It wasn’t too long ago that people received more mail than they did email, read newspapers instead of news websites, and signed up for printed newsletters instead of electronic ones. In 2020, however, that’s been flipped around. Digital news is the new normal. While print still has great use cases, it’s no longer as omnipresent as it used to be.
Something similar is happening with events. Events were once firmly situated in the physical world. You traveled to an event, you spoke to people in person, you shook hands, and put new business cards in your trouser pockets. COVID-19 put an abrupt stop to that. So we did what we do best when placed in an uncomfortable situation: we adapted.
Events turned virtual almost at the snap of one’s fingers. There’s a reason the term “virtual conference” spiked in popularity right at the time when billions of people went into lockdown. Everything moved online with an ease that might have surprised a few people.
Virtual conferences became a more popular search term
Of course, the trend of moving aspects of society from the physical world to the virtual world has been going on for a long time. Had there not been a need, we wouldn’t have already had remote work software like Zoom, Slack, Google Drive, Discord, etc. The coronavirus just accelerated what was already a powerful trend.
When we think of something going “virtual”, we tend to think of it as we currently experience the virtual world: through a two-dimensional screen. A virtual event usually puts us in a livestream where we listen, talk, and ask questions. It’s not particularly engaging and it’s why many people believe physical events will return before we know it.
Those people are right. Physical events likely won’t ever go away, just like newspapers haven’t. But there’s more to it. Virtual reality allows events to be both virtual and engaging. They retain the benefits of a virtual event (join from anywhere, no traveling cost, more comfortable) while also retaining some of the benefits of a physical event (feels more tangible, engaging, and immersive).
The most innovative event organizers are already experimenting with VR. Take the example of HTC, which held its fifth annual XR industry conference (called V²EC) in VR. Here at OneBonsai, too, we’ve organized meetings in Altspace VR. While currently still a niche use case for events, hardware improvements in VR headsets and further mainstream adoption will make VR an increasingly interesting option for events.
Consider the possibilities that event organizers can offer companies with their VR event. Their booth in a VR event can become a small portal into a world that reinforces their brand. A VR booth that informs, educates, and inspires can be an incredibly effective marketing tool. Weigh up the ROI of a physical booth, which is expensive and where you’re restricted in space and material, with the ROI of a VR booth, where you can create whatever you want for a fraction of the cost.
Brands are slowly starting to realize this. Consider Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser Beer Garage, which they label as a “4D immersive trip” to their St. Louis Brewery. Guests can experience how the company sources all its ingredients to create a Budweiser beer. While the Budweiser Beer Garage could only be experienced at a physical event, it doesn’t require a lot of imagination to see this happening at VR events too.
The Budweiser Beer Garage
We’ve only skimmed the top layer of what’s possible here. While it’s hard to exactly predict how the future of events will unfold, it will likely be a mix of physical and virtual events tied together with immersive technologies such as VR and AR. If you’d like to know more about how your company can capitalize on this opportunity, contact us today.