[ This article was published on LinkedIn on March 8, 2020. The original article link is here ]
關係 (Guan Xi) is ingrained into the psyche of many Asian cultures and businesses. It is fundamental to build connections and relationships, and consequently forging trust in those relationships. And it is best when it involves a face-to-face communication and building the common foundational belief of one another.
The COVID-19 outbreak is wreaking havoc and may become a global pandemic if the situation continue unabating in the coming months. In light of safety, many vendors are either canceling the physical event or switching to digital events or virtual events. On my radar this past week, there are Dell Tech World, AWS Singapore Summit and Google Cloud Next, to name a few. How do we build trust from these digital and virtual events?
All about the experience
The experience to engage at physical technology events is priceless. Putting the face to the name, to shake the hand and rub shoulders to connect cannot be quantified by just being present. Sharing war stories over coffee or beer, and exchanging good jokes and bad ones over dinner, are experiences which cannot be taken away in our lifetime. That is why I have always thoroughly enjoyed my Field Day experiences since 2014.
I am old school. I believe in 關係, because the kind of camaraderie, the fellowship, the brotherhood or sisterhood built from trust is immeasurable. The chemistry mix of experience would be hard to reproduced. An old hand at EMC once said to my team and I, “I would go to war with you guys any day!“.
The question today is “Can Digital or Virtual Events replicate that experience and build trust?”.
Adapt to change and Change to adapt
Since its inception, VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) has not been strongly adopted. There were many naysayers, including myself, and it was all about the user experience. “Will it be fast enough?“, “Can I do this or that?” were the usual questions but today, VDI has been well received to have a growing presence. The skeptics have reduced with the constant improvement in the technology, and the users have adapted to the VDI experience.
The transition to digital and virtual events will spark change as well, and the experience will be redefined in a different context and a different experience. These events just have to develop a different of stickiness, one which can forge a new trust mentality from the experiences.
Fickle, Fleeting and Fear
One of the unfortunate effects of digital and virtual events is the 3 Fs – fickle, fleeting and fear. If the delivery and the messaging are not done right, the audience is fickle and can change loyalty easily. The influence can be fleeting because the experience may not be lasting. Lastly, there are fears of losing the intended effects and may cause further deterioration of branding and trust.
Digital and virtual events may find it difficult to build and maintain trust and tackling the 3Fs is a must to build confidence in the brand.
Tribal Marketing and Rise of Influencers
An effective way to build trust whether they are the physical or digital events is borrowing someone else’s trust, someone who already has the permission to share their influences and ideas with others. Tribal marketing if you will.
Seth Godin’s 2008 book, “Tribes“, best exemplified this. Today, with the very connected and digital world, the Influencers are coming in strong, especially for technology. These are not the usual Instagrammers or the Youtubers who indulge in marketing consumer-based products or services, but the kind of Influencers who are thought leaders, subject matter experts, ideanators, visionaries. They bring different kinds of personas, but these personas can be shaped into trusted leaders in digital and virtual events. In a sea of noise, these Influencers are your signals where others congregate and convene, listen to, and be influenced.
The rippling influence
The mixture of digital or virtual events can be concocted and curated for different kinds of experiences. While physical events are usually an annual affair, digital events live past the event dates, especially when there are consistent engagements on Twitter, LinkedIn or even Instagram or Facebook. These could be the makings of digital communities which are more globally widespread, where the influence would start as a drop in the sea, rippling through as it opens new avenues of messaging and branding.
The digital marketing aspect also allows these digital and virtual events to stitch together a new narrative, a fabric of story telling. This new approach brings together a different kind of experience to build trust.
In my opinion, digital and virtual events have to be coupled with physical events to create deep trust. Technology communities such as VMUG (VMware User Groups) or Veeam Vanguard Program often have regular physical meetups to keep the tribal fires burning, in addition to the online digital and virtual engagements.
Trust has to be earned, and to earn it, a permission must be given. Digital and virtual events have to get that permission to build trust in the brand. Tangibility of an experience and a sense of belonging that evokes the inner feeling is how trust can be built.