Guest Blog: How to create virtual experiences that don’t just answer a need for now

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Opinion piece from Thom Greybe, Digital Creative Director at Avantgarde

During the peak of lockdown, brands and agencies in the event industry had to pivot and create ideas suitable for the times we were living in. But as we now finally find ourselves moving back to some sort of normal, we must make sure the ideas and experiences we are developing are future proof and not just fit for lockdown life.

It’s no longer enough to create a virtual event and be done with it – it needs to go further than that, with meaning and emotions that resonate, and attendees can return to. It needs to be something consumable, something that can reach different types of audiences, whether physical or digital. Take Eurovision, a great example of an event reaching an audience both locally and internationally, with its concept of ‘one to many’ working so well.  

How can your virtual experiences have a long-lasting impact?

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So, you’ve decided to make a virtual experience? Let’s have video chats on, and an agenda! I’m afraid it’s not that simple, while there are many third-party alternatives for quick off the shelf solutions, they rarely have the specific functions required for your brand specifically. Any virtual undertaking is significantly complex, and that cannot be simply thrown into a catchall scenario.

This is something we’ve seen a lot recently; having an idea of what a virtual event is, and then realising what you and your users actually need. At Avantgarde we found that to help demystify and crystalise a brands’ requirements, we needed to rapidly distil everything they thought they needed for their experience or event.

In addition to this, we find ourselves in a position of being extremely time poor. Prior to COVID-19, we would often have time on our side to develop and research platforms. But now there is an immediate need, and no time for the same level of detailed investigation and preparation. Therefore, the industry needs a solution that is quick, accurate and as detailed as possible.

To achieve this, we developed a bespoke, rapid prototyping methodology. This involved holding intense workshops via video chats. The findings from these sessions then allowed us to interpret, respond and develop a way forward in the form of several high-level information architecture documents and a working interactive prototype. These really expose the requirements expressed, giving the brand a close to reality example of their experience.

With this in hand, it means the brand is supplied with something tangible and easier to interpret. It also allows us to more accurately cost-up the experience based on functionality within the prototype. As a consequence, the client knows exactly what they’re getting.

Future proofing platforms to support events for the future

Even after delivering projects in record times to spec, there’s still the gap in knowledge for user research. It remains important to continue supporting brands going forward, even after deployment. You need to refine and re-imagine what your virtual experience is and how it lives. This is to ensure that you’re future proofing what you’re investing in. There’s no point in throwing money at a problem now. There needs to be a solution in place ready for when things become more normal, so you can have another channel to utilise when reaching out and connecting with your customer.

Creating an experience that works now but doesn’t work later isn’t useful. In reality, everything we do now should also have a purpose in the future. It’s about future proofing projects to ensure they work for physical experiences as well as virtual ones.

For example, you’re always going to need some form of guest management, enabling better ways of capturing metrics and measurements from experiences, whilst also giving more control to the brand. By getting this balance right you’ll be able to use content and promotional material in a targeted way based on concrete data.

That’s why it’s vital to ensure we translate the physical experiences into the digital, in addition to capturing any additional needs required from the brand to make sure it’s a future proof as possible.

Content is king

We should also consider the content, and how to utilise it in order to create enhanced engagement that is meaningful, resonates and triggers an emotional response. Content is and always will be king. The better the content the more reason to engage, and greater reason to return. Truly it’s all about how we develop the story, using visuals that help tell these complicated and diverse stories in a simple way.

When it comes to content delivery video is key. Many of our projects feature video now, with green screen technology being more accessible and cheaper to use, we can implement TV industry standard editing and effects. Live and on demand content can be seamless, stitched together using online broadcast software. Effectively we set up a live broadcast show for the length of the event.

In conclusion

Thom Greybe, Digital Creative Director at Avantgarde

As many have concluded, the effects of the current pandemic will of course change the way we experience physical events, but I believe for the better. We’ll instead have increasingly connected experiences, open to more people, regardless of where they are in the world. I don’t expect physical elements to ever disappear completely – there’ll always be a reason to be somewhere, to tangibly connect to products and people in the flesh.

However, I do think we’ll find better ways to manage experiences and engage with our audiences through this rapid digitisation. We’ve been given an opportunity to invest in the digital and virtual tools that not only will future proof businesses, but also set them apart as a market leader in the virtual experience arena.

Adam is the co-founder and editor of www.eventindustrynews.com Adam, a technology evangelist also organises Event Tech Live, Europe’s only show dedicated to event technology and the Event Technology Awards. Both events take place in November, London.