Digital platforms are on the rise, but what should a platform offer in order to provide long-term success in the future? Before we look at functionalities and specifications in detail, it should first be noted that the evaluation of a platform must be conducted holistically – that is, not just from a pure event viewpoint, but from the perspective of where the role of event marketing and live communication will be heading. In addition to virtual and hybrid formats, it will move primarily in a more strategic direction by integrating event formats more intensively as a fundamental element in marketing campaigns and customer journeys. The technological prerequisites for this have been met, and the first projects and plans in this area are already underway. Even if this means thinking much more deeply, it will be rewarded by a more multifunctional applicability and the resulting higher ROI.
But now let’s start with the actual topic and the real question: Which parameters do I have to pay attention to when I have to/want to decide on a platform? The selection is large and confusing. Since this industry segment is still quite new, there is little uniformity and few standards in terms of properties, UX, UI, and pricing. Reason enough to take a closer look:
1. System Compatibility and Integration
A platform should have a technological system design that is as open as possible so that corresponding tools, such as registration systems, communication tools, conference tools, etc., can be seamlessly integrated. On the one hand, this pays off in terms of flexibility and multi-functionality, how strategically and creatively I can use a platform in the concept process, and on the other hand, it ensures that I can recommend myself in a multitude of RFPs, pitches and inquiries, as company-internal system specifications are often cited as an exclusion criterion here. Furthermore, in the sense of an innovative development approach, it is essential that market innovations in the sphere of interactive tools as well as applications in the field of gamification can be adapted as directly as possible. This is the only way to stay up to date and in the forefront of the industry.
• Key question: Does the platform connect to a wide range of tools for interaction and engagement, as well as to my favorite registration systems and conferencing tools?
2. Usability and Intuition
If you have to think too much when navigating within a system, emotions cannot really develop and emerge. Ergo – intuitive usability is an absolute must have and UX comes before UI. Event participants follow a behavior learned over years or even decades, which is linked to a clear expectation: at which point of my event journey will I receive which information, at which point can I communicate with whom and so on. This automatic expectation exists regardless of whether an event is live, virtual or hybrid. Everything has to flow smoothly and seamlessly so that the dramaturgical plot can unfold and communication goals can be achieved.
• Key question: Is the navigation through the platform self-explanatory enough and are the normal routines of my target group addressed?
The most beautiful platform interface does not work if it cannot be adapted to a specific corporate design. This applies to both the classic incorporation of all branding elements and the adaptation of the architecture and its color scheme. In addition, it is important that the virtual interior and the avatars can be designed to conform to the style guide. Furthermore, the feasibility of related special disciplines such as acoustic branding is advantageous in order to be able to create a genuine brand experience in the fully or partially virtual space. So that time and budget required for the respective digital “conversion work” between individual events does not get out of hand, the brand-compatible operation of the user interface should be tested beforehand.
• Key question: Does the backend of your platform provide a DIY function, as is common with current content management systems?
4. Safety first
If you look at the live event processes of data-sensitive industries and the effort that goes into collecting, monitoring, reporting and securing data there, you will get an idea of how sensitively this topic must be dealt with when you are on purely digital terrain. Because one thing is true in every dimension: the GDPR is law and is not open for discussion. It must be strictly adhered to – whether live, virtual, or hybrid. In addition, there are industry-specific compliance, codes, and area-specific policies. Against this backdrop, it is advisable to focus on platforms that have already been able to establish themselves in data-sensitive industries, so that security and playfulness can coexist in a harmonious balance.
• Key question: Can you send us your data protection guideline and the location of your servers where all event related data is saved?
5. Content Convergence
Just because an event transpires in a digital context should not mean that I have to compromise my choice of content, my channels and the staging orchestration. Moreover, the virtual world allows for variations of the different content worlds to be presented in parallel and combined in a way that significantly boosts the impact of my messages (for example, augmented reality and chat, polls and gamification, matching apps and live streams). However, since most digital platforms were developed from a primarily technological perspective, there is often a lack of understanding of the dramaturgical demands of creative and strategic agencies and consultants. Therefore, the provider’s experience in this area should be reviewed.
• Key question: How would you describe the creative USP of your system and how do you deal with didactic issues like edutainment?
6. Strategic Multichannel Communication
Fortunately, the days when event marketing led a satellite existence and you could retreat into your own silo are over. Especially after becoming digital or partially digital, there is no longer any need to hide from the empirically measurable communication disciplines such as online, mobile or TV marketing. As a consequence, corporate marketing decision-makers have identified the event as a new integral component and are taking advantage of it. Where an event was once a marginal component, it is now only a click away and thus has been given a strategic upgrade, which in consequence, and in terms of conceptual possibilities, allows for a multitude of new application possibilities and business models. On one hand, this requires agency’s personnel to gain a new skillset, but above all, it requires that the platform of choice allows and supports the aforementioned integrability. Ideally, an event platform can become an inherent component of a company’s digital ecosystem and form part of the performance engine based on clearly defined KPIs.
• Key question: How would you describe your platform in its role as an integral tool of strategic brand communication?
A digital event offers one huge disadvantage: it’s digital, and that goes against the very essence of an event. A live event has a direct impact. You can respond appropriately to wishes, needs, and individual preferences. This creates closeness and emotion. Cyberspace and digital communication are on an entirely different plane: here, the aim is to convey messages and information to as large an audience as possible, without being able to make individual modifications. The focus is therefore on visibility and reach. So how can I combine these two contrasting USPs? Artificial intelligence, based on data-driven target group analysis, can combine the best of both worlds. My audience is classified according to their wishes, interests, media usage character, etc., and the design of the platform, the choice of content, and the user journey are matched to the respective category, so that personalized scenarios can be created that correspond to the individual preferences of my participants. If you go one step further and drive this approach with self-learning algorithms, you can have a fully customized event approach, where each individual has his or her own unique experience.
• Key question: Is your platform data-driven and does it have an AI Interface?
8. Pricing and Resiliency
This should be basic knowledge, but for the sake of completeness I would like to mention it anyway. A platform should offer system-specific performance so that any number of virtual participants, no matter how many, will not hinder or restrict the platform when used live. Pricing should be modular enough to allow me to operate in the most budget-friendly way in both project and campaign mode. Furthermore, it should offer fitting pricing models for different formats.
• Key question: How many participants have you had on your platform at the same time? How do you deal with single and continuous jobs in terms of cost calculation?
Despite all digitalization, innovation and technological enthusiasm: It’s all about experience and emotions. And it will stay that way.
Patric Weiler is Commercial Director at Magnid and Executive Advisor at Proske. He has been involved in digital transformation and the integration of innovative technologies and virtual layers within strategic live communication since 2002. Weiler shares his knowledge as a university lecturer and keynote speaker at various international event and congress formats.