A Memorable Virtual Experience Starts with Data
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
The benefits of a virtual event for an organization often include a lower financial investment and greater flexibility in shaping the experience. These, and the rapidly changing nature of our current environment, may tempt your association to develop such an event without fully understanding the current or emerging needs of your community.
However, to ensure you are garnering the greatest return on your event investment and delivering the greatest value to your stakeholders, it is essential to start the planning process with audience research.
Understanding Your Community
Here are a few reasons why, even with a long track record of in-person event success, soliciting feedback from your target audience(s) will help you deliver a more memorable virtual experience.
- Your target audience(s) may change as a result of the pandemic. How will you understand those nuances without new intelligence?
- You may be able to attract additional audiences with different needs and priorities, professional experience levels, or roles than your traditional audience. How will you know if that new audience exists, and how best to serve them?
- You may be facing a significantly more crowded competitive landscape. How can you best differentiate this event from similar new virtual offerings in the space?
- Key stakeholder preferences surrounding a virtual event may be different than those for an in-person event. How will you prioritize content and event features to align to those preferences?
- Virtual experiences are subject to different limitations and considerations, ranging from the schedule to the lack of impromptu networking opportunities. What are the best alternatives to popular in-person event features?
Selecting the Right Approach
Before defaulting to an online survey to help you answer these or other questions, think about why you need data and how you will use that information (starting with answering the questions posed above). Your objectives, time frames, and available resources should all factor into to the research approach that you select.
Possible approaches include both quantitative (surveys or polls) and qualitative (focus groups or one-on-one research) research or a combination of both. Each approach has different benefits and limitations.
Quantitative research is best when you are seeking the “hows”—when you can safely presume how respondents will answer and want to add prioritization or context to those answers (e.g., “how much,” ”how many,” or “how likely are you to…”).
Qualitative research helps you understand motivation and sentiment, or the “why” behind an issue or need. This approach allows you to follow up and probe into answers you weren’t expecting to gain context and understanding.
You may even have the insight you need from past research projects, member databases, or competitive analyses to inform your virtual event. Take an inventory of your existing data to see if it holds the solutions you seek.
Collecting and Analyzing Your Data
Once you have determined what intelligence is needed to shape your event and the most effective way to collect that data, the next steps include developing the research instrument (i.e., discussion guides or online surveys), using that instrument to secure audience feedback, and analyzing that data.
By following this process, your organization can have greater confidence that each decision is informed by the unique needs of your community. That adds up to an event experience that your audience not only truly enjoys and values, but also one that they recommend (along with membership in your organization) to their peers.
Vickie Crews-Anderson is a marketing director at SmithBucklin.
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