You’ve planned your perfect hybrid event: best venue, best virtual event platform, best keynote speaker, and so on.
Yet, all of those efforts will go to waste if you can’t attract enough attendees (both in-person and virtual attendees) to your hybrid event. While one of the key perks of hosting a hybrid event is the fact that you can draw a bigger audience by making your event available online, you still need the right marketing and promotion strategy to attract your target audience.
In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about how to market a hybrid event, and by the end of this guide, you’d have learned about:
- What a hybrid event is, and the key challenges in marketing a hybrid event
- The benefits and strengths of a hybrid event you’ll need to leverage when marketing a hybrid event
- Best practices in marketing your hybrid event
- Effective marketing strategies you can use to attract both in-person and virtual attendees
Without further ado, let us begin from the basics: what is a hybrid event?
What is a Hybrid Event?
The definition of a hybrid event is pretty self-explanatory: it is an event that is hosted both as an in-person event in a physical venue and over the internet (i.e., live stream) to a virtual audience.
However, a hybrid event is not solely about hosting an in-person event and then using live-streaming and A/V equipment to broadcast the event in real-time over the internet.
Instead, both aspects of the hybrid event: the in-person aspect and virtual aspect, should be properly in sync, while at the same time should be specifically designed and fine-tuned to ensure both audiences get a similar level of experience.
Obviously, the two types of audiences won’t get the exact same experience. The in-person attendees can enjoy face-to-face networking and great food from your caterer. However, your virtual attendees will also get their own unique value in the form of the convenience of attending the event from the comfort of their homes.
Thus, when it comes to marketing a hybrid event, it’s crucial to understand that you’ll need to promote the event to two distinct target markets: those who will attend in-person and those who will attend virtually. In some cases, both types may share similar demographic and psychographic data, but in many cases, they are significantly different.
This is the main challenge of marketing and promoting a hybrid event, but there are also some other key challenges you’d need to consider.
Key Challenges to Planning and Marketing a Hybrid Event
1. Planning Two Different Event Experiences
The art to successful hybrid event planning is finding the sweet spot between delivering two distinct event experiences (for your in-person and virtual attendees), and yet these two experiences should also be a unified synergy.
In practice, this can be very challenging. For example, you’ll need to find ways to keep your in-person speakers/talents and attendees interacting with your virtual attendees in real-time.
Not to mention, you’ll also need to manage separate costs and logistics for these two aspects of the event, including potentially two different marketing budgets.
The best approach to unifying an event experience is to choose the right hybrid event technology and platform that can facilitate a smooth connection between your in-person and virtual attendees to ensure a unified experience. You should look for a virtual event platform like Eventtia that allows real-time interaction between your physical venue and your virtual attendees.
Some other ideas to keep your in-person and virtual attendees connected:
- Add a video screen (or projector) to your in-person stage that shows your virtual attendees (and virtual stage if you have one). This can help in creating a more “connected” experience.
- Leverage different platforms: social media, email notifications, push notifications, mobile event app, and so on to connect the two aspects of the event together. Create activities that allow both attendees to participate in real-time.
- Hire two separate presenters/MCs. A dedicated presenter for your virtual attendee can help a lot in keeping your virtual attendees engaged and connected to the live venue.
- Design your physical stage accordingly so both types of attendees can focus on what’s happening on stage (i.e., your speaker)
2. Effective Ticketing/Pricing Strategy for Both Audiences
Ticketing has always been a core aspect of any event marketing strategy, but in a hybrid event, setting up the right ticket prices can be even more challenging since, again, you are dealing with two different audiences.
On the one hand, the in-person aspect of your event will naturally be more costly to host: venue rental, catering, insurance, and so on. On the other hand, there are also virtual attendees who wouldn’t want to pay the same prices as in-person attendees.
Below are some key considerations to have when it comes to ticketing strategies:
- Venue rental is often the most substantial cost, so in-person tickets should be more expensive, albeit with few exceptions.
- Plan how you are going to offer discounts and special offers (i.e., early birds, discounts for those who have attended your past events, group discounts, etc.)
- If it’s a multiple-day event, decide whether attendees will need to commit to both (or more) days, or they can purchase a ticket for only one day.
- Would you allow customized/personalized agendas, especially for virtual attendees? For example, whether your attendee can pay only for specific sessions they’d like to attend.
The only viable solution here is to offer multiple ticket pricing tiers, at the very least, one price for in-person tickets and another for virtual attendees. However, you can also go further and offer different tiers and even allow your virtual attendees to access (and pay for) only some sessions.
3. Keeping Both Attendees Engaged
A very notable challenge in hosting a hybrid event is keeping both attendees engaged throughout the whole event, but this can be extremely challenging in practice.
Again, the goal here is to provide a similar level of experience for both attendees, and below are some ideas of how:
- Live chat is a pretty basic feature of any virtual events (and hybrid events), but it’s still very effective when done right. Keep the live chat feature functional, and have a dedicated moderator to ensure a positive experience.
- If you are providing entertainment, consider types of entertainment or specific performers that can entertain both your in-person and virtual attendees.
- Facilitate cross-platform event networking and fun networking opportunities for both of your attendees. Especially pay attention to virtual networking activities like 1:1 chats between virtual attendees with similar interests or group chats.
4. Convincing Sponsors and Providing Value
Although it’s getting better with the rising popularity, proving a virtual event’s (or the virtual aspect of a hybrid event’s) value to sponsors can be quite challenging. Many sponsors still don’t grasp the benefits of virtual events, and thus, they often fear limited exposure.
It’s crucial for hybrid event organizers to carefully elaborate the event’s value and offer unique and attractive sponsorship opportunities.
For the virtual aspect of the event, you can offer:
- Detailed analytics and data (if possible, offer data of your previous event) for proving your event’s value
- Online and offline sponsor-branded activities
- Pre-recorded sponsor video
- Live-streamed content about the sponsor
- Direct virtual interaction with attendees (i.e., by providing sponsors with dedicated chat rooms)
- Sponsor banners, signage, and graphics (both in-person and virtual)
- Dedicated sponsor virtual booths
5. Different Time Zones and Cultural Barrier
While one of the key benefits of hosting a hybrid event is the fact that you can access a larger audience base from all around the world, this benefit can also be a double-edged sword.
Adjusting to different time zones and different cultures is difficult, and in terms of marketing, you may need to consider potential cultural barriers when developing your promotional materials.
- Identify the different time zones of your prospective attendee. While it’s impossible to please everyone, the best thing you can do is plan your event at a time that suits a majority of your attendees.
- Another effective solution you can try is to host your event as a multi-day event so you can cater to more attendees from different time zones. Obviously, you can potentially generate more revenue this way.
- Also, for those who can’t attend the event, you can offer your event as on-demand sessions (and sell it cheaper after the live event). This is also a good way to reach a wider audience.
Marketing a Hybrid Event: Best Practices
While considering the challenges above, here are some important best practices to keep in mind to ensure a successful marketing effort for your hybrid event:
1. Know Your Goals and Your (Two) Target Audiences
You might be surprised how it’s a very common mistake for event planners and businesses looking to host a hybrid event that they do so without any clear goal.
Without knowing what your goals are, having an effective marketing strategy is virtually impossible since you won’t be able to identify who your target audience(s) is.
Follow the SMART goals principle when identifying your hybrid event goals, and your goals should be:
- Specific: as clear as possible with narrow enough focus. Your team members and stakeholders should clearly understand the goals without any misunderstanding.
- Measurable: you should be able to measure your event’s performance against this objective by monitoring specific metrics and assigning KPIs.
- Attainable: the objective(s) must be realistic and achievable, or else you may hurt your and your team’s morale.
- Relevant: the event’s goals must align well with your organization’s goals and objectives as a whole.
- Time-bound: you must be able to assign a timeline to the objectives. In event planning, this shouldn’t be an issue since the D-day of the event will be the goal’s deadline.
Here are some examples of hybrid event goals you can use:
- Increasing the number of registration by 20% from past events
- Reaching new audiences from a specific demographic group.
- Generating 10% more opportunities for sponsors and partners
- Increasing social media engagement by 10% before, during, and after the event
Based on the objectives you’ve defined, you can then identify the target audiences (both virtual and in-person attendees) that can help you achieve these objectives.
Depending on your event type and your objective, you may have similar in-person and virtual attendees, demographic-wise, or they may be very different. Remember that the better you understand your target audience is, the better you can develop a marketing strategy that caters to this audience.
2. As Early as Possible, Set Different Expectations for Both Types of Attendees
While we have discussed how you should aim to deliver a similar level of experience to both types of attendees, it doesn’t mean you should offer the exact same things (which is also technically impossible).
Naturally, your in-person attendees will have very different experiences from the virtual counterpart. As early as possible, you should properly set expectations for each group of attendees while considering the two types of attendees’ different needs and preferences.
In a marketing context, you may also want to consider creating different marketing campaigns and content to target each type of audience.
For example, promoting that your event will have the best food and the best bar in town will only be effective for your in-person attendees.
In most cases, in-person attendees will be more interested in opportunities that offer face-to-face interaction and experience, while virtual attendees will typically prioritize affordability and convenience (and related to the global pandemic situation, health, and safety). So, design your marketing campaign accordingly.
Also, an interesting thing to consider is that attendees who have attended your events in the past (especially if this is an annual/recurring event) are typically more likely to want to visit your event in person. On the other hand, existing leads who have decreased their engagement with your content (i.e., email click-through) are typically more likely to attend the virtual event.
Also, throughout your marketing efforts, make sure to clearly communicate that it is a hybrid event, so your audience knows that they can choose to either attend in-person or online.
3. Emphasize the Hybrid Format
We have briefly discussed this in the previous point, but make sure to emphasize your hybrid format as the center of your marketing efforts. Make sure the message that your event is hybrid is prominent throughout your event marketing efforts, and make sure your marketing content highlights the unique values of both the in-person and virtual aspects of the event.
Emphasizing the hybrid format can give your attendees a sense of versatility and freedom of choice and can potentially be effective in converting prospective attendees who are not yet sure about committing to your event. They may not yet be 100% comfortable about attending an in-person event, or they may think that the in-person admission fee is too expensive. This way, if they see that your event is hybrid, they may decide to register for the virtual aspect.
Also, keep registration flexible (i.e., they can easily switch between in-person or virtual, as long as there’s still space). This is important so prospective attendees can still get peace of mind when signing up.
4. Have a Well-Designed and Functional Event Page
Having a professional-looking, functional, and reliable event page or event website is arguably the most important aspect of any hybrid event marketing.
Your event page will often be your prospective attendee’s first touchpoint with your brand and their first impression. It is also going to be the first place they’ll come to sign up for the event (which should be the purpose of your marketing effort).
Your event page can be a dedicated website on its own or as a part of your company’s website (as a landing page). However, your event page should:
- Be a central hub of information about everything related to your event: when it’s going to be held, the venue, your speakers’ photos and bio, etc.
- Be well-designed with attractive visuals, photos, and videos. People do judge the book by its covers, so it’s important to leverage this.
- Be mobile-friendly and technically optimized. Should load fast on normal internet connectivity and readable/accessible on as many devices as possible.
- Have a persuasive call to action so your visitors will be interested in registering for your event.
- Have a functional and easy-to-use online registration function. Ask only what’s necessary on your registration form, and make sure the fields are clickable on mobile devices.
- Optimized for SEO especially for search queries related to your event, industry, and event location.
Even if you already have a significant following on social media, your social media handles are not sufficient replacements for an event website. Fortunately, there are now platforms like Wix or Weebly that allow us to easily and affordably create a professional-looking page in a matter of minutes, so there’s simply no excuse not to have a well-designed website.
5. Optimize Your Ticketing Strategy
As discussed, ticketing can be a major challenge when planning and hosting a hybrid event. However, while it can be tricky, you should involve ticketing as a core part of your marketing strategy to attract both types of attendees.
As discussed above, it’s fairly obvious that your virtual tickets (online tickets) should be cheaper than your in-person tickets. The question is, how much cheaper?
The answer would depend on many different factors: the type of event you are offering, specific online experiences you’ll offer, your speakers/talents, and so on.
However, for a typical conference event, the virtual ticket is discounted by 50% to 75% off. If you want to sell virtual tickets at a higher price, consider offering attractive exclusive perks/offers for virtual attendees (without alienating your in-person attendees).
You may also want to offer more ticket tiers for both your in-person and virtual attendees. For virtual attendees, you can even make the experience totally customizable, for example, by selling tickets per session.
Also, consider offering time-based discounts (i.e., presale, early bird, last call, etc.). This can be effective in creating a sense of scarcity (and FOMO) to encourage registration.
Nevertheless, an effective ticketing strategy isn’t always about selling your tickets as affordable as you can, yet it’s about balancing the value you are offering from your event with how much your attendees should pay to attend. How you can create this perceived value is key.
6. Effective Social Media Marketing
It’s fairly obvious to market your event on social media, where most of your target attendees are active nowadays.
However, keep in mind that all your competitors will also do the same, and without any comprehensive social media marketing strategy, your promotion efforts won’t get noticed amidst the noise.
When planning a social media marketing strategy, keep in mind that there are three different channels to choose from:
- Organic: building your own followers then (regularly) posting content related to your event. Cost-effective (and can be totally free), but it will take some time before you can generate the desired results.
- Paid: using various paid promotion options offered by social media networks (i.e., Instagram Ads, LinkedIn Sponsored Post, etc.) to promote your event. It can be effective in generating quick results but is expensive.
- Influencer marketing: partnering with relevant influencers in your event’s niche (or niches related to your event). Can be very effective if you can partner with the right influencers.
In the end, effective social media marketing is about finding the right balance between these three channels while considering your available budget and timeline. For example, the closer it is to the event’s D-day, the more aggressive you should be with paid promotions.
7. Creative Use of Video
Leveraging video content is very important in today’s digital environment when consumption of video content is continuously increasing.
Build up anticipation for your hybrid event with teaser videos about your speakers, talents, and your event in general. A common approach is to tease your speakers one by one, hinting towards a big reveal at the start of the campaign. Then, gradually release more reveal videos to build anticipation, and announce your main headliner near the end of your early-bird phase.
You can also offer other types of content in video format, like interviews of your speakers and previous attendees, previews of the event’s venue, and so on. Build anticipation and awareness.
Hosting a hybrid event can offer various combined benefits from both in-person and virtual events, giving you the best of both worlds, as well as some unique additional benefits.
Yet, marketing a hybrid event can be challenging, but the key to planning, hosting, and marketing a successful hybrid event is to identify and really understand your event’s target audience; demographics, their needs, behaviors, and especially, how you can convince them to attend your event.
By using the marketing ideas and strategies we’ve shared above, you are now ready to start promoting your hybrid event and attract more virtual and in-person attendees.