Phygital [fij–it-tl ] - the convergence of the physical and digital worlds.
The merging of our physical and digital realities isn’t new. In fact, there are examples of it everywhere from augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) to the Internet of Things (IoT) to 3D printing. However, in March 2020 when the pandemic forced a shutdown of our entire way of life, nowhere was this “phygital” shift more swift or industry changing than in the events space.
Though the pandemic is almost over…or so we can hope, phygital is the future of events, and with good reason. It broke down geographic barriers that positively impacted organizer’s “butts in seats” conundrum while simultaneously opening up new revenue streams, new ways of sharing information, new ways of connecting people and new ways of using technology.
The question now becomes: how can event platforms create powerful phygital experiences that benefit both live and virtual audiences?
Phygital – How Did We Get Here?
Through the first few months of the pandemic, event organizers either cancelled their events outright or fumbled to fuse together a patchwork of technologies to convert their events from live to virtual, with little to no thought about the experience.
Though the pivot was swift it wasn’t without its challenges, but people were forgiving because they were eager for human connection and knew events were charting new territory, flipping their business models overnight without a playbook.
Today, however, zoom fatigue is real and customer expectations are high. What folks were willing to tolerate a year ago (webinar like meetings, glitchy technology, no networking opportunities, etc.) they have little patience for today.
Regardless of whether people are attending live or from their living room, there’s an expectation that the experience will be an unforgettable fluid melding of the offline and online experience. The platforms that understand this shift and invest in getting it right will thrive. Those that don’t will be left behind or cease to exist.
So how do event organizers create experiences that capitalize on this new reality? Here are three things to keep in mind to create effective and captivating phygital event experiences:
Design the Experience…Then Choose Your Technology
Events are about togetherness, and it’s possible to create a sense of togetherness by intentionally designing the event experience.
The key is considering what aspects of the event might have the same experience for both digital and live attendees and where those activities diverge. From registration, to check-in, to networking, to the panel and keynote discussions, as much care should go into designing the virtual aspects of the experience alongside the live.
Keep in mind that the event experience does not need to be identical, but careful consideration should be given to how to make the experiences unique for each faction of attendees.
Know— and Involve—Your Audience
Creating inviting experiences hinges on knowing your audience inside and out (their needs, wants, preferences) and involving them in the experiences you are trying to create.
Event organizers should conduct real-time experiments with attendees, speakers, sponsors and partners, inviting them to co-create the experience and offering a discount or perk for doing so.
Involving your different stakeholder groups will make the end product richer as these audiences are as diverse and their needs. For example, attendees are interested in accessibility and interactivity, so designing aspects of the event to simulate spontaneous interactions are often top of mind for this audience subset.
At the same time, event sponsors are more concerned with brand exposure and ROI, so creative ways to infuse the brand into all phygital touchpoints will be a priority for this group.
Technology – the Phygital Elixir
A truly impactful phygital experience is more than a webinar, so always keep attendee experience top of mind and choose your technology wisely.
Remember, the goal is not to just simulate the live event but to create a wholly unique phygital experience.
To that end, think beyond the just the video conferencing technology and look to services that connect and take advantage of the phygital world.
For instance, the integration of AR/VR technology can elevate a virtual event to a “live” experience. Gaming techniques can be used to add a sense of fun and attendee interaction, and spatial audio technology can create a sense of connection and simulate the spontaneity of live networking.
Beware of the Phygital Trap
As phygital events become the norm, customer expectations will continue to rise. Saying an event is phygital but not creating a distinct experience will no longer make the grade.
It’s incumbent upon organizers to fully synergize their online and offline capabilities to create truly compelling and consistent experiences.
Is your organization ready?