MarTech & SMX will be virtual in 2022

If anyone *really* knew when the value of financial markets, real estate or crypto currencies was going to appreciate or fall, they’d use that knowledge to make a killing.

Unfortunately, crystal balls and intuition are notoriously unreliable. Predicting market movements has been compared to catching a falling knife… without being cut.

That’s the analogy we’re using to guide a return to in-person events. And we’re urging you to consider it too. Here’s why:

No predicting the future of COVID with certainty. Few forecast a surge of cases in the summer of 2021, despite the experiences elsewhere in the spring. And no one can reliably predict what other curveballs this virus has up its sleeve. Sadly, only 32% of the world’s population is fully vaccinated. That means Delta is unlikely to be the last of the variants to circulate.

We’re all concerned about the health of our employees, partners, guests and loved ones. I’m terrified that my 10-month-old grandson could be infected. Being in-person isn’t worth anyone’s well being.

Travel will be disrupted. The airline industry is having a very difficult time getting back online, and that’s going to mean fewer, more expensive flights for the foreseeable future. A prominent airline analyst predicts it will take seven years for airlines to recover, according to a recent New York Times article.

Air travel was a PITA before COVID; it’s worse now.

Why travel to do what has been done remotely for the last 18 months?
After 18 months of restricted travel and demonstrating what could be accomplished remotely, we believe business travel behavior is changed. What can be done online will be done online. Tactile experiences may still be necessary for buyers in industries that deal in physical things, but less necessary for marketers.

Former DigiDay editor-in-chief Brian Morrissey’s unbundled event theory explains the shift. Pre-COVID, conferences offered participants some combination of learning, networking, lead generation, and boondoggle experiences (Maroon 5 anyone?). In events of the future, those activities will be unbundled.

Marketers will gather to be inspired and entertained. Few are likely to congregate for professional education or to research purchases. Marketing events held so far have achieved a fraction of their pre-pandemic attendance. Predicting when they will return to “normal” is catching the proverbial falling knife.

Lower attendance means lower ROI. Exhibiting at in-person events is a numbers game. Other factors being equal, the more people who attend and engage with exhibitors, the more business is generated. Fewer attendees will yield fewer conversations and conversions.

Expenses will increase. The cost of participating in in-person events will go up. Convention Centers, decorators, caterers and all of the other participants in the ecosystem will be paying more to provide the appearance of safety. Those costs will be passed on. Exhibitors will end up with the bill.

The questions we can’t answer reveal the path forward for MarTech and SMX

We’ve tried, but can’t satisfactorily answer a couple of questions that are undoubtedly on the minds of prospective attendees: 

  • Why would I travel to learn about marketing or source marketing technologies and services? 
  • Is traveling worth the risk to my family and colleagues? 

Until we can, we won’t be producing large-scale, in-person MarTech and SMX events.

Other in-person experiences, particularly intimate networking gatherings, will be possible — perhaps even necessary — once COVID is under control.

We look forward to the day when we can gather in person to celebrate marketing professionals the way we did prior to COVID. Until then, we’ll provide education and high volume, cost effective lead generation opportunities virtually.

We’re going to let the knife fall on the floor. And pick it up when it’s safe to do so.

We’ll discuss what to expect from MarTech and SMX in 2022 in Part 2 of this series, which will be published next week. In the meantime, we wish you and your families good health.