t have tickets yet.

One of the advantages of online events is that you can expand your keynote speaker search internationally for a lower cost, ensuring you bring the most credible experts in the industry worldwide, which will be a massive selling point for your event. In addition, it is common practise to give hints about some of the speakers or celebrities that will be joining your event, letting your audience know you will announce them at the event to create FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).


  1. Enable Connection

One of the main reasons people attend industry events is to connect with others, whether that is to network with professionals they have never met before, or catch-up with people they have known for years. If you want your event to be a success and your attendees to return next time, don’t take that away from them. Events should never fully rely on content only: in fact, Content comes 3rd in the New Hierarchy of Event Priorities, after Meaningful Connections and Entertainment (EventManager, 2020), so keep this in mind. There are plenty of platforms online that enable virtual networking via video chats as well as interactive customisable whiteboards for collaboration.


  1. Enhance the Experience to Meet Your Objectives

There are a number of ways you can enhance the experience of your attendees, especially if you are running a longer-lasting event or conference. Consider boosting the traffic to your sponsors’ virtual stalls by creating a game for your attendees, where they can earn points or get a clue at each exhibitor stall, that can take them a step closer to winning a surprise award at the end of the event. Offer free or discounted tickets to your next event to everyone who completes the post-event survey to make sure you gather a good amount of useful data to utilise later. Ask them to engage with your event on social media in order to enter a competition – this will boost the awareness of both your event and your business to brand new audiences.


  1. Add Physical Elements

If you usually give out gift bags in your in-person events, don’t write them off in virtual – the more physical elements you involve in your online event – the better. If you don’t have your own products (e.g. your event is educational) you can send out in advance props that could be relevant to the event, e.g. VR headsets, branded USB sticks, some goodies from your sponsors, and even some snacks and drinks! The latter is a must in virtual award ceremonies and celebratory events. Your attendees will appreciate you going that extra mile to make them feel appreciated and part of the event experience. It is a fantastic way for them to test your products or raise awareness of your sponsors’ products.


Finally, always evaluate what went well and what didn’t with your team. Actively seek for and be ready to receive feedback, both positive and negative, from your attendees, and use this to reflect and learn. Continuously monitor not only your competitors, but also professionals in other industries, there will always be elements that could be adapted and placed within your own strategy. Don’t feel pressured into jumping straight back to live events the minute you are able to do so. Consider all the advantages virtual and hybrid events may have over live events, especially in the early stages of eased lockdown restrictions.


Last but not least, don’t forget to have fun. Designing and marketing virtual events is exactly as time and energy consuming as live events. Make sure to reward yourself and your team for a job well done.