The past 18 months have seen B2B events undergo the most profound period of change this century. At the start of the pandemic, marketers were forced to adopt virtual events. As protective vaccines became available, we’re now starting to see initial signs of in-person event activity returning. But what does the future hold? To help answer this question, Forrester recently surveyed over 200 marketing leaders from around the globe. In this blog, I’m going to share five of the high-level findings from the study that point to a convergence between virtual and physical that will become, eventually, the new normal for flagship B2B marketing events:

  1. Sixty-three percent of respondents say they plan to conduct “the same number or more” virtual events in 2022. Many organizations benefit from the extended reach that virtual events support and the rich audience insight event managers have been able to gather through digital interactions. Virtual events are now here to stay as a permanent element of the marketing mix but in a more sophisticated and engaging format than the traditional webinar format.
  2. Twenty-eight percent say virtual hasn’t worked for them and that they plan to return to in-person as quickly as it’s safe to do so. Many of these organizations failed to properly plan for virtual. They did little to distinguish their event content from webinar or Zoom meeting formats, and audience engagement suffered. Moreover, many failed to integrate their event technology into their wider marketing ecosystem. The anticipated benefits failed to materialize when they couldn’t easily reconnect with attendees or help sales continue the conversation about the interests that event data uncovered.
  3. Sixty-seven percent say that delivering rich networking opportunities has been a challenge. Even organizations delivering successful virtual events recognize that networking in a virtual environment presents unique challenges. Virtual event technology vendors are exploring how technologies like AI can help here, but more advancements are required to make the attendee networking experience valuable. Forrester expects this to be a focus area in 2022.
  4. Fifty-eight percent agree with the statement that “all flagship B2B marketing events will be hybrid in two years.” While hybrid isn’t a new concept, it offers a potential solution to key challenges that marketers face with virtual and in-person events. Hybrid use remains nascent, however, with only 17% stating they have experimented with this format. Long-term pandemic-related changes in travel, working from home, and B2B buyer behavior will require marketers to figure out how to serve in-person and virtual attendees commensurately valuable experiences starting in 2022.
  5. Sixty-two percent agree that events will become more important in the B2B marketing mix. The past 18 months have demonstrated many of the long-standing benefits that increasing the digitization of B2B events can bring. Moreover, it’s brought event, digital, demand, and marketing operations teams closer together as they work to deliver new digital experiences. Leaders are now keen to capitalize on lessons learned from this forced march into virtual.

Laura Ramos and I will be discussing these findings (and more) and sharing our recommendations for your 2022 events strategy in a webinar for Forrester clients on December 1. Please join us then to learn more about trends and best practices!