Last year’s migration of in-person activities online led to the creation of lots of new digital content. Extenuating circumstances provided some cover for digital experiences that weren’t always as engaging as they could have been, but that goodwill is largely expended. Event marketers and other newly-minted creators of online content will need to compete with existing media channels for their customers’ attention, and doing so will require better production values than they had in 2020.

Many within the events industry (including us) have observed that we are at the beginning of a new era of hybrid events. The inability to hold large in-person gatherings forced all events into virtual mode, accelerating existing technological trends and providing a few unforeseen benefits, even while leaving many needs unmet. Most agree that it will take considerable time before large live events return and that the new virtual tools that have been introduced will remain with us even when they do.

The migration of events to virtual platforms is only one area in which new digital content was created from formerly analog activities. DJs threw virtual dance parties. Theater troupes and dance companies held online performances. Museums and galleries pushed their collections into websites and virtual reality. All manner of new digital content was pushed into digital channels, and millions of people stuck at home found themselves with much more time to consume digital content.

But not all activities that become digital content overnight translated perfectly to its new online audience. A speaker that could be dynamic and engaging in front of a live audience might be somewhat less so when speaking into a camera. A fun and interesting panel discussion might lose some of its appeal when it feels like just another video call. An hours-long series of talks that could fascinate and stimulate at a half-day offsite could become practically unbearable when virtual. Staring at a screen for long periods of time can result in eye strain and many of use are already suffering “Zoom fatigue” from our newly online workdays. Plus there’s a strong tendency for people to multitask while consuming content online, sometimes even watching it with the sound off.

If you have pushed all of your event messaging online then these observations should give you pause. The fundamental dynamics of consuming digital media have an inherent tendency to reduce the chances that your content’s message is being received at all, much less retained. And in a time when everyone is consuming more digital content than ever before, less engaging content will increasingly become background noise. Marketers have found a silver lining in the fact that virtual events can be more economical to produce – but where’s the value proposition in that if they are not serving their basic purpose well?

The answer to this challenge, clearly, is to produce better and more engaging content – improve the production values. Understanding from the outset that you are creating digital content that will need to compete for the viewer’s attention is a necessary first step. People respond to stories, so crafting your narrative around good storytelling comes next. Numerous tactics can be employed to make video content more compelling. And elements of your messaging can be personalized or made interactive to help keep viewers more engaged. Content producers have been honing these skills for a long time – and anyone who finds themselves suddenly creating online content must either learn from good content producers or enlist help.

Storytelling must be at the center of all your brand’s messaging. That’s nothing new, but as virtual platforms require marketers to break up their messages into small digestible chunks, make sure that this imperative flows throughout. Each element needs a storyline that draws the audience in and retains their interest, and taken together they must add up to your broader brand narrative. Finding the right creative approach to this brand storytelling is the most difficult of alchemies, but also the most critical for success. Work with creative agencies that understand your brand and that excel at telling interesting stories in unique ways.

Much newly-online content, virtual event content especially, takes the place of personal interactions. From a keynote speech to a one-on-one chat with a sales rep, these opportunities to connect with your customer are conversational in nature. But regardless of how interesting or important the message, we’ve all become consummate consumers of online media and quickly get bored of talking heads. Higher production values can be achieved by adopting well-understood techniques from visually interesting locations to dynamic editing to on-screen graphics to full-on animation. Lacking such skills in house should be no impediment to adopting them into your creative pipeline.

We’ve recently seen a rising interest in virtual production – filming in specialized studios that display real-time graphics to be captured in-camera. This relatively new technology allows many of the aforementioned techniques to be implemented at lower cost (and with fewer pandemic safety complications) than multiple on-location shoots. Depending on the overall creative concept and the specific content requirements, virtual production can be an effective tactic for drastically raising the production values of your digital content. Next week’s CES promises to introduce advancements in the LED products used to build such volume sets.

While the move to virtual has its challenges (chief among them the inability to include face-to-face conversations) it also has some advantages. Virtual events can be attended by a much broader audience than would be willing to invest the time and budget to travel to an event. Digital platforms can allow for a level of personalized customization, especially if combined with rich stores of customer data and new techniques of data analysis using machine learning. It can also be a richly interactive mode of communication if the time is taken to craft your narrative in such a way. Gamification and other forms of interactivity can drastically improve customer engagement.

In 2020 event marketers rose to unprecedented challenges and largely succeeded in adapting to a brand new environment, developing the requisite skillsets to thrive in it. But the virtual events of 2020 will be mere table stakes in 2021. Those who want to continue to thrive in the hybrid world of 2021 and beyond will need to continue adapting and innovating. Look into the waters of online behavior and you’ll see that virtual content must compete for the attention of your audience with everyone from Netflix to TikTok. And if that scares you, it means you realize that you’re gonna need better production values.

Featured Image: Still from the 1975 movie Jaws