Virtual Events Part 3: Choosing the right martech

All-in-one platform or build-your-own stack?

You have to choose. Here’s how to get started.

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series covering virtual events. In Part 1, we discussed the differences between virtual and in-person events. Part 2 focused on virtual event networking.

In the early days of martech, debate raged whether deploying an all-in-one platform or assembling a “stack” of best-of-breed applications yielded the best results.

That’s the choice facing virtual event producers now, and the benefits and pitfalls of each approach apply to virtual event production as well.

What are you trying to accomplish? Define the objectives and requirements upfront.

As with any martech choice, the answer to “platform or stack?” depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Start by defining your objectives. Are you producing a tradeshow with lots of sponsors, and therefore attendee/sponsor interaction is the goal? Is it a training course, where learning is the key benefit? Or is attendee-to-attendee networking the root of the value that will provide? Answering these questions (and many others) will guide the decisions you make.

If, for example, you are planning for a large event, with thousands of attendees and presentations, being mindful of scale is important because you’ll need a high-performance platform that can handle a large number of participants simultaneously. If, on the other hand, your event will have limited attendance and features pre-recorded content, or it’s a mixed scenario with live and on-demand content, you face a completely different set of challenges.

The implications of your business model or desired event experience can’t be overstated. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. You’ll have to dig in to find the right solution. Start with the three “Ds”:

  • Document the required features;
  • Define use cases for key stakeholders;
  • Determine the budget.

In addition to the objectives, you need to define requirements, a list of features you expect to have for attendees, sponsors and your team. Making a detailed list will get you started on the right path and save you a ton of time in the long run. You’ll avoid pointless conversations with the hundreds of vendors now vying for your virtual event business.

Your requirements should start with ideas about what kind of experience your attendees expect, including an easy registration form that is mobile-friendly.  Will you be charging for registration? If so, how does the registration system handle payments (and refunds!) Are there multiple ticket types? Will the event be live, pre-recorded, or a mix of both? How will attendees connect with each other? What benefits do sponsors get? How will you measure activity, engagement, and ultimately the success of the event?

Make certain your requirements take into account the business model of your event. For example, if your event is free for attendees, and sponsors will pay the freight, you’ll skew your requirements to sponsor needs such as branding, reporting, and support. Likewise, if your event model relies on matchmaking or 1:1 meetings, you’ll need to flesh out your meeting requirements. Whenever possible, involve key constituents — attendees, sponsors and especially your team — in decisions. You’ll earn much needed buy-in during the process, which is vital for the success of any martech project.

All-in-one virtual event platforms provide a standard set of features. You’ll love some of them. Loath some of them. And ignore others.

Depending upon the capabilities of your team, choosing an all-in-one platform may be wise in order to impose structure, particularly in workflow. You’ll inherit a defined way of doing things and the support of the vendor’s client services team including onboarding and training.

The alternative to an all-in-one platform is an event “stack.” A stack will be comprised of tools that deliver the same or more functionality as a platform, but with the benefit of allowing you to swap out or add in elements as needed.

An event stack approach gives you the flexibility to integrate cutting edge technologies and features, and is generally less expensive than using an all-in-one platform.

So what are the drawbacks of a stack? You’ll be sourcing elements from different vendors, and need to connect them all in order to provide a seamless experience for users and aggregate data for sponsors and your own use. You’ll also be on your own; stacks don’t come with client success organizations to support your efforts.

Stand-alone platform vs event stack

Avengers (err, Stack), Assemble!

Assembling your own event stack means taking ownership over things such as managing disparate registration and content management systems and landing pages, video hosting, and other widgets and tools. You’ll want to lean heavily on your requirements document and stick to what matters (you didn’t skip this step, did you?). Do you need surveys and polls, or are those just things that feel good to have but that you don’t use in your event? Do you have a lot of sponsors, or no sponsors? That will impact your reporting needs. Is there live Q&A during sessions, or will that happen in a Slack channel, or in a private Facebook group?

Building or assembling a stack can sound exciting because of the flexibility it offers and potentially less expensive. But assembly comes with its own set of drawbacks and caveats. For example, if you don’t have a technically capable or curious team, it can be overwhelming to try to connect all the dots between different solutions. A well-designed event stack will have more moving pieces than an all-in-one event platform. You’ll have to manage multiple vendors and won’t have a single source of support.

While the idea of having everything in an all-in-one solution sounds comforting, it can also be extremely limiting. In this virtual, digital environment, where innovation is happening as quickly as customer expectations, locking yourself into a single platform contract could have some significant drawbacks in terms of your ability to be agile and flexible and to create the ideal experience for your customers.

If you intend to explore the event stack route, I recommend you get clear on your core requirements and match them directly to your business model. Identify who on your team can handle integrations and prepare everyone so they understand the benefits of building a stack, and how it changes everything from the front-end user experience to the way they manage events.

So what’s the better approach: all-in-one or stack? It depends. You can only answer the question by taking the time to understand your requirements, budget, and the experience you want to deliver.

Always searching.

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