B2B events set to bounce back strongly after COVID-19, reveals survey of senior marketeers

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“Post COVID-19 – The Future of B2B Events”: Space Global’s international survey of c.500 senior B2B marketeers shows there is light at the end of the tunnel for the B2B events industry

  • Marketeers expect to be able to re-engage with events from October, after spend on B2B events recorded an 80% fall in Q2 2020.
  • During the initial recovery phase, events spend will be down c.50% vs. pre-crisis levels. A ‘return to normal’ is expected from February-March 2021.
  • Post-crisis, marketeers expect to increase their B2B marketing budgets by 8% compared to pre-crisis levels, with events benefiting from a higher share of spend.
  • Online events are not seen as sufficiently effective. For live events, B2B marketeers are keen on specific improvements to make them even more relevant post COVID-19.

With COVID-19 calling a complete halt on mass gatherings, the future of B2B events is in question. To shine a light on the outlook for the B2B events industry, in June 2020 strategy and M&A consultancy Space Global carried out an international survey with those driving the bottom-line: the B2B marketeers with budget control. 468 senior decision-makers from around the globe have shared their insights.

The survey shows that the immediate impact of COVID-19 is dramatic. B2B events spend in Q2 2020 is down 80% vs. Q2 2019. However, most marketeers expect initial re-engagement with events to be feasible within the next 3-4 months – albeit with restrictions. B2B marketeers from China and Italy are most optimistic about a quick re-opening, while those from North America, the UK, and Russia expect a later restart.

The survey suggests that B2B marketeers will remain cautious during the initial recovery. Whilst eager to return to events, they will do so at their own pace; events spend is still expected to be down by c.50% vs. pre-crisis levels.

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However, once the current COVID-19 crisis has been overcome and event conditions ‘return to normal’, B2B marketeers anticipate a surge in spend on B2B events. B2B marketing budgets are expected to increase by 8% vs. pre-crisis levels and events will form a higher share of pre-crisis budgets, caused by a heightened need for face-to-face interactions to drive the economic recovery. Most B2B marketeers expect a ‘return to normal’ from February/March 2021 onwards; signposted by the availability of a vaccine.

Online events, despite seeing high engagement during lockdown, have not proved themselves an effective long-term alternative for physical expos and conferences. Key functions of face-to-face events, such as meeting new clients, showcasing products and general brand promotion have not been successfully delivered by their online counterparts.

B2B marketeers are also clear about their expectations for event organisers: to re-start live events in autumn, a wide array of precautions is necessary and welcomed. Participant safety is paramount for exhibitors, and larger companies are especially likely to call for as many protections as possible – even at the expense of foot traffic on the expo floor.

Preparing for a ‘return to normal’ of B2B events, marketeers call for a refinement of event value propositions. Organisers should expect heightened interest in matchmaking services and more regional events.

“B2B event organisers face a challenging road to recovery, but face-to-face interactions will remain business-critical,” commented Christoph Schedl, Managing Director of Space Global Strategy. “Concerns around safety and logistics will cause short-term hesitancy around initial re-openings, but the underlying need for live interactions remains strong. Sustained absence of events has left B2B marketeers itching to move out of the Zoom lobby and back onto the expo floor.’