New Normal, old thrills: do hybrid events cut it?


SLOWLY but surely, the world is spinning back into a familiar rhythm.

The gradual return to the office is gathering pace. Theatres and shows are ushering customers to their seats. Pubs are bustling. The high-street is recovering. And once more, people are united together at festivals and events across the country.

The return of physical events has been a massive boon to guests and hosts alike. Audiences have desperately missed the sights and sounds of in-person entertainment — and brands and businesses have missed opportunities for engagement.

It gave the economy a much-needed boost too. GDP grew by 0.4 percent in August, as consumers revelled in life without lockdown.

In the midst of lockdown, the common wisdom was that how we live, work and socialise would forever change. In the events space, it was recited that hybrid events that combine the best of physical and digital would become the dominant format in the post-pandemic landscape.

There has been uncertainty about sharing physical spaces. Audiences were hesitant about travelling and breaking social bubbles. There was also weariness from event organisers about the potential for rapid changes to restrictions which could throw plans out of place.

But the picture is a complicated one.

Digital events rose in popularity and sophistication through lockdown, with brands and event organisers developing new techniques for online interactions.

The appetite from audiences was evident. Apps like Clubhouse rose in prominence for B2B professionals, whilst consumers turned towards Houseparty and other flash-in-the-pan platforms.

Now, these platforms are deserted. This isn’t to say that there’s no place for hybrid or digital events. Some audiences are still cautious about returning to live, in-person events. Research from Elevate found that 59 percent of UK audiences are willing to pay extra for additional health and safety measures.

As tech giants like Facebook — now Meta — continue to invest in shaping the world, there is growing scope for creative executions in cyber realms.

But from a practical point of view, right now, it is difficult for brands and event organisers to effectively leverage these qualities. To run a full immersive, hybrid event requires a big budget and an even bigger planning period. And with the world still susceptible to rapid change and ripe with uncertainty, many brands and event organisers are unable to commit to such projects.

The most important thing for brands, event organisers and audiences alike is ensuring that they deliver an incredible experience. Most people want to interact with others. Brands and marketers want to provide for these memorable moments.

It’s possible for event organisers to leverage hybrid techniques to measure the effectiveness of their occasions. Reporting tool Impact has found a way for marketers to evaluate the effectiveness of event activation in real-time. It assesses the success of a brand experience against 17 brand KPI measurements including footfall, consumer engagement, net promoter score, purchase intent, brand satisfaction, social sentiment, click-through rate, and total purchase value.

Hybrid events may be the future. But at the moment, they are more hype than reality.