Vok Dams CEO, Colja Dams tells Mike Fletcher how our in-built campfire gene will result in a return to live before a reassessment of how hybrid can build for the future of marketing and communications
Colja Dams is a self-confessed tech nerd. The CEO of Vok Dams has been tinkering with broadcast and event technology for years so when the Covid-19 pandemic broke, he realised immediately that virtual and hybrid formats would pave the way for the event industry’s recovery.
When we speak, Dams is standing in a home studio, recently constructed in his basement and designed to be self-operated. He can present in front of his green-screen and operate the slide-deck controls with the bright orange trainers he’s wearing on his feet.
“Gartner’s marketing predictions for 2021 state that by 2023, 60% of those companies that pivoted to virtual events will incorporate real-time, real space back into their overall communications,” he says. “In the intervening period – before hybrid goes mainstream – I believe we’ll see a strong return to live before companies find a balance between online and in-person.”
Dams’ assertion that we’ll all race back to ‘live’ before resorting to a stable mix of online and in-person formats, is supported by those event enquiries being received by his agency worldwide, together with his own belief in what he calls ‘the campfire gene’.
“After the long months of lockdowns, people want to meet face-to-face again. This is human nature, we are social animals who thrive in groups. We’re attracted to congregating around the fire where it’s warm and familiar and it will take longer before we’re ready to venture into the darkness beyond,” he says.
Over a quarter of all enquiries currently received by Vok Dams in Germany now concern face-to-face events. While in China, where in-person events have been allowed to take place since the middle of last year, Vok Dams’ face-to-face activity enquiries now account for over 30%.
“The fact that more and more large events for over 1,000 participants have been requested since the first quarter of 2021 reflects this deep need for strong community experiences,” Dams asserts.
In the past year, Vok Dams has staged more than 1,200 virtual events including digital sales kick-offs, press conferences, trade show substitutes, panel discussions, virtual company meetings, award ceremonies and product launches.
As clients re-embrace live and strategically plan for a hybrid future, Dams believes that certain virtual elements will evolve, but many will fall by the wayside.
He says: “Virtual twins – those exact replicas of event environments where you’re an avatar and you have to walk over to the information or registration desk in order to click for details of the content programme – people years from now will only remember those as ‘one of those Covid events’.
“Why would you want to walk around a virtual event? There’s no future in making digital events look like physical events. You have to think digital first and evolve for online behaviours.
“A key evolutionary aspect will be the role of the moderator and cloud-based studio broadcasting. Gone are the days of the company CEO embarrassing himself on-stage, trying to host the conference. We’re moving into professional broadcast emcees and high production values.”
Dams believes that this re-evaluation of what constitutes a virtual or hybrid event will infiltrate marketing departments, as business after business hits the reset button on their entire communication strategies.
He says: “We’re now helping clients and their newly recruited chief platform officers to bring together previously siloed data and customer touch-points into a single digital experience hub. This will allow them to assess what formats and strategy will work to enhance different strategies, such as customer retention, sales leads, marketing automation or internal communications, for example.
“We’ve built seven broadcast-ready studios and helped clients to see the marketing sales funnel in a completely different way, through a more digital lens.”
Vok Dams’ future-facing hybrid events solution is built around an open platform, which allows for a myriad of different apps and plug-ins to meet different requirements and objectives.
“IBM helped us to create our own bespoke open platform, which allows us to integrate whatever app or social plug-in is required,” Dams continues. “It allows for much greater flexibility and automation and we can deliver a greater range of formats.”
Some of the hybrid formats, which Dams believes will play a key role in the blended future of live and online include, virtual buddying, whereby individuals in the room link-up with people online to share learnings; virtual showrooms, where online buyers can receive one-to-one detailed product demonstrations or experience how a product is made; audio-only, so that remote workers can listen to content without experiencing screen fatigue; and co-creation, which sees small groups collaborating through surface technology such as digital whiteboards or holographic table-tops.
“Planning, marketing and sales teams will require more agility, more collective ownership and more empowerment moving forward,” Dams says.
“We are in a period of continuous learning where goals, strategy, concepts and content must come first. We’ve learned as an industry that crisis management is vital but our digital up-skilling will ensure that all future concepts have digital back-up plans built-in.
As we re-value and re-appreciate social interaction, brands will learn the limits of digital. Hybrid will mean a better balance between our human need for physical gatherings and what digital technology, data and automation can achieve. It’s an exciting future.”