UgoVirtual on the Future of Events and How Technology Can Help Us Be Everywhere at Once
How a socially distanced reality can shape the way we interact with FREE REPORT download: Virtual Interactions & Events
By Alan Young, Co-Founder, Knowingli Market Research and Puzzle Partner
Steve Jobs once said, "Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat." To this effect, the last six months have been a whirlwind of opportunity. The coronavirus pandemic has altered many industries and touchpoints in ways we never saw coming, as global communities continue to adapt to emerging regulations and recommendations. Change has become a constant in our lives, and businesses seem to be getting on board in rapid fashion as they pivot to better serve consumers within the COVID-19 era.
But for UgoVirtual, the wheels were in motion long before news of a global pandemic ever hit the headlines. A comprehensive virtual solutions platform for tradeshows, corporate events, meetings, and uniquely immersive virtual tours, UgoVirtual provides users the ability to be everywhere at once.
Brought to life by a group of hospitality and technology veterans, UgoVirtual was one of the first providers to envision the incredible potential for virtual technology, which is poised to transform the way we plan, book, travel, meet, distribute content, educate and sell. Early on, UgoVirtual realized that, with the right technology and the right vision, virtual and hybrid environments open up a new realm of possibilities for individuals, businesses, and industries worldwide. Moreover, in the wake of COVID-19, the promise of virtual and hybrid solutions transcend from convenient innovation, to critical tools.
"The paradigm shift was already happening," explains UgoVirtual's CEO, Michael C. Cohen. "Much of the technology that enables remote workforces, as well as virtual events and experiences, has existed for six years or more. Long before COVID-19, we recognized the momentum that was building, along with a growing need for more efficient ways and processes to get people to collaborate on a larger scale — and in a way that is both largely accessible and sustainable." With that in mind, they set out to create UgoVirtual in 2018, a company built around cost-effective and sustainable virtual solutions, including events and conferences that leverage best-in-class technology to create "virtual twins" of physical events.
According to Michael, everything is about interface, capacity, and opportunity. "We always have to think of the end-user. If they have the interface, that leads to capacity. Capacity is all about bandwidth. Then comes execution and opportunity. UgoVirtual is now primed for that opportunity. Just as wearable technology has become popularized across mainstream audiences over the last five years, virtualized events and experiences are positioned for widespread adoption and industry-defining utilization."
Understandably, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on the brick and mortar, traditional events industry. As companies worldwide shift away from large, in-person gatherings, UgoVirtual has emerged as a preferred partner in the race to maintain business continuity with the help of virtual offerings. "The reality is that we have grown our business exponentially by being the answer and the solution partner for a series of global event management companies who had to pivot quickly and move their business from analog to digital for the foreseeable future," explains Michael. "The first cancellation of major events started March 4th and, by March 15th, UgoVirtual had already contracted seven or eight entirely new pieces of business that were historically, large-scale brick and mortar events."
In fact, UgoVirtual recently facilitated AIDS 2020 VIRTUAL, the largest science and medical conference to be held on a virtual platform. This event, which occurs every two years, has become a staple in the global medical science community. UgoVirtual hosted 20,000 registered attendees over 5 days for the flagship virtual conference, with 600 presentations and webinars and 65 of the world's leading science and medical minds presented on their platform. Even Prince Harry and Bill Gates were in (virtual) attendance to address the attendees.
UgoVirtual's current trajectory shouldn't be understated. Currently, the virtual solutions provider is on track to hit 500% growth this fiscal year and is expanding it's virtual commercial footprint into Asia, Latin America and Europe.
Virtual events also provide a greater opportunity for scale and broader engagement, Michael points out. "There is absolutely an opportunity to market these events differently. It's no longer just about a select group of specialized executives or industry people that have earned the right to go to the industry event every year," he says. "Now, everyone who has an interest in the event can attend, extending the learning and engagement opportunity across entire organizations, which previously wasn't logistically feasible."
Of course, the question so commonly asked is, are virtual events really as effective as in-person gatherings? How can providers ensure that engagement and value remains high when working within a virtual environment?
"Until recently, people often didn't know what to expect from a virtual event," shares Michael. "As this technology continues to accelerate, there needs to be more of an explanation of what to expect from virtual events, how attendees can interact with their peers within virtual forums, and the expected ROI for exhibitors." Virtual solution providers, like UgoVirtual, are also continuously enhancing virtualized event technology. Augmented reality and virtual reality are expected to play a pivotal role in the future of virtual event engagement. "UgoVirtual is launching 3D Virtual Elements, which provides an optional layer of innovation that includes the use of 3D elements, such as products," explains Michael. "This is the first wave of 3D/AR technology being embedded into virtual events, and it's incredibly exciting."
However, the future of events isn't strictly virtual, according to Michael. Instead, we should anticipate the rise of hybrid events. With engagement being the biggest focus and challenge of virtual events and meetings, the second wave of virtual event platforms will look to perfect the online engagement model.
"UgoVirtual is now coming out with add-ons and layers of new feature sets that are geared towards 'finding where my buddy is' at an event," Michael explains. "For example, you could easily find out what meeting they are in, what booth they are at, and what demonstrations and courses they're interested in during a virtual trade show. This type of 1-to-1 and 1-to-many engagement is the next wave of virtual engagement that UgoVirtual is leading. Engagement and community are the future."
Moving forward, Michael predicts that the hybrid world will become more of a normalized reality. After all, the shift to virtual and mobile experiences was already happening prior to the pandemic. Now, as the world continues to adopt these solutions out of necessity, emerging technologies are being perfected and nuanced. "When the current crisis is over, 30-40% of all companies will never go back to their offices. And so, the potential for a much larger percentage of online education can successfully be delivered by a hybrid model that combines in-person attendees and an immersive, cutting-edge virtual experience. This model will also lessen environmental impact and make programs more widely accessible."
Michael explains that a 'hybrid event' simply means that a brick and mortar event subset will be emulated and available in a 3D, virtualized sister platform. So, for example, exhibitors could have the option to book their traditional booth and a virtualized version of it as well. Events of this format would open up accessibility on a global scale. Moreover, virtualized features contribute to improved retention and shelf-life.
"Think about it," says Michael, "when you go to events, it's a whirlwind. You're trying to digest as much as you can, and everything is a bite-size experience that you hope to piece together and retain for later. When you go to UgoVirtual events, you have shelf life. Attendees can click on any piece of content, any brochure, any exhibit, and they can save it for later to revisit days, weeks, or even months after the event." This, Michael notes, is a concierged experience that allows the extension of traditional events into a more effective model. Using this technology, event providers can reach previously untapped audiences and create deeper connections while hosting more meaningful events with improved event content retention.
As for the future, well, UgoVirtual is only just getting started. As Michael reminds us, the company was, after all, born out of a long-term vision — not necessity or opportunity. "We are in this for the long haul. This isn't about convenience or opportunity. This is, and has always been, about a systematic vision of a virtual events company aimed at delivering unparalleled value across all industries."
Curious to learn more about the current state of the events industry? Click here for Knowingli's Virtual Events & Interactions report.
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