How to Win the Pivot to Digital: 9 Lessons from Global Brands

This is part 2 of a 3-part series. In this part, we answer the question: how do you win the pivot to digital.

In part 1 we determine if you should make the pivot (the answer is yes, but you need to do it right). And in part 3 we provide lessons from our own clients and their pivots.

Why are we talking about this?

COVID-19 is forcing brands to rethink their event and engagement strategies, but the truth is, the quality of events was already declining and the quantity was definitely increasing. 

So, really the question that brands need to ask themselves is: do I keep spending money on events when I see reduced attendance and engagement time1

The challenge for brands is still the same, and will remain the same after this crisis: namely to create experiences with value.

Or, in other words, is my event strategy fit for the experience economy

What is the experience economy (in 3 points):

#1 It is a shift in how people spend their time or where they spend less time.

#2 People are increasingly choosing to pay for experiences over services and goods.

#3 To succeed, brands must provide immersive experiences that the audience thinks are worth paying for.

What we did:

In part 1 our aim was to see if making the pivot to digital was worth it. We found that those brands that pivoted saw some benefit and those that canceled or delayed experienced an immediate negative impact.

As a reminder, we are using net social media followers as an indicator of success (or not). To do this, we are comparing 2019 in-person events with the 2020 digital counterparts.

Sprout Social Index 2019

Building on this work, we took the x11 brands that pivoted and studied what the “winners” and “losers” did. 

In order to do this, we registered for each of the pivoted events and saw for ourselves the types of decisions they made around agendas, timeline, availability of content, and length of sessions.

Here are the global brands we studied:

Adobe – pivot

ADP – delayed

Atlassian – pivot

Cisco – pivot

DocuSign – pivot

Domo – pivot

Esri – pivot

Facebook – canceled

Gartner – delayed

Google – canceled

Kaspersky – delayed

Microsoft – pivot

Oracle – delayed

Qualtrics – delayed

Salesforce – pivot

SAP – canceled

SAP Concur – pivot

SXSW – canceled

VMWare – pivot

Zendesk – pivot

Here is what we found overall (2019 in-person vs 2020 digital):

  • 64% of brands that pivoted reduced their agenda to just one live day (but this did not alone mean win or loss).
Length of digital agenda for brands that pivoted to digital
  • The top 2 brands that pivoted had hosted digital experiences previously.
  • The winners had an average 205% increase in net followers for 2020 digital vs. 2019 in-person.
  • The losers had an average -140% decrease in net followers for 2020 digital vs. 2019 in-person.

What did the winners do:

  • Extend your agenda over a longer period of time – some brands decided to deliver their agenda over weeks or months, as opposed to days. This allowed them to deliver more focused mini-themes, and keep people engaged.
  • Create live and on-demand experiences – All successful brands delivered a mixture of live and on-demand content, as part of a branded digital experience.
  • Boil down your content to the most valuable – some decided to pare down the amount of content from 100s of sessions to just 10s. Which worked nicely because they kept the original event length of a couple of days, but made it more accessible.
  • Keep session lengths short – the best brands decided to keep session lengths under 10 minutes, with the only session over that being the keynote.

What the losers did:

  • Kept the in-person registration flow – having me register for on-demand content, then be told that an email was sent…. Struggling to find the email (it came after 15 minutes), then click the log-in, and be told that the on-demand access is now shut…. Not great.
  • Kept the original length of sessions – we saw this consistently across all the worst performing brands, they kept the same length of sessions, 45, 60 and even 90 minutes. (Trust me, I have seen it for myself, if you keep sessions to those lengths then your audience will drop off. We have seen up to 66% drop-off).
  • Restricted the number of allowed participants – for a live digital experience, does it make sense to restrict attendance to 200 people? For the in-person world, sure. But for the digital… I think there are better ways to introduce exclusivity, like thinking about who you invite in the first place.
  • Made it difficult to access on-demand choices – having on-demand content is great, but having it all in one place, and not easily filterable or sortable makes viewing hard.
  • Had part of the experience outside of the brand – delivering on-demand content is great, but having it outside of your brand loses some impact.

How do you win the pivot to digital?

Instead of carrying over the problem of declining attendance and event engagement from the in-person world to the experience economy, the best brands are shedding the shackles of in-person events and adopting a digital experience mentality.

Keeping an awkward registration process, where I have to wait 15 minutes for an email to get access, and then telling me that the on-demand content expired a few days after the end of the original in-person event date, is not going to fly. Bombarding me with the same volume, format, and length of content as I would have had at an in-person event, is just going to put me off (trust me, I do not have time to listen to a 60+ minute slide presentation. Not now, not ever – not even when I was in-person).

What the winners did to win the pivot to digital was begin to deliver a curated digital experience, with high-quality content and provide the flexibility to consume that content on their own terms.

Do not fear, there is still time to catch-up

The technology exists to make all of this a reality. You can deliver engaging and valuable content both live and on-demand, in-person, and offline. You can keep people coming back for more, and actually increase the time your audience spends with your brand. 

What you need is a single digital experience solution. One that helps you deliver live and on-demand content, all in one branded place, that streamlines your sign-up and communications, and provides the tools to foster participation and engagement. In other words, you need a solution to build an engaged community.

Ready to get started? Speak to our experts or chat with us on web.


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Why did you use net followers and not actual followers? We used net followers to reduce any bias from brands with a larger absolute following (so net followers evens the playing field). And we choose Twitter because these were external events and audiences, and we want to track business impact, and so Twitter is the social media platform most akin to traditional PR coverage, and hence brand awareness.

Why did you not use brand revenue instead of social media followers? We would not have been able to use revenue in place of social media followers for several reasons, 1) because not all brands were public; 2) revenue would not have been available anyway for March and April 2020; and 3) because revenue is very unlikely to have been attributed to events in any public records.

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