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2023 Event Marketing Trends Featuring Forrester Analyst Conrad Mills [Q&A]

December 1st, 2022

There’s one question on every event marketer’s mind today: What are we up for in 2023? Will in-person events retake their place at the top of the event hierarchy? Will hybrid events make a resurgence? Or, will audiences demand we go all-in on digital?

Following our recent webinar, “Marketing Event Trends for 2023 Featuring Forrester Research,”  we sat down with our guest speaker, Conrad Mills, Forrester Analyst, to discuss what event trends marketers should keep an eye on in the new year.

These are the questions with answers posed to Forrester analyst Conrad Mills:

Man looking at laptop.

ON24: We hear from customers that their teams want to return to in-person events, but based on your research that’s not the best move to make right now. What would you say to marketers who think they will return to pre-pandemic in-person events? What advice or caution would you give them?

Mills: There was clearly a lot of understandable pent-up demand for in-person events at the start of the year. However, the data shows that attendance levels this year are significantly down on pre-pandemic levels due to a combination of ongoing COVID concerns, the high costs and disruption to travel and changing audience expectations. And, if we look at the recessionary and inflationary pressures we’re facing, attendance levels are unlikely to return to 2019 levels next year.

As B2B marketers plan for 2023 they should continue to use all three primary event types (virtual, hybrid and in-person) and be driven in their selection by their target audience preferences and needs. In-person is an important part of the mix but marketers should focus on executing fewer but more worthwhile in-person events so that attendees are motivated to attend.

ON24: According to the Forrester report, “Post-Pandemic B2B Events Succeed When Focused On Audience Needs,” 54% of marketers named richer audience insights as a valuable reason to go hybrid for flagship B2B events. In what you’re seeing in the market now, what insights or data points are the most valuable to capture in hybrid/virtual format?

When it comes to capturing event data, marketers should start by considering how they will use the data. Is it to personalize the attendee experience? Event performance reporting? Or to support broader demand programs and campaigns? Each of these use cases will lead marketers to identify different data.

That said, I’m seeing a lot of focus now on insights that demonstrate audience engagement (e.g. time in session, session interactions).

It’s also worth noting that insight capture isn’t limited to the “at event” experience; marketers should be capturing (and using) insights captured during the pre-event and post-event phases too. And it’s important to remember that unless marketers have built seamless integrations between their event management technology and their MAPs and CRMs then the insights they’re capturing can’t be used to their fullest extent!

Two people looking at a laptop and making plans.

ON24: According to the same report, 36% of marketers selected “increased ROI” as the top benefit to hosting events with more digital components, which felt kind of low compared to other benefits chosen. Do you see this percentage getting higher? If so, what ways you foresee marketers getting increased ROI from more digital or virtual event types?

Mills: The challenge with ROI is that it’s notoriously difficult to calculate and simultaneously easy to manipulate. What should you include in the costs? How do you account for event management technology that supports multiple events? How do you deal with long selling cycles that mean it’s impossible to show directly attributable revenue over the 12-month planning period?

ROI also suggests that the primary goal of an event is to drive pipeline and opportunities, whereas some events might have different objectives (e.g. building reputation) and for this reason, it’s unsurprising that only 36% called it out.

By concentrating on measuring and comparing some of the elements that underpin ROI (e.g. cost per attendee) and also identifying leading indicators that demonstrate a likelihood of a future sale (i.e., account or buying group level event engagement scores) marketers can more easily demonstrate the benefits that digital/ virtual events deliver.

ON24: In the research, you talk about the importance of investment in event content quality and reusability. What are some of the most common ways you’ve seen this put to practice successfully?

Mills: Attendee expectations around event content quality have increased dramatically over the past couple of years and marketers are making this a focus with improved production values. Marketers are also more aware that attendees want to engage with event content flexibly and on their own terms and on-demand is a central plank of most event strategies.

Where marketers could be doing a better job is in considering an event as a primary asset and identifying in advance the potential derivative assets they can create and how they’re going to use them. These can range from multiple short videos to podcasts and thought leadership-type content. And marketers now have the data to help focus their content creation in the areas that have driven the highest engagement levels.

Tips and Tricks for Event Marketers Can Use Now

Man on a bench on his phone.

So what else can event marketers do to prepare for a new year? Here are a few resources you can use to guide your event planning and execution in 2023: