Next week I am off to the NEC in Birmingham to the “Internet Retailing Expo” where there are over 300 exhibitors and more than 100 speakers. Around 5,000 people attend the two-day event meaning there are a lot of Internet folk interested in seeing things in the “real world”. You might think you could learn everything you need to know on the Internet if you are running an online shop. But every year, thousands of people turn up in Birmingham to see stuff they could more easily see on their laptop without having to travel.
Last night, my son headed off to Reading for a “live gig”, a “drum and bass” event from one of his favourite artists. No, I’ve never heard of them. The doors didn’t open until 11pm, the concert was due to start at 1 am, and he rolled home at five this morning having caught the first train out of town. A thousand other teenagers did the same thing.
In the past five years, live music ticket sales have increased by 31%, and a recent report suggests that there will be a 7% increase every year for the next three years. In spite of us being able to have more access to music than ever before, we increasingly want to experience it “live”. When I was growing up, we had a “radiogram“, which was definitely not portable and you were lucky if you had enough pocket money to buy a record once a month. Now, with a free subscription to Spotify, you have access to virtually unlimited music, anywhere you like. Yet, in spite of this, more people want to attend live events than ever before.
In the world of business, real world, face-to-face events are also increasingly popular. One of the primary ticketing systems, Eventbrite, says in its latest report that the business events industry expects to hold more meetings in 2018 than it did last year – and that was up on the previous 12 months. The Eventbrite research shows that two of the main reasons why businesses hold events is to “bring people together” and “networking”. Yet, you can do both of those online using social media, of course. Eventbrite itself provides the ticketing for more than two million events a year, that’s almost 5,500 every single day. And Eventbrite is thought only to have around 60% of the online ticketing market. Plus, there are probably millions of events that do not need tickets or do ticketing without using an online system.
All of this connects with a new study from the advertising agency McCann (PDF), which showed that two out of every three people would prefer to go to a live event than do the same thing digitally. Essentially, the research showed that people just don’t get the same experience digitally, that they do in the real world. It seems that the more we can do things digitally, the more we want to do them in the real world instead.
The Internet encourages us to do more and more online. Why go to all the expense of organising a meeting in the real world when you can throw together a webinar, for instance? After all, it is more convenient, people don’t have to travel, and you can involve more people because you are not limited by numbers. Similarly, why bother with a training event when you can record an instructional video and let people watch it on YouTube? Or why do you need to get someone to visit your office and waste your time as they pitch their business to you when they can do the same with a fancy website? It all makes perfect sense to do more and more online because it is more convenient and less costly.
However, as much of the evidence shows, people are increasingly demanding real-world experiences, instead of digital ones. Perhaps we have reached a tipping point where people realise that digital replacements for real-world activities miss something. We don’t know what it is that is missing, but we just sense we are not getting the complete picture.
So, the question is, are you making the most of real-world events in your business? The trend is clear; people want to do much more in the real world than they have done in recent years; they are missing that vital human connection you do not get from digital activity. Online alternatives, such as social media networking or webinars can undoubtedly save time and money but are they doing that at a cost which doesn’t appear on your Profit & Loss statement? That’s the cost of not truly connecting with other people and not gaining the full experience of your business.
Perhaps it is time for all businesses to do less online and more in the real world. Indeed, that could have been a lesson for ToysRUs. Before they ventured into the online world, their shops provided a real experience of engaging with toys. Gradually, they just became a warehouse, meaning they lacked the additional experience the real world could offer over and above an online store. When the history of ToysRUs is written, the damaging impact of Amazon will feature a great deal, I am sure, but so too will the additional real-world experience their shops no longer seemed to provide.
Digital helps, but real-world experience helps more. So are you providing your customers with enough of a real-world experience? Perhaps it is time to replace social networking with real-world networking or running marketing events instead of building yet another website. Perhaps it is time to venture back into the real world.
Indeed, look out soon for my announcement about my forthcoming “Newsletter LIVE” event…!
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+