We’re starting to get a better view of what 2021 will look like for the world of B2B media, events and professional associations. Many organisations drafting their plans for next year are considering whether to run hybrid events – essentially virtual events with a limited in-person element, as a further bridge back to the physical events. Others are considering launching a paid-for subscriptions model, having successfully engaged their audiences in a digital world via virtual events. Some are even planning for a ‘full return’ to in-person in late 2021. Take caution in this product-centric approach. We’ve become so enamoured by the exciting challenges and new technologies that have arisen over the past 6 months – as well as for many a deep-rooted desire to return to our familiar old formats – that we risk losing track of what really matters…our communities! Taking a step back Any marketer worth their salt will understand the crucial importance of putting your audience first. It’s foundational to marketing itself. Right now we need to be taking a step back and considering what our communities really need from us. How can we help them solve their most pressing problems and take advantage of their greatest opportunities? We discover and understand this by really listening to them. Hybrid communities Your community is everyone that your brand aims to serve. From the ‘buy-side’ – those that come together to share best practice, discuss common problems and make connections – to the ‘sell-side’ – the businesses that want to reach the buy side with their products and services. There is a great deal of value for all parties by bringing this community together – as long as it is done in the right way. And looking at just ‘buy-side’ vs ‘sell-side’ is quite a simplistic definition. In reality, the lines between the two parties are much more blurred. Most communities act more like ecosystems – a collection of people who rely on one another to do their jobs and grow their brands. It’s not just products and services that are exchanged – but also vital information, unique and timely insight and valuable human connections. The most successful community hosts are those that recognise this transcendence from a series of business transactions to a complex ecosystem. This is not the only way your communities are hybrid. Over the past 20 years – and accelerating rapidly in 2020 – the way that communities interact is increasingly fragmented. In-person events, digital events, content, social media, email, calls, messaging – there are so many different ways that professionals can connect, share information and do business. As the community host, it’s your job to figure out how best to serve your community so that members are connected with the right people, at the right time and in the right format. Serving hybrid communities The best way to serve your hybrid community will depend on your unique ecosystem. To better understand yours, ask yourself: Who is in our community and how do the key relationships within them work? Who needs who – how, when and why? What are the range of problems we need to help different groups in our community solve? When asking these questions, take a platform-agnostic approach. Avoid framing these questions as ‘how much more will sponsors pay to sponsor hybrid events compared to fully virtual events?’ or ‘how much more can I start charging for subscriptions now that my events revenue has dropped?’. Your role is to bring your community together 365 days a year in the ways that suit them, not figure out how to sell an event or subscriptions product to them. Once you have figured out the composition and needs of your community, then start considering which products and services will aid them best. For some communities (or some parts of a community), large annual events are essential, serving as the best way to interact with peers and suppliers, learn about important industry trends and make valuable connections in a condensed and focused time period. People in these communities, or sub-communities, will clear their diaries for your event and attend year after year. For others, constant access to searchable digitally delivered content and shorter, highly focused virtual events are all they need, with events simply serving as a chance to catch up with peers and stay abreast of potential industry changes. For this group, having constant access to essential information is their priority. Most communities are hybrid, demanding opportunities to interact in-person (when possible again!) while also seeking ways to gain valuable content and connections year-round. Hybrid communities are ‘always on’ in a virtual space – 365 days of the year. And they usually also love to get together in the real world and develop genuine, rewarding business relationships with their fellow community members. Engage. Monetise. Scale. Once your hybrid community and their hybrid needs are understood, and once the right products have been created to serve these communities – we move in the very exciting and rewarding phase of engaging, monetising and scaling these communities. A smart investment in the right kind of marketing and sales is essential to enable this. Take a look at MPG’s ‘Engage, Monetise, Scale’ framework where we share our strategic approach to community marketing.