Events and Customer Engagement in the Post-Pandemic Normal

Four months ago, if we were to hear that one of the biggest names in software held their most coveted event of the year virtually, instead of in its flagship city of Seattle, I’m not sure we would have bought it.

For Microsoft, their annual Build conference is the way the brand tangibly connects with developers and launches the latest releases of its software and product lines. Yet, the anticipated event was postponed and had to take on a new form all together.

With the coronavirus outbreak and succeeding stay-at-home orders throughout the country, many companies across industries aptly had to also hit pause on their event calendars, too.

Embracing the challenge of an unexpected pivot

Microsoft Build may not have happened in its famed seaport city, but a virtual version ended up making waves, and not just with attendees.

Event planners saw the wild success of Build’s 48-hour digital event that was packed with sessions, collaborations, and connection. Build is one of the first successful, wide-scale examples of what the event landscape may shift into for good.

Yet, what we find so impactful about Microsoft’s virtual Build event is not it’s ability to bring an in-person event online (especially, given the nature if the business and it’s very tech-savvy audience), but how the company leveraged branded promotional items and swag to drum up excitement before the event kicked off.

Virtual events still need to get their swag on

The first round of those who registered for the new style event received a small Microsoft branded box delivered to their home. Unboxing videos swarmed the internet as attendees were taken aback by the gesture, inadvertently, creating a bigger picture engagement tactic.

These limited edition boxes were nothing over the top, in fact, they kept it very simple. Inside attendees found:

  • A thank you note from the company
  • A remote-access pass with lanyard
  • Custom socks with “Microsoft <3 Developers” embroidered on them
  • Two pages of custom stickers specific to the event
  • A branded bamboo fiber lunch box that includes a set of utensils built-in

Event innovations bring new challenges

Event planners are always on the lookout for new ways to engage their audience before, during, and after events. With safety on the forefront, brands will have to be more transparent than ever before in order to keep attendance volume high, especially, as in-person events start to resurface.

During events, every touch point of the customer journey will require different planning — working closer with other stakeholders like hotel and travel staff, conference organizers, and partnering in new ways in order to let attendees know your brand takes safety seriously, now and always.

Plan out your longer-term engagement solution

During this shift, think of new ways to keep your audience engaged and keep excitement high for your big event, whether it’s online or in-person. The limited edition boxes that Microsoft put together is not only a great example to learn that you don’t have to go overboard with swag, but the swag game, presentation, and delivery is certainly changing.

We talk about thoughtfulness a lot in our own brand ethos here at Anthem Branding, and if you were hesitant to invest in that style of approach before, now is more of a time than ever to see if it’s a right fit for your brand.

It’s ok if you don’t know where to start — this is brand new territory for all of us. Our branding team will work closely with you, help evaluate the brand's current state, and see where we can move forward by combining the values of your brand, what your audience is seeking from your brand, and how to bring it all to life.

So if your event calendar is looking a bit different for the rest of 2020 and into next year, take the time to reevaluate your approach all together. That step back (no matter what’s causing you to do so) often provides insight you never saw before, new ways to strengthen your brand will surface, and the kind of emotional connection people have with it.

We will all be a bit different on the other side of this, and your brand will be, too.