I hate to disappoint anyone, but it is time to wake up and smell the coffee—virtual or real! I keep hearing “I will be so glad when we get back to the real world” or “This virtual world of virtual sports and not in stands, virtual conferences versus real conferences, or virtual concerts and events versus real concerts and events is crazy. When will we get back to the ‘real’ thing?” Well, the reality check is quite simple. The virtual world is NOW the real world!
I know you probably don’t want to hear that, let alone see it in print (well virtual screen print)! We have already shifted some of this stuff to virtual and accepted it as real—things like ordering products online versus going into stores. We have been doing it for years. For those who bet, there is betting online versus at the racetrack. Most of us were involved in online training long before COVID and had video conference calls and FaceTime prior to the pandemic. Virtual experiences (versus real experiences) became part of our lives before the shutdowns began in March 2019. Virtual scenarios were “real” and the “norm” before all this happened. So yes, virtual has been part of our real world for a long time.
Now that you have accepted the fact that virtual has been part of your real world for awhile, get a grip and understand that it is going to grow. The virtual you are experiencing today is not going away. It is “the now” and will continue to be the real world and real life you will become accustomed to. Let’s look at a few examples.
- Since we have learned to participate in sponsor activations that are virtual, we need to understand that they will remain in the toolbox. Sure, we will return to “at event” activations, but we will still have the virtual ones for sponsors to engage with fans and audiences off site, and we will have on-site combined with virtual. It is just a reality.
- Where we have shifted to view on multiple screens and away from traditional broadcast channels as singular, we need to know that, as a sponsor or a property, we have many more channels to amplify our products and message whether it is live streaming, or live on Twitch or Facebook. As properties, we have more inventory, and as sponsors, the virtual world ensures the long-term ability to target audiences even more.
- Conferences have shown that they can deliver content to people who cannot be on-site for a myriad of reasons. When we return to on-site events, virtual ones will still exist as stand alone as well as integrated experiences. This is critical for sponsors. The digital access and data accumulation provided through virtual events is far superior to on-site opportunities. Granted, there are no personal engagement opportunities from virtual, but much better data. That is why virtual will be part of our real world.
- The use of podcasts and digital content overall. Sponsors have used podcasts and gaming over the past year as an alternate way to reach their audiences with content they cannot deliver at events and facilities. They have successfully driven traffic to these channels (Twitch, YouTube, Spotify etc.) to engage audiences with their messaging and content in this virtual/digital sphere. This is now part of our “real world’ and it will grow versus disappear!
It is time to quit saying, “I will be so glad when we get back to real events or real experiences versus virtual,” because virtual is the new real! When I was growing up, cassette tapes were “the thing.” You could record your favorite music and have your own “iTunes playlist”. The big cassette company was Memorex. Their slogan was “is it live or is it Memorex” and truly, you could not tell. Today, virtual and live events will just be “events!”
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