How the need for virtual events became a boon for laser technology brand Cynosure.
When the Cynosure laser and radio frequency brand’s live events team went under lock and key in March 2020, they launched a whole new virtual events division, Cynosure University, as a way to keep in touch with their customers. According to Josh Smith, Cynosure’s field marketing manager, the effort was originally supposed to last only six weeks, but webinars and virtual events are still going on and more are planned for the future.
According to Smith, his virtual events team has found benefits not only in attracting new clients, but also in providing resources to existing clients. When a medical practice using their devices gets a new employee, they now have a whole library of materials to refer to.
Cynosure, like the rest of us, has learned that many uses of technology, from remote work to virtual events, have gone from convenience or backup to necessity.
R.D. Whitney, CEO of 365 Media and co-founder of the Virtual Events Institute, said services like Netflix have already accustomed people to consuming content whenever and wherever they want. The ability to provide content from virtual events long after the event has taken place opens up new opportunities for engagement. “I think there’s just no better way to extend the life of conferences and online learning,” he said.
In addition, Whitney said, for many professions, a three-day conference where participants are inundated with information may not be the best way for those people to absorb information. Being able to take your time with the content and learn it ‘in doses’ can be helpful.”
MarTech’s Event Participation Index showed that 92% of marketers believe that organizers should continue to offer virtual events, even when face-to-face events return. Most cited the ability to attend more events and fit them more easily into their schedules. Others cited the smaller environmental impact of digital shows, but most cited the cost of travel to attend in-person events.
Whitney has been working in virtual events for more than a decade. He says a combination of technological limitations and a lack of understanding of how to run virtual events effectively has kept them from reaching their potential in the past.
Some of the earliest virtual events tried to simply recreate the experience of a live event, he said. These events lacked the “randomness” that a real-life outing and face-to-face interaction provides. When people were forced to hold events in a virtual space, they also had to figure out how to make the experience engaging.
At Cynosure, Smith said one of their webinars was created by surveying doctors from around the country. Doctors were asked what they were most interested in learning about marketing the services they provide with Cynosure medical devices. After receiving this information, the live event development team was able to build a webinar based on the information that was most relevant to their clients.
According to Whitney, virtual events also have to compete with additional distractions: pets or children demanding listeners’ attention, or emails popping up in the background while watching. When the Virtual Events Institute, which launched last July, created an awards program reviewing industry best practices, Whitney said innovative ways to create engagement stood out.
Some of these ideas, he said, include gamification or other approaches to scheduling appointments and creative approaches that connect buyers and sellers. Interactive elements can also help attendees feel like they’re participating in the event rather than just watching.
One way Cynosure keeps attendees engaged during hybrid events, Smith said, is to offer additional content for virtual attendees while the face-to-face attendees take a break. This could be a live interview with a sponsorship marketing partner or a presentation on one of the company’s charitable initiatives.
Cynosure also seeks feedback from virtual participants, which does more than keep them engaged. “I think the most useful were the data and the real analytics,” Smith says. “Ultimately, with direct engagement and the ability to see which content attracts the most viewers, Cynosure is able to get much more accurate metrics from virtual participants than from live participants.
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Creating a hybrid
Whitney says that even with hybrid events, the experience of live and virtual attendees doesn’t have to be a total mirror image. People who have spent the time and money to attend an event in person should get something unique for their money, and the virtual experience can also be more than just a substitute for a live event.
“I think it remains to be determined what a hybrid is, and it will mean different things,” Whitney said. “I think there’s an assumption that it means putting a camera on stage, when I don’t think it does – it’s not a good experience.”
According to Whitney, a virtual event can provide ongoing engagement, and organizations can take advantage of that fact. Information gleaned from the roundtable discussion that followed the presentation can be incorporated into content presented online, and virtual attendees can be given their own opportunities to provide similar feedback.
Nor does the virtual event have to be presented in the same manner or at the same speed as the live event. “I think it can be made more effective after the virtual event,” Whitney said. “And I think it will be interesting to see how people do it.”
Immersive technology is also likely to play a role in the future, Whitney said, although he believes the technology hasn’t gotten there yet. Nonetheless, he believes that future event attendees will have that experience. Even with what’s possible with video teleconferencing, Whitney believes it’s already possible to create a deeper interaction that in the past forced people to fly across the country for a day-long lunch meeting.
“You get to know each other a little bit closer. You can really build trust online,” he said.
Although preparing for a virtual event is different than preparing for a live event, many of the priorities are the same, Whitney said. “What’s the contingency plan? What’s the contingency plan?” – he asked.
However, the biggest mistake one can make in planning for the virtual side is putting technology first in those plans. “I guarantee you there’s technology that will work for what you want to do, but if you go to technology first – they’ll put your foot in that shoe,” Whitney said.
Whitney helps organizers start by looking at what they want to accomplish as well as what they can leverage. Training at the Virtual Events Institute covers areas such as marketing, engagement and event preparation, and technology choices are made only after learning about those aspects.
According to Smith, Cynosure’s live event draws about 100 attendees. Although they’re doing more of these live events again, the hybrid experience means they’re more than doubling, and sometimes tripling, the number of people they reach.
“Before the pandemic, we had never done hybrid events,” Smith said. “We can do so much with this broadcast that we couldn’t do before.”
Smith said Cynosure’s virtual events have greatly expanded its reach, from attracting customers and potential customers in places like Canada and Hawaii, where large events are still not possible, to attracting attendees from areas where they don’t typically host live events.
“We definitely, definitely saw a lot of new customers – or non-customers – at virtual events, and that very easily turned into sales opportunities,” Smith said. “We created a pretty big revenue stream directly from these virtual events.”
Smith said a virtual event – whether stand-alone or a hybrid event linked to a live event – lowers the barrier for many attendees, both in terms of cost and time. That means they can draw people from areas where they wouldn’t have been able to host a live event before, whether because of the difficulty of holding an event in a large population center or the cost barriers associated with holding an event in a sparsely populated area.
“It allows us to continue to work and interact with these clients without having to hold a formal event,” Smith said.
According to Whitney, virtual events allow a regional live event to bring attendees all over the world. Someone who doesn’t fly from Dubai to Las Vegas for the conference will still be able to attend. “People who are professional event planners are clearly aware that there’s an audience they’re not capturing, and it could be ten times larger than they thought,” Whitney said.
Smith said he’s convinced of the power of virtual events. “I think every company should consider doing virtual events as part of their marketing strategy because it’s proven to be very, very effective,” he said.
Creating something bigger
“A live event creates a one-time experience that ends with ‘see you next year,'” Whitney said. “It’s not an engaged community. It’s a one-time thing. It’s a traveling circus.”
Whitney offered what he and his co-founders did with the Virtual Events Institute – and what they plan to do with the soon-to-be-launched Community Leadership Institute – as an example of what’s possible when creating an online community that extends engagement beyond a few days of a live event in town.
In the case of the Virtual Event Institute, they started with online training to help people get up to speed. Then they introduced awards as a way to share the best ideas for the evolving community.
From there, the model offers membership, giving participants tools and resources as well as a professional “home.” Whitney said the community has several pillars that make it strong, and events serve as just one of them. “The more pillars that work together, the stronger your community will be,” Whitney said.
With the advent of social media, Whitney said, marketing has moved away from a one-way approach of talking to customers and has become more of a conversation. However, that medium has been chaotic. Community marketing offers something better than chaos. “Namely, to give everyone a chance to talk to each other, to give them a sense of belonging, but in a structured way,” Whitney said.
In times of pandemic, he said, communities already developing online, from charitable to brand-based, have become increasingly important. Blockchains have “awakened everyone” to the importance and potential of these virtual communities.
“If we didn’t have these online communities, how could we communicate? We wouldn’t be able to meet face to face. We couldn’t meet in the office,” Whitney says. “It gave us an opportunity to interact with the world within our specialized field.”