+32 (0)479 43 57 53    vincent@20CENTRetail.com
Live vs Digital Let’s get ready to rumble

Live vs Digital Let’s get ready to rumble

It’s not new

In 2020, many digital happenings have risen to replace tradeshows, congresses, conferences and many other events that had to be postponed or cancelled. 

But first, let’s get one thing straight. They were not mainstream, but digital events already existed before this COVID-mayhem. You can ask any decent expert; they will tell you that the current COVID-crisis accelerates certain trends in every industry. Many event organisers were already developing digital solutions or at least studying virtual opportunities before the sanitary crisis forced the event industry to a halt. So, digital events are not a consequence of the current situation, they only profit from the current turmoil. 

But one can ask the question: will these digital events replace the live ones or is there an in-between? Well I thought it would be interesting to hold a battle and oppose the two of them to answer that question. 


In the left corner, in the right corner

To have a proper battle, you must first understand who are the fighters involved. In one corner, let’s us put the liveor physical events. Those are the happenings you attend physically. Basically, it can be a trade show, a congress, a symposium…You go there, you have face to face meetings, you discover booths and exhibitors, etc. I believe you get the picture. 

In the other corner, I will place the digital events. Obviously, those are the ones you don’t attend physically. But I would like you to understand one thing. Lately, I hear two words used to depict those events: digital or virtual. But to me there is a nuance. A virtual event is digital, but a digital event is not necessarily a virtual experience. Many digital events are just people doing simply an online meeting or presentation via zoom, google meets or whatever tool you like to use. Some are even just a presentation you can follow or stream on YouTube as if you were just watching your favourite pre-recorded tv show. But, in my opinion, a virtual event is more than that. It implies an immersion into the event. It implies that your experience involves that you use a system to be in a virtual place, where the virtual event is happening. And with your avatar, you stroll in a virtual environment (based on real life concepts or imaginary), you interact with exhibitors at their virtual booth, attend conferences, network with other avatars of attendees etc. 

So, in my opinion, we should pay attention and be precise when it comes to the difference between virtual and digital events. 


Let’s get ready to rumble

But let’s get to the topic of today and oppose the combatants live and digital with each other. 

Welcome to the 20/CENT arena where two brave contestants are being opposed by the general public. Live or digital, who will come on top? 


One of the arguments that digital events have for them is that they are cheaper. They don’t involve travel costs such as hotel or transportation. Also, building booths for an exhibition should be less costly when it comes to virtual events. 

Wow, that was a first cheap shot by digital.


As less travel is involved, the overall carbon footprint of digital events should be inferior to the ones of live events. To be honest, it’s not something I verified and I haven’t found any scientific evidence about this. But it is an argument I often hear mentioned by digital organizers and I thought it was necessary to mention. 

The same goes with virtual booths. No material is used for building a stand, so it also means less waste and impact for the environment.  

And another hit by digital.

Economic impact

When a city gets to welcome a major event, the participants, whether exhibitors or visitors, tend to bring extra business for local establishments. Hotels, restaurants, transport, and tourism even, benefit from the extra activity. A digital event’s impact on a city is practically inexistant. 

But live event replies with a very valid counter argument.


One of the main claims in favour of a digital event is that their opening hours are extremely large. Take for example a conference. An event like that can be followed from anywhere in the world, regardless of the time zone you are in. And with the ability to have video replay, you can really live and relive a conference constantly. 

The same goes for a tradeshow. Instead of travelling far, you just visit a booth at the moment that fits your schedule, or the moment of the year that fits your business needs. You could imagine a tradeshow opened at all hours, all days of the year. You would just need to register and go to the permanent booth of the company you want to make business with. But then I wonder with this concept. Can we still talk about a tradeshow? A lot of digital and virtual providers describe this model as the permanent trade fair. But to me, this is more comparable to a business platform offering to participating companies and brands to have their own virtual space on a market place. 

Digital is fierce and throws in everything he’s got into the ring!


Especially now we had the COVID-crisis, digital events can claim they provide a safe virus free environment. But a vaccine for COVID will probably be developed in the future. Also, I believe organisers of live events will find procedures and protocols to ensure and guarantee a sufficient level of safety for the participants. Actually, many of these measures are even already in place today. 

Nice try by digital, but this hit wasn’t as strong as others we have seen today. 

But speaking of safety, one thing shouldn’t be underestimated. Digital events should guarantee a cybersafe platform. After tradeshows, I don’t know about you, and I don’t know how this always happens, but I usually get shady requests in my mailbox, and those are scams by people pretending they want to buy products or do business. So, if I participate at a digital event, I expect the organisers to provide a safe environment, and that a certain screening of participants takes place. Because in the digital world, lots of spams and scams are still happening.

Also, just think of the model of the “permanent tradeshow” I described above. If these trade show market places offer ways to exchange and place orders to participants, there should be also securities in place to ensure safe transactions. 

Wow, I didn’t see that one coming, but that was a great counter attack by live events. 


One of the major reasons to participate in an event is to do some networking and to meet current or new business contacts. Both live and digital are actually opportunities. At a live event, you need to be open and daring enough to make new contacts. On the other side, digital events offer matchmaking systems (similar to Linkedin or dating apps, but who cares about the system). The fact is that maybe the methods are different. But neither is more suited to networking than the other. 

Both contestants start to show signs of tiredness as they both neutralise each other now. 

A stimulation of the senses

Finally, let’s look at the stimulations of the senses. As I mentioned earlier, there is a difference between a digital event and a virtual event where you are immersed in the show. But neither of these can actually stimulate all your senses. And when it comes to certain categories of business or products, you do need more than your eyes and your ears. I can’t imagine being a buyer and just ordering a container of wine without tasting it first, and just base my decision on the fact that the bottle looks good and the manufacturer has a sweet voice. 

When it comes to certain domains (food, beverages, fashion…), when you need to touch, taste and/or smell, live is definitely better than digital

What a solid punch by live! 

Ooh right before the bell rings!


The decision goes to the judges

In conclusion, both event types have their pros and cons. But I will make a parallel with the retail world and compare this battle digital vs live with the battle brick and mortar vs ecommerce. Yes, that was to be expected, but it is the simple truth. One will not simply replace the other. The new one is sexy but not perfect. The old one can be improved, but won’t die. Specialists now talk in retail about omnichannel, phygital or whatever you prefer to call it. It will be the same in the event industry. The organisers will simply (if they are smart) create newer improved events to satisfy the participants by taking the best aspects of both live and digital

Well there you have it, it was a fierce battle to come to the conclusion that in the event industry, the future is hybrid!

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