ON24 says the future of events isn't on the ground - it's digital-first. Here's its innovation strategy for virtual and hybrid events

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher April 30, 2021
What is the future of on-the-ground events? That's a matter of debate, but ON24 is betting on digital-first and hybrid events. If so, we'll need an upgrade in the online event experience. Here's what ON24 is rolling out.


Live events aren't happening yet. Virtual events are. But whether it's a webinar, a virtual conference, or some other type of interactive experience, you know it has to be good.

You are competing with so many other companies in the same situation that your events must be engaging, and they need to deliver data you can use to help you win the hearts of your customers.

I attended the ON24 analyst and media day session to learn how the ON24 Digital Experience Platform is helping customers create engaging experiences for their customers and prospects. According to Sharat Sharan, ON24 co-founder and CEO, "the era of engagement is here." He said that ON24 delivered over 200,000 live experiences in 2020. 

Sharan broke down the platform into three components: experience, intelligence, and connect. The experience component is comprised of four elements:

  1. Elite - live interactive webinars
  2. Conference - virtual events
  3. Engagement Hub - content experience hub (think along the lines of Uberflip)
  4. Target - personalized web page experiences for a single person or audience

The intelligence component focuses on providing engagement and prospect analysis and an AI-driven personalization engine. Both offer first-person data and analytics. And the connect component integrates the platform across marketing tech such as marketing automation, CRM, and BI systems.

We are shifting to a digital-first hybrid engagement model, Sharan said. Physical events will not go away completely, but they will complement or augment a digital-first strategy. The more experiences you provide, the better the engagement, which ultimately leads to more customers and success.

How is ON24 innovating?

Jayesh Sahasi, Executive Vice President, Product, and CTO, gave us a look into the innovations happening at ON24 designed to extend experiences and drive engagement.

The major update is the introduction of breakouts. Breakouts are pretty much what they sound like, breakout rooms that people attending a live webinar or event can transition to when they want to do more one-on-one or small group interactions. You can provide an access code to attendees or give access to everyone. 

One example Sahasi gave was a virtual conference where an attendee might want to speak with a salesperson - the two could enter a breakout room to have that discussion. Other examples might be breaking a big group into workgroup sessions or creating a breakout room after a talk that needs more time for Q&A. You can get detailed analytics on these breakouts to help you understand who is using them and how they are helping drive engagement.

Sahasi also talked about Virtual Conference Pro, a self-service event setup experience that makes it quick and easy for a company to set up smaller conferences. There's a direct integration with Drift to include conversations into conferences and webinars. Other integrations included Outreach to share the prospect engagement profile and Veeva for life sciences marketers.

Account-based marketing is another area of focus for the company. The account engagement profile offers analytics at the account level and the individual people/profile level under the account. Also, if the funnel is tagged correctly in the platform, you can get analytics by funnel stage. 

Content experiences don't have to be at the account level, though. Instead, they are often at the individual prospect level with content driven by AI and personalization fed through ON24 data. According to Sahasi, a person never sees the same content recommendations twice, and admins can select what types of content to include in the recommendation engine.  

A new Center for Marketing Transformation

To help customers win at digital-first experiences, ON24 has launched a Center for Marketing Transformation. Cheri Keith, Director of Strategy and Research, talked about a new marketing imperative where marketers must be audience-first focused and experience-driven.

The new portal offers resources that will help customers make informed decisions about their strategies and plans. It includes benchmarking data and research, as well as plenty of guides and playbooks. There is also a maturity assessment and certification courses on the new 4Ps of marketing and digital-first experiences. I asked if these certifications will be made public - something many tech vendors are doing to win customers. Kieth said that they would provide a lightweight version of the content to everyone sometime in the future. 

My take

ON24 is an impressive platform with many components for marketers to create and deliver virtual events like conferences and live webinars. I liked the content experiences capabilities, particularly because it extends engagement to non-event experiences that provide customers and prospects personalized content (not just their company). 

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