Webinars are not virtual events – There is a world of difference.

The concept of webinars has been around for quite some time, but the current situation has made it popular as a viable option to address the rising demand for digital communication. As remote working and collaboration have become the need of the hour, webinars have become an integral part of the digital marketing mix. But as brands began to deep dive into more elaborate strategies to redefine their business continuity plans, they realized that webinars come with some unique challenges and limitations as far as engagement and outreach are concerned. Though many brands continued with webinars to keep things in perspective, the smart ones adapted to new digital strategies with Virtual being the key ingredient. 

Now, when it comes to exploring virtual strategies, brands often get confused between virtual events and webinars. This is primarily because most virtual event platforms market webinars as a part of virtual event services, hence the line of differentiation is thin.

But if we do a careful examination of both we will see that there is a world of difference between webinars and virtual events.

In the first place, webinars are effective for smaller groups and are ideal for hosting workshops, training sessions, or internal meetings. In a typical webinar environment, there is usually one key presenter who interacts via webcam on a specific topic, and on the other side there are attendees or respondents who interact by posting questions and queries during or after the session is over. In more general terms, a webinar is a simple web-based interface.

Whereas, a virtual event is more extensive and inclusive. In simple terms, it is a virtual version of a big format physical event but with more flexibility and options. For example, in a Virtual events platform there are options to create customized 3D layouts and event environments, be a part of a robust networking centre and create multiple parallel tracks. Besides, a webinar can be a feature of a virtual event. In a digital-first environment, virtual events make it easy to engage with a larger audience through seamless social media integrations as well. 

Apart from these, a virtual event comes with various formats as opposed to unchangeable webinar spaces, thus giving audiences absolute flexibility on how and where they want to participate. Above all, a virtual event is an inexpensive and smarter option than physical events as logistics-related bottlenecks can be avoided.

Another key difference between a webinar and a virtual event is that a webinar can be hosted for a specific duration, whereas a virtual event can run across several days with a more extensive agenda. To intensify the engagement quotient a virtual event can be equipped with gamification & entertainment.

A virtual event platform generally comes with intuitive features which make performance measurement easy and effective. Most virtual events platforms are AI-enabled and come with intuitive attendee management tools. But in webinars, this feature is missing. While hosting a virtual event, brands can have the flexibility to measure their event performance in real-time which in turn can generate insights on the overall ROI. While in webinars the results and feedbacks are somewhat instant, virtual event platforms can be leveraged as an effective lead generation tool.

A virtual event platform is an effective medium for multi-brand engagements. It is an ideal platform to organize exhibitions and fairs where multiple brands can set-up exhibition booths, each with its unique branding. Through seamless app integration, visitors can get hassle-free entry, take a virtual tour of the entire exhibition area, and can also interact with booth owners to access the content.

Although webinars are more popular for interactions, virtual events are more desirable by brands when it comes to experience. In this day and age of dynamic business environment, brands are keener on factors such as engagement, usable event data, flexible event spaces which they can use all year round. They want all of the experiences of a physical event represented virtually online with the ability to connect globally without the extensive travel and huge associated event cost.

Another interesting aspect that webinars can’t address is the exploration of business possibilities arising out of the current situation. In this case, virtual platforms are acting as a catalyst for a lot of businesses to re-think their strategies and even give shape to new models and possibilities. From education to healthcare, practically every industry is considering virtual strategies to sell their products and solutions and with time they are getting better in the game. If we take the example of the education industry, we will see that post the lockdown there were just online classes, or simply put, these classes were nothing but just webinars. But as virtual event platforms are getting popular, schools and institutions have realized the possibility of adding engaging experiences in the online classes as opposed to boring one-to-one video calls. 

This is happening with a lot of other industries. Even consumer brands are shifting from traditional e-commerce platforms and adding more experiential realism to their product portfolio through virtual platforms. The concept of virtual malls is getting popular where people can walk-in inside a mall, take a tour, and experience a product, just like they used to do in a physical setting. This tells how webinars and virtual events or platforms are different from each other as far as experience and engagements are concerned. 

While webinars have some limitations, virtual events on the other hand are like a universe and a lot of brands are leveraging this ‘virtual universe’ factor to innovate and give more power to their business continuity plans. 

At the end of the day, it’s all about what the brand wants out of an engagement. If the objective of a brand is to share insights with a targeted group, then topic-based webinars are the best platforms. But if the objective is to showcase a solution or a product in a more holistic way, then one should consider a virtual events platform. 

About the Author

Piyush Gupta, President, Kestone.