Metrics and Analytics

Why the Return of In-Person Events Shouldn’t Mean an End to Digital Ad Spend

October 21, 2021

6 mins read

Why the Return of In-Person Events Shouldn't Mean an End to Digital Ad Spend

Why the Return of In-Person Events Shouldn’t Mean an End to Digital Ad Spend

It’s been a whirlwind 19 months of COVID-19. After wrapping up CES 2020, Marketers went from planning their next events to scrambling for refunds.

You’ve heard it a million times already, but COVID-19 really has changed the way that we do things. Where we used to be able to meet in person at events or even for coffee, we’ve had to shift our attention and our interactions online. And that was only the beginning. With the cancellation of in-person conferences and conventions, budgets that were set aside for these events were reallocated to online efforts. Marketers had to find a way to redistribute their unspent event budgets, and after an investigation into how they could do just that, they turned to digital advertising – some because they already saw strong ROI in digital advertising, others after a period of trial and error spent learning which digital ad spend strategy would get them the right results for their particular business goals.

According to eMarketer’s July 2021 forecast, digital ads are here to stay. Just this year, U.S. B2B companies are on track to spend $10.84 billion on display advertising, up from $6.55 billion in pre-pandemic 2019. 

But COVID-19 can’t keep us from in-person events forever (knock on wood!). We’re already seeing hybrid events crop up, like this year’s B2BSMX, and even the return of some fully in-person events, like AdExchanger’s Programmatic I/O at the end of October.

As the world begins to reopen amidst the ongoing pandemic, Marketers will have to make a tough decision on how they spend the budget that they’ve used to hone their digital ad strategies.


The value of in-person events

Odds are good that you’ve heard someone complain about the disruption that the pandemic has had on their carefully laid Sales or Marketing plans. Traditional methods of reaching prospects and target accounts have had a rough go of keeping up with the major changes in both market and human behavior. One of the major reasons that they’re hitting the proverbial wall is that their efforts aren’t personalized to each of their target accounts.

It’s no wonder that people crave a return to in-person events – we’ve spent the last 19 months staring at our computer screens! But this isn’t just about getting away from our computers, when mixed in with the rest of your Marketing strategy, event spending holds a lot of value, including:

  • Driving brand awareness
  • Prompting new leads
  • Connecting to audiences face-to-face
  • Building community and customer engagement
  • Getting the right people into the room

The truth of the matter is that people don’t show up and engage the same way during virtual events as they do in-person. Not only is it easier to connect with others when we’re in the same room as them, but we also pick up on context clues, get a feel for how other attendees are reacting, and we have fewer distractions. There’s a reason why Sales prefers to meet with prospects face-to-face.

The value of digital advertising

Forbes has called digital advertising affordable, specific, and easy to use, and that about hits the proverbial nail on the head. Digital advertising also has the benefit of being scalable, which means that unlike traditional Marketing, you can test, analyze, and streamline your digital ad strategy until you find what works best for your business to increase brand awareness, win more business, and increase customer spend.

Other advantages in digital advertising include:

  • Flexibility in activating campaigns quickly and across channels
  • More granular targeting for campaigns

By far, however, the biggest leg up that digital advertising has on in-person events and traditional Marketing is that it allows you to interact with target accounts at every stage of the funnel, as well as track the impact those interactions have on your bottom line.

A return to in-person events?

The question on every Marketer’s mind is whether or not they should be allocating budget back to in-person events. While I’d love to have a definitive answer for you, the truth is that it’s still too early to tell. Things looked much more promising in the U.S. at the end of May and into early June, but the emergence of the Delta variant has thrown everything back up in the air. Some companies that had started sending employees back into the office have even had to pause and reverse those efforts.

Returning to offices and in-person events is an inevitability; the main concern when sending employees back into the office is the same concern that plagues us about returning to concerts, conferences, conventions, and the like: are we putting them – and ourselves – at risk by asking them to come back or attend?

And the right answer right now is that it depends. At Demandbase, we’re inviting employees back to our offices in San Mateo, New York, and our headquarters in San Francisco on a volunteer basis. This decision comes after careful consideration from our leadership team following the recent decline in confirmed COVID-19 cases since the middle of September, the easing of indoor mask mandates, and the implementation of health protocols. The new name of the game is flexibility, and we’re supporting that by allowing our employees to decide whether they’d like to continue working remotely or come back to the office when the time is right for them.

Our recommendation

Take a wait-and-see approach.

At this point, I’m convinced that every time I say “things are finally going back to normal” an extra month is tacked onto the end of the pandemic (sorry!). But what this really means is that there’s no rush back to in-person events. Ultimately, Marketers should review their current ROI for digital advertising and previous ROI for in-person events to determine if and when they make the shift back to in-person events from digital ads. No one knows exactly what we’re going to walk into when everything opens back up: in-person events may see an initial increase in prices, uncertainty and lingering fears may keep attendance from getting back to what it was pre-pandemic, etc.

In the meantime, continue to maximize your budgets on what has been working: digital ads.

Need more on digital ads?

You’re in luck! Our Director of Digital Marketing, Jennifer Hughes, recently answered a slew of Digital Marketing questions on DBTV, including:



And if you’d like to chat more about digital advertising, B2B in general, or anything else in this realm, shoot me a message at:


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