What is the future of market research events, if we can’t return to face-to-face?

Ray presenting at JMRAPosted by Ray Poynter, 28 May 2020

When I say market research events, I mean things like conferences, summits, and trade shows.

Over the last few years most insight and research industry events were held for two sets of (ideally) complementary goals:

  1. To provide a service to the industry (e.g. a place to see presentations and new ideas, to meet new vendors, attend training sessions, and to socialise with other members of the profession).
  2. To raise money for the organisation holding the event through some mixture of sponsorship and paying to attend.

For the trade bodies, such as MRS, Insights Association, and ESOMAR the events were also a way of interacting with and increasing the engagement of members.

COVID-19 has put an end to face-to-face events for the time being, and maybe for longer. So, organisations such as ESOMAR, MRS, Insights Association, GreenBook and Merlien are all experimenting with virtual alternatives.

In trying to think about the consequence of this change, it is important to realise that this experimentation is not just in our industry, as this article from The Drum makes clear.

Key Questions that I think need to be answered are:

  1. What sort of virtual events do people want to attend?
  2. How long can an online event be? I have attended 3, 4 and even 5 day in-person events, but I can’t imagine doing that virtually at the moment.
  3. How much of the day can a virtual event take? I might be happy to attend a face-to-face event that starts at 9am, breaks for a lunch/networking break in the middle of the day and finishes at 6pm – but I am not sure I will do that for an online event?
  4. What will attendees be willing to pay to attend?
  5. What will people paying to attend expect to get for their money?
  6. What will people attending be willing to provide in terms of things like email address, company details, areas of interest?
  7. What will sponsors be willing to pay for?
  8. What will sponsors expect to get for their money (e.g. contact details of attendees, the ability to make presentations, one-on-one meeting opportunities)?

I would love to hear your thoughts about the answers to these questions?

Have you attended a good virtual event (it does not have to be an insights & research event)? If so, what was it and what made it good?

2 thoughts on “What is the future of market research events, if we can’t return to face-to-face?

  1. good questions Ray … I have seen a fast shift in other industries to paid for events in the last month. for good content and innovative means of interaction there is always a demand it seems. charging for that means some form of exclusivity and/or “you will know first” guarantees. as one event organiser told me despite what we read on FB, LI and other platforms in reality open sharing is okay but people really still want to have access to information and ideas others can not access.
    the one question you dont ask is how much are organisers willing to pay speakers for exclusivity or “first time news, cases, access” etc.
    the other key element of going to events is of socialisation .. duplicating that virtually is difficult but already we are seeing some organisations doing good work in try … shared virtual meals, getting food/beverage retailers to sponsor events and supply attendees with “delivered to home treats” at the time of events. One event i have been asked to speak at is managing an exclusive on-line party with entertainers, live interactions etc.
    But in the end content is king

  2. Cross posted comment from LinkedIn:

    I think these are all great questions. Like you, I can’t see day long multi-day events being sustainable when someone sits in front of a computer at home. I do wonder though if the biggest problem isn’t posed by one of the more powerful reasons people attend conferences in the first place – the personal connections. Online there are no happy hour introductions, dinners or after hours camaraderie. Online no one is sitting next to you sharing knowing looks or whispering messages. In fact you also can’t garage how something is being received across the wider audience either. Online there is no obvious connection between being there and your ability to impress potential clients or employers. And so on. It’s easier to figure out how to optimize attention to the learning experience for those participating (after all online webinars, mini conferences and other virtual presentations are nothing new) than it is to figure out how to replace the promises that come along with connecting in person.

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