Forget business travel: Survey says marketers prefer virtual events

Virtual events company Unisfair has released its annual marketing survey, and it shows that even more advertisers will be advancing their brands through virtual happenings this year, with 62 percent saying they would be increasing spending on that medium in 2011, and 42 percent saying they will cut down on how much they budget for physical events.

The survey from the Menlo Park, Calif.-based outfit polled more than 550 marketers about how they are using events – both physical, virtual and a combination of the two – to reach their core audience and the role they see virtual environments playing in their current and future marketing plans.

“What we learned from the 2011 marketing survey was that even more marketers are planning to increase their spending on virtual engagement compared to last year,” Joerg Rathenberg, vice president of marketing for Unisfair, told VentureBeat. “It is interesting that more marketers are increasing their virtual event budget, where only 32 percent were planning to increase their physical event budget.”

They found that 67 percent would like to host 10 or more virtual events this year, while a whopping 87 predict hybrid (part physical, part virtual) events will represent at least half of all events in the next five years.

Proving the rapid-fire growth in the popularity of smartphones and products like the iPad, 62 percent said they want the ability to attend a virtual event from a mobile device.

The numbers confirm what much of the business world is already experiencing: That physical attendance at conferences and tradeshows is becoming less frequent as companies switch to cheaper, easier-to-access virtual events.

Proving virtual events offer broad business benefits to diverse audiences, respondents said they will host virtual events for a variety of reasons in 2011, including training (42 percent); customer engagement (36 percent); internal collaboration (34 percent); lead generation (29 percent); and networking (8 percent).

When asked what the best part about attending a virtual event is, 58 percent cited the ability to multitask, while 14 percent find the ability to be “invisible” until they want to engage with colleagues or vendors to be a primary benefit of attending virtual events.

Unisfair has created a web-based virtual events platform that customers can use to stage their own online events, from virtual job fairs to trade shows.

New customers include EMC, Genentech, Q-Center and Tourism Fiji. The latter used the virtual event to provide training for real world travel professionals. Unisfair has staged hundreds of virtual events for customers like Ariba, IBM, CA Intuit and others.

Rivals include InXpo and On24.

As we noted at the VirtualEdge conference last March, virtual events are catching on because of concerns about saving travel costs and the greater efficiency of networking online.

In August, Unisfair reported it had added 20 new event customers in the first half and grew revenues 60 percent compared to a year ago.

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