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The virtual.drupa ends 

virtual events for good

By Editor Morten B. Reitoft 

Let's dig straight into it. Since the pandemic became official back in March 2020, an ever-increasing number of online events has seen the light - and I write "online" deliberately. The term "virtual" seems to have a negative sound today, and "online" is now transforming into "platforms" or "hybrids" - but essentially the same. It's substituting or adding to the physical events, but it also extends the number of annoying things you have to consider in your busy life. Before the pandemic, the industry had many - some would even say too many - physical events. These events were typically based on geography or topic, and you only paid attention to these if the subject and geography matched your needs. With Zoom, Teams, and a whole range of other online solutions, the offerings have exploded. These events are not limited to geography, and these are pushed through newsletters, online advertising, and more. You can attend an event almost every day if you should like to - and here is one of the problems.

First of all, nobody has time to view all the events. It's impossible to judge the quality and the value of each webinar, and have you attended a few that didn't deliver on the promise, you will, of course, be more reluctant to signup for the next—information overload. Second, all the webinars dry out resources from the companies supporting these events, and the ROI becomes lower and lower. Third, some companies create programs with objectively low quality, and, fourth, some webinars are delivered on platforms that are hard- read almost impossible - to use. All of the above doesn't bring any good to the virtual formats!

The virtual format has tried replicating the physical events without developing formats with the quality digital can deliver.

The "virtual.drupa" is a terrible example of the latter. When you look at the format and the program, the dominating value is 'quantity' over 'quality.' I am NOT talking about the quality of the individual sessions, but the quality of the program - and, more importantly, the execution.

The signup and registration process has been widely scrutinized for good reasons, and if you will find a session or its content now - well - almost impossible!

When you visit a physical tradeshow and walk the isles, you often see new and unexpected products, but that is NOT the case with online events. On the positive side, you often register for what you exactly need and nothing else. So the quantity approach is entirely wrong and doesn't bring any value in itself.

Why the virtual.drupa killed all future online events
Drupa, first and foremost, killed the future of virtual events because they didn't attract the right audience. Every vendor will have to ask themselves if the investment in time and money is worth the effort of any future online event. The right audience is PSPs, and remember, drupa might have the single largest database of PSPs from a global perspective. Not only from drupa in Germany but also the partner shows they have in different countries. Despite a database in the hundreds of thousands, only a fraction signed up for the virtual pendant to the real thing!

So who attends the virtual events?

We started a poll on LinkedIn Saturday, April 24th, with a simple question:
"How many virtual.drupa sessions did you attend?"

66% answered 'None'
22% '1-3'
10% '3-10'
and finally 3% said they attended 'More than 10.'

The LinkedIn post was shown to more than 5,000 people, of which 172 answered the poll, equal to a conversion rate of approx. 3.4%. You can, of course, argue that this is a low conversion rate - but according to the '2020 Conversion Rate Benchmarks', the conversions for all B2B companies across the board is only 2.23% - so quite a bit higher than the average.

This, of course, doesn't say anything about whether the data are representative. 

I have about 6,000 followers, and I am pretty picky about who I connect with. I think that my LinkedIn profile has about 98-99% from the printing industry, so maybe not representative, but at least with an audience, you would expect a certain percentage being interested in drupa - virtual and physical. 

I also believe that I have a good mix of vendors and PSPs.

I attended 'More than 10' sessions - and some were REALLY good, some were REALLY not good. Some presenters tried using Teleprompters very unsuccessfully, some mixed live and pre-recorded, which worked really well. Some re-purposed content from previous webinars, and some even took the PowerPoint approach - so you got everything good and bad in one place!

So with that in mind, let me share some interesting insights.

In the group 'More than 10,' ALL the responses are from people working as vendors, influencers, media, PR/Marketing, or as a contractor/supplier to vendors.

In the group '3-10,' more than 75% of the responses are from people with the same profile as above.

In the group '1-3,' which represents the second-largest group (22%), 88% of the responses were from people with the same profile - which to me is quite a surprise.

Or, to put it short - the virtual.drupa didn't reach many PSPs based on our poll. 

Of course, the people who chose not to answer are also interesting to look into, but we must assume that the split in voting is similar for this group, had they voted.

LinkedIn doesn't allow me to see who didn't respond, but only the top companies from where they work - and of the 66% remaining, the majority of views came from vendors, media, and marketing people.

From our 'Learn With Us' event, we have stats that support this development. The virtual or online events are not very interesting to PSPs. When we look into our numbers, about 50% are vendors attending, and the rest is mainly PSPs. Another stats we can share is that surprisingly few attend more sessions during a webinar week, which means that the "browsing" experience seen at the real shows doesn't exist in the virtual space.Why isn't the virtual format appealing to PSPs?

When I look at many of the webinars, they have really valuable programs that should be interesting for the targeted audience to attend - and of course, some people choose to register and participate in many of these sessions. However, before trying to answer the above question, let's look into the types of webinars. There are essentially three types of webinars. There are vendors' webinars - almost all vendors have invested in video and webinar technology to facilitate quite impressive webinars and product demos - both in one-to-one sessions and for a larger audience. Then we have the community-driven webinars like The Crown Pub, The IPIA Big Breakfast, and most likely a lot of others like the two mentioned. The community-driven webinars are popular and, as far as I can see, attract a smaller audience, more dedicated, and more PSPs since they often address topics closer to the people attending. The community-driven webinars are recurring and short in their formats, and they are also less committing - you can come and go, and you join when you have time. The recurring format is appealing since the attendees become virtual friends.

Finally, we have professional organizers like Future Print, INKISH, the tradeshows, and a new breed of companies like printing-expo.online, ConneXion, Project Peacock, and many many more. The latter group often curates intensive programs over several days or even weeks.

The revenue model is that presenters/vendors pay to participate in the event in return for a time to present, visibility in the marketing, and attendee data.The number of online events and sessions exceeds the thousands, and the events are executed quite differently. Some are pre-recorded, and some are live. Some are twenty minutes sessions, some an hour, and some even longer. Many events are based on speakers giving presentations, similar to the once physical events. In the past months, we see more and more equipment operated either LIVE or pre-recorded as part of the presentations - and these draw more people than the PowerPoint-based presentations, in general.

So, this is the frame - so why isn't PSPs participating in large numbers?
Let me share secret #1 - they are working!

Most people in our industry need to work. Some people have had fantastic business during the pandemic, and some have been close to going out of business. Regardless of which group you belong to, the most valuable asset you have is time. So attending several webinars and sessions, of course, needs to serve a purpose - and that's where the major differentiator comes into play. Vendors want to show new equipment to justify their investments, but what printing companies need is apparently something else!

Our first webinar ever was about the basics of running a printing business. Everything from calculations to technologies, and the idea was to get people 'back to school' - as lockdown required people to either stop working or at least from home. Was it a success? - no, it was not. It was our first try, and we learned a lot - for example, how bad almost all virtual platforms work. The webinars, at the time, delivered a bad attendee experience due to lousy internet connection, bad audio, bad light, bad sound - bad everything :-)

But with the stats from our LinkedIn poll, it has become clear that PSPs want something different - and I understand them. Think about this for a moment. We are all consumers, and imagine that the car industry was pushing thousands of webinar sessions in your head all the time. Would you attend? Maybe yes, maybe not. If you were in the market for a new car, you would most likely be more interested in attending - so we can use ourselves as an example for why not more people are attending these great webinars.And that is why the virtual.drupa have to stress to some vendors that marketing and communication need to change.

I have a suggestion for how
Let's take our own medicine. Let's do personalized print. Let's target prospects that we know have specific needs. Let's use the same measures we constantly try convincing our customers to use when buying digital print? Let's engage with our customers on a more one-to-one level and get to know their problems to suggest relevant solutions rather than throwing mass communication in their heads = SPAM.

What do you think?Doing webinars is business, and the product is unfortunately NOT the webinar's content, but the names and email addresses of the attendees.

Regardless of the GDPR, data has become the commodity organizers sell. Some of the organizers state this in their disclaimers when you sign up for a webinar session, but the GDPR is pretty clear under what terms organizers can collect personal data, store, and use - here is an overview. So when organizers collect data and share this with vendors, the price of attending a 'free' webinar is your data. Your behavior, answers to the registration forms, etc., becomes the real product. This most likely doesn't come as a surprise. Still, it raises quite some questions about who the webinar organizer serves?

Challenging the normalThe story could end here, but I need to add a few more things to why we need to re-consider how we market our products and services. Let me start with the INKISH mantra - the one we have followed since our origin and a blessing and a curse.INKISH is NOT a media, and yet we are.

A media deliver stories to the audience that subscribe to the content. One of the people that have inspired me the most in business is the former Wired editor Chris Anderson. He has written two books that have formed the way I think - 'The Long Taill' - which essentially is about how digital transforms retail business. Let me share a short example. If you sell physical products in a retail store, the shelf space must have a certain conversion to be profitable. This is as simple as space has a price, and if the profit of a sales doesn't exceed this in a defined period, you will exchange the goods with another range of products. It's science how shelves are managed in retail stores, and for the same reason, brands buy their way into a better position and more lucrative positions in a retail shop. In a digital world, the entire business model changes. Not only is space unlimited and cheap, but with Moores's law in mind, the storage price is half every 18 months. The long tail is about how valuable digital distribution can become and how obsolete the industrial mindset is in many conventional businesses. The mindset of 'The Long Tail' is also how to transform this into the business we do. When distributing content isn't limited to physics, new tails are created, and new opportunities are possible. The webinar is an example. There WOULD never have been thousands of sessions offered if it wasn't because of the Internet, Zoom, and the fact that the physical shows had to be cancelled.Remember this - and let me tell you about the other book.

The other book is called 'Free - the future of a radical price.

'Free' describes how you can make money by selling free products and services.Let's look at a classic example - Hotmail. You may remember this old service where millions of people signed up for a free mail account. The business model was that a percentage of the free users would upgrade their service to a paid-for-service. You may wonder why I didn't mention Gmail - which looks similar, but the reason is that the eco-system of Google is to capitalize from knowing you and serve you ads, which is another of the numerous models.The reason why I bring this to your attention (if you didn't know in advance) is that Chris Anderson nicely describes the advertising model in media. If you subscribe to a magazine like Wired, you will get loads of great and expensive to produce content. If Wired sold the magazine without advertising, they would either need a substantial paid-for subscriber base (which they may have now, but not in the beginning) or subsidize the magazine with advertising. The advertising makes it possible for the reader to get the magazine for a reasonable price. The magazine and the content are the product.

What happens if a media doesn't serve their readers? They will, of course, opt-out, and eventually, the media will have less value for both advertisers and readers.This happens all over the world every day. Trade media, lifestyle magazines, even newspapers focus on serving their advertisers instead of concentrating on their readers - and that has led to a significant crisis in the media industry since they have forgotten the basics.

INKISH made a promise six years ago - ALWAYS on our viewers' side - and of course later, also on our readers' side. Have we passed that fine line - unfortunately, yes - one/two times, but we are back on track!We will NEVER ever in the future share ANY user data with anybody.

That will lead to vendors saying no-thanks to participate and support our work - for sure. It will lead to a long time with dramatically lower revenue and potentials - for sure. It will also push our own boundaries to curate even better content since the logic behind this decision is simple. Suppose LinkedIn proved that a conversion rate of 3.3% is expected from advertising a GREAT program like drupa's. In that case, we expect a conversion rate in that range for vendors participating in our webinars. By spending more time curating better and more valuable content, we may have thousands instead of hundreds of participants. Then the speakers - commercial or not - have to prepare presentations that are so engaging that at least 3.3% of you WANT to reach out to the vendor - and not risking being spammed because you have chosen to be on an INKISH event.We will even continue developing webinars like the recent Learn With Us · Selling Print Online for free. 

We didn't charge the participating vendors anything to participate.So what do you think? Will virtual events have a chance in the future? Will the business models need to change? How should the event become more relevant to the PSPs? There are so many questions, and I believe the last 14 months have changed the scenario forever.Will drupa return as a real physical event - well - I am not 100% certain about it. Will they return as a virtual event. I am almost 100% certain they won't.

The world is changing - rapidly!

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