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Piyush Gupta, President, KestoneKestone
What the future of events could look like
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Once the benefits of virtual events are understood by people, we’ll see a surge in hybrid events post-Covid: Piyush Gupta, Kestone

What the future of events could look like
  • The lockdown led to the near-complete shutdown of the experiential industry.
  • However, in a post-Covid world, live events will be hybrid in nature. They will be a mix of live and virtual, Piyush Gupta, President, Kestone tells us.
The lockdown has impacted the world in more ways than we had anticipated. For the past few months, the live event industry has come to a complete standstill. Big-ticket events have either been postponed or cancelled completely.

Back in March when the lockdown had just been announced, a report by Event and Entertainment Management Association (EEMA), a body of over 800 top event agencies across India had said that the impact of the closure on the events and experiential industry could be to the tune of Rs 3000 crore for the first two months. However, many from the industry feel the real impact is much larger as it is a largely unorganized industry which sees a lot of contractors and freelancers work for them.

However, in the past few months, the industry has been trying to think out of the box and experiment. While virtual events are still a very new concept in the country, we have seen a few brands hold some virtual launch events. While the impact of these events might not be as much as a real event, it is a start of something new and different.

Kestone a 23-year-old integrated marketing organization with core capabilities of event management, tele-marketing, digital marketing and content marketing recently announced the launch of an experiential ‘virtual platform’. It is now also educating brands and marketers about the efficacy of virtual events through live demonstrations, case-studies, newsletters, videos, and updates.

We recently caught up with Piyush Gupta, President, Kestone about the future of virtual events and what are the challenges in making them mainstream.

Excerpts:

Q) What was the idea behind launching an experiential virtual platform for events?
The idea to launch the platform, which has been conceptualized and built in-house completely, was to make it a part of the integrated offering where we continue to solve the sales and marketing problems. That’s been the primary go-to-market strategy where we have approached clients who want to solve either a marketing, sales or employee engagement problem. This has helped us integrate our other services and provide a complete solution. For some we have managed to get B2C customers walk in and explore real estate properties online, for some we have got B2B customers to network and engage with peers in the same field. For some we have got students to go through evaluation process and come out as winners and for some it has been showcasing products and solutions in an interactive way. And at the end of it all, data has played a key role in churning out those top prospects who are willing to buy the product/services right away. We are able to share the customer behaviour pattern on the platform and soon our AI Algorithm will be able to interact with an attendee basis their profile, making the platform more interactive and meaningful for everyone.

Q) The reservation of the industry against virtual events right now is that there is not too much money coming in. Do you foresee a future where virtual events will see the same kind of investments and sponsorships that physical events did?
Virtual event is completely new for 99% of the Indian audience. In the last 3 months, we have educated more over 1000 organizations on what is a virtual event. While we have been doing digital events from the last 5 years, trust me, people have not seen something like this. And because of that, to be able to evaluate the ROI as compared to just a video conferencing tool is not easy at all. And then to convince the management that something like this exists and one should spend on this as that will give a better ROI, is again a daunting task for most. So, it’s not about the money, it’s about the ROI from a virtual platform. Stating of ROI, this is exactly why we see there is a future of virtual event going forward. When we compare the outcome of virtual events executed by us from a physical event done in past, we have seen the below ROI:

• Global Customer Reach
• 100% more engagement quotient
• 100% tracking of customer behaviour
• 50%-80% cost efficiencies
• At least 2X Sales impact
• 3X social media amplification
• 2X sponsor benefits
• 100% networking tracking & effectiveness
• 100% eco friendly

What is required is to further educate organizations on the above. Whoever understands this aspect of the virtual platform, they will continue to use it in future also.

Q) The power of physical events lay in the fact that it could pull the audience right in. What kind of innovations can we expect from virtual events to make it more engaging/engrossing for the audience?
What one cannot replace is the physical touch of an on-ground event, the buzz when thousands of delegates are there in one room, the smell of coffee and some delightful food, people smiling, shaking hands and closing business deals across the table, experiencing the physical product and taking lots of selfies to post in social media. But to be honest, possibilities are limitless on how one can engage the delegates on a virtual platform and how efficient it is becoming to attend an event. Networking still continues to be the key and we have seen the delegates spending 50% of the time in connecting with people. Our AI-driven networking module is an innovation that we are very proud of. It helps one to network basis interest, organization, and education. And add to it the feature where one can do a video call with the attendee on a click of a button, we surely have got them closer to each other in this virtual world. Having a gaming zone has allowed customers to have fun and compete. 3D product experience, AR/VR are a few other ways that will make the virtual environment more engaging.

Q) With your foray into the virtual world, what kind of revenues are you anticipating? What is your strategy to grow the business? Do you have any growth targets?

These are still early days. If we go by the reports that have been published globally, it looks like it is going to grow in double digits CAGR for the next 10 years. One of the reports also states that it will become a $400 billion+ by 2027 from $90 billion+ today. Suddenly because of the Covid situation, this has become an important marketing and engagement tool for everyone.

Kestone’s focus is across the global and that is our biggest advantage. Our presence in India, Singapore, Dubai and the US has put us in a great position. Our technical hub will continue to be in India. We are having sales and project management team across. That puts us on a huge price advantage. Apart from that, the other approach is to appoint channel partners globally who are willing to take this product to their customers. We already have partners now in Dubai, Singapore & Canada. We are seeing this becoming one of the biggest revenue churners for us.

Q) Since this is all still very new, how are you going about educating stakeholders?
We are doing it in various ways. One is of course extensive live demonstrations to our clients, stakeholders, and prospects. Besides, we touch base regularly with our stakeholders through case-studies, newsletters, videos, and updates. Apart from these, we do a lot of knowledge sharing through blogs & social-media out-reach.

Q) What is the future of live events?
Live events are going to come back. In some countries, it has already started to return in a controlled manner. The future will be a combination of live & virtual events. Hybrid events is how it is better known as. For example, we are doing a virtual event where we have a small gathering of people and that is being combined with a virtual platform to take it to a larger audience. Another example is launching a product physically in the office and integrating it with the virtual platform. Once the benefits of virtual events are understood by people, we will see a surge in hybrid events post-Covid.

Q) There already are a lot of experiential agencies that are also strengthening their virtual offerings now. How are you going to be different? What will the USP of your offering be?
We are global, if not the only the organization, for sure the first few integrated marketing organization to have built this platform in-house. Others have mostly tie-up with a tech firm or outsourcing it. The biggest advantage of that is, we have control over the product, we are able to tweak it basis the needs of a customer, our solution has the experience of 23+ years of doing event management and our integrated solution (Tele, Digital, Content) is focused on solving problems.
Overall the USP of the product is Experience which further gets divided into Design (for us, it is as important that we appeal to the visual eyes, so every aspect of it looks beautiful), interactivity (engagement is the key for any individual and we have made sure that the platform is very high on that) & Data (with a strong data science team, this is not just an event platform, one can use it to drive behavior and close sales).
We are not just an event’s platform, we are building a virtual universe. This means that it is for anyone and everyone who wants to take their business online. We are looking at being a platform which is helping survive and then grows businesses and be a long-term partner in that journey.