Except for a smattering of mishaps (“you’re on mute”), your friends, family and coworkers have mostly figured out how to connect virtually for the kinds of meetings, celebrations and events we used to be able to do in person. However, this collective skill set arrives just in time for “Zoom fatigue”… a feeling of video chat overload, overwhelming demand from multiple sources, including remote school, work and social environments.
There’s also this: the public health conditions necessitating these virtual connections aren’t as fleeting as we’d all hoped. We’re going to be in this for a while longer, and many 2021 activities, including those in the financial services industry, are already being planned as virtual-only events.
So whether your financial institution’s events calendar looks ahead to the next four to six months – or goes much deeper into 2021 – you’ll likely need to consider virtual event best practices, starting with some key questions:
- How do you make your virtual event worthy of customers’ screen time?
- What’s the role of the virtual event in your overall marketing strategy?
- How will you cut through the noise and differentiate your virtual event from all the others?
Before we jump into some tips and recommendations that will help your FI refine its approach to virtual events, we want to provide some context via both a broad sampling of what’s out there and a short list of events that really piqued our interest.
Virtual event examples from banks and credit unions
As our lives have moved away from face-to-face interactions and into the realm of screens, headsets and ratings systems for Zoom rooms, brands in every industry have been translating events to online environments. Webinars aside (those were “a thing” well before the pandemic), here’s a small taste of virtual activities from banks and credit unions in the U.S.:
- holiday events, like a Halloween costume contest (Central Minnesota Credit Union) and a festival of trees (Capital Credit Union);
- industry conferences (examples from SVB, HSBC, BNY Mellon and USAA);
- fundraisers, like a virtual fundraiser for Broadway Cares (City National Bank), virtual auctions (Provident Bank and Northwest Credit Union Association), a virtual walk for veterans (Day Air Credit Union) and even virtual Salvation Army bells (Settlers bank);
- the grand opening of a new branch for People’s United Bank;
- chats with experts, including successful small business owners (#AmexBuiltToLast) and business solutions experts (Navy Federal);
- a town hall on COVID-19 with Bank of Hawaii;
- sponsorships of virtual events, including a turkey trot (First Horizon Bank), a hackathon (BankUnited) and business networking (M&T Bank);
- a meet and greet with credit union leadership (Alternatives Federal Credit Union);
- a career fair (Verity Credit Union);
- a trivia competition (Brazos Valley Schools Credit Union);
- a business expo (TBA Credit Union) and
- a homecoming fair (USC Credit Union)
And we just had to include this from 121 Financial Credit Union in Jacksonville.
The blood drive, of course, is very real, but we love the simplicity – and sincerity – of the offer for a virtual hug or high five.
Virtual events that build excitement and boost engagement
Many of the events listed above are fairly simple and relatively common. And while they get the job done when it comes to brand awareness and community outreach, we wanted to give out some virtual high fives of our own to a few events that stand out in terms of the experience they deliver.
Most have the following in common:
- They’re activities customers can’t get elsewhere (truly unique or one-time opportunities).
- They’re limited access.
- They offer physical swag to accompany the digital event.
They’re also not cheap, you may rightly say. But before assuming they’re out of reach for community banks and credit unions, consider that there are local influencers, interests and experiences available for smaller budget versions of these ideas.
Behind the scenes of Nutcracker magic? Yes, please!
First Republic Bank gives customers an opportunity to see how the San Francisco Ballet creates “a six-minute blizzard on stage.” The virtual event delivers unique access to what’s been a holiday staple for many families, exactly when they may be looking for new – and safe – ways to celebrate annual traditions.
Inspo for at-home chefs and mixologists
Despite the plethora of new takeout options, many dinners and happy hours now require us to fend for ourselves. And since foodie culture is so pervasive, many of us are trying to create fancy foods and flavors at home. Chase’s “Sapphire at Home” dining events help its customers with that effort by offering guidance and inspiration, and since the live, interactive events are just for cardholders (like the original, IRL versions that pre-date the pandemic), they continue to feel like exclusive and personal card perks.
We need to talk.
Led by its chief diversity officer, M&T Bank hosted an author chat with Ibram X. Kendi, whose book “How to Be an Anti-Racist” quickly became a New York Times best seller this year. The timeliness, relevance and necessity of the conversation – together with access to a speaker in high demand – sets this virtual event apart.
Rock on… in your PJs!
Every concert-goer we know is really missing live music right now. Likewise, many artists are struggling in the empty space previously occupied by tours and performances. Citizens Bank’s “Live & Local” series – which uses Facebook Live – fills some of the gap and raises money for Crew Nation, a charitable fund assisting the touring and venue crews that are also hurting without the work live events previously provided.
Because sports rivalries have not taken a break…
Although college football salvaged its season, the fan experience has definitely changed. With giveaways of cartoonish foam hats, USAA stoked the rivalry for the Army-Air Force game, giving fans watching from home some very real bragging rights: my swag is better than your swag.
(And – worth a mention while we’re talking about swag – check out this care package Silicon Valley Bank sent out for a virtual networking event.)
Virtual event best practices
Not every event has to be snazzy or weighty, but it’s worth remembering that the competition for your customers’ attention is fierce. As you consider the possibilities and inspiration above (along with what you already have on your calendar), we think you’ll appreciate these pointers, which pull no punches:
“This is not a place for PowerPoint presentations or long speeches.”American Express
“Be honest about what attendees really value from your events, and pare your online version back to the essentials.”Forrester
Your virtual event will need to rise to many challenges when it comes to finding and appealing to an audience, including
- Get them to commit.
- Get them to show up.
- Get them to stay.
- Keep them excited about what you may offer next.
There are plenty of resources that dive into the details and how-to’s (we share some below), but here are a few essentials we see many FIs overlooking when putting together virtual events:
- Don’t just move an event online. It is an option to take a pass or envision entirely new events. Account for – and maybe even embrace! – the medium, whether that’s video chat or live stream. The digital version of your event will look different than its predecessor.
- Make it worth not only your customers’ time but also your investment. Event budgets exist in service of your FI’s goals and marketing strategy. Virtual events should have value on both sides of the screen.
- Give serious consideration to duration. Many virtual events simply go on too long.
- Understand the quirks of the technology. Many hosts and presenters only know how it’s “supposed to” work. Plan for how you’ll navigate common stumbles, and remember that “human moments are OK” and can be a way to connect.
Additional resources for successful virtual events
- 8 Key Considerations to Create Engaging Virtual and Hybrid Meetings and Event Experiences (American Express)
- How to Host a Successful Virtual Event: Tips and Bests Practices (Hootsuite)
- 30 Tips and Tricks to Hosting a Successful Online Event (Eventbrite)
- 5 Tips for Hosting a Successful Virtual Conference or Event (Sprout Social)
- How to Create a Successful Virtual Event for Your Company (Convince and Convert)