Guest column

How to use tech to take your event virtual, according to this Houston expert

Here's what to keep in mind when planning a virtual event. Getty Images

As the long-term repercussions of the coronavirus set in around the world, the events space was one of the first to realize its need to change course. Events across the world that were scheduled for March through June and beyond are being canceled, rescheduled and rethought.

As a business that has always operated in the live event and public space, my company, VISION Production Group had to quickly re-invent how our clients would be able engage with their audience under these strained circumstances.

When an event is canceled or postponed in times of crisis, businesses still have important messaging to get out. They still have a need to sell, still have a need to engage, still have the need to get organizational support. Shifting live attended events into an online experience helps those businesses shape their original event into a 'show' format that encapsulates the fundamentals of the live event in a creative manner ideal for remote viewing.

Instead of canceling the events, planners can be innovative and evolve their original format into one that allows them to still engage attendees and share their brand stories through virtual experiences.

Event marketing is all about putting yourself in the shoes of your customers — they were excited to come to your event and see the live event, network with others in their industry, and ask their lists of questions to ask during your Q&A sessions. So, what do virtual events look like, and how can you turn them in to an opportunity to add even more value and deliver an experience that makes your potential clients thrilled to be taking part in?

Creating a successful virtual event goes far beyond just a taped stream of speakers and the sharing of information. By utilizing the techniques below to create videos, creative content, 3D animation, motion graphics and other digital content, virtual events can become engaging productions that live on past the event itself.

Know your options

Pre-recorded videos

With a prerecorded event, you have the option to provide access to videos of the event on demand and can even consider additional revenue streams with pay-per-view options.

Utilize professional production and create an experience that combines brand elements and clear language with a captivating video presentation that makes attendees feel like they are turning their TVs onto a celebrity awards show. Once your pre-recorded virtual event has gone live, use video marketing to push out on your website or social media to share your brand story through packaged presentations.

VISION is currently working with both the Kinder Institute and the Houston Holocaust Museum to turn their major May events into pre-recorded productions that will be able to engage an even larger audience than their normal events.

Animated education content

Another forward-thinking technique is to produce 2D and 3D content to reduce the production costs found in traditional video. This can be interfaced with recorded and live footage or be used to walk attendees through a product demo or setup process with ease.

Think about utilizing this kind of virtual event if you are in an industry that relies heavily on trade shows. Instead of needing to be person-to-person for a demonstration, you can explain your product or service through 2D and 3D technology.

Live streaming

Get buy-in for digital events with a bit of live aspect, pulling groups together online for a shared remote experience. With a live stream event, you can have the benefits and production value of a pre-recorded event but incorporate the capability to take questions and engage your audience in real.

Remote viewers won't want to miss out on asking questions in this community format and you can record the stream for future use as well.

Virtual event panels and forums

With virtual panels and forums, you can live stream from your anywhere. Hosting an online group is a great way to engage your audience with a live Q&A session and provide the human connection, digitally.

This avenue is great if your event is typically comprised of panels and interactive breakout sessions for attendees.

Tips and best practices

Attendees flock to events to catch the latest innovations and network with industry leaders. Replicating that experience online isn't easy, but brands that get it right can attract big audiences, generate interest and increase brand visibility.

Use these tips to compel your audience to take action:

Develop a virtual event marketing strategy that aligns with your goals

With a great strategy, you can turn any onsite exhibit into a virtual event.

You may already offer online webinars or tutorials, but adding virtual events requires a little more planning. From accessibility to remote attendance monitoring, it's important to visualize each step in the strategy and planning of your event.

Choose digital technology tools and formats that convey your message and create a clear and compelling story and video script to keep attendees tuned in and engage virtual attendees using high-quality videos, animation and graphics.

Develop virtual events before a cancelation

Don't wait for your next live event to get canceled. Instead, put together video assets now. Drop the travel expenses and live stream a panel right from your office. Virtual events give your audience the flexibility to experience your brand and products from anywhere.

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Tracey Shappro is the president and CEO of Houston-based VISION Production Group.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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