We take a look at an event where we helped a large international manufacturing company shift their large traditional in-person experience to fully virtual.
Like nearly all organizations that scheduled in-person events in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted BERNINA of America LLC’s annual gathering. Switzerland-based BERNINA is the world’s premier manufacturer of sewing, embroidery and quilting machines. The company has relied on a live, highly social annual event that is critical to its sales and distribution strategy, at which BERNINA unveils new products and conducts training sessions. But when COVID-19 struck, with its sales and growth on the line, BERNINA suddenly had to explore other options.
BERNINA is a 125-year-old company known for innovation, and it embraced innovative solutions to its event challenges. The company partnered with beedance to develop and host a virtual meeting, including Virtual BERNINA University. VBU, which began as a virtual event project, resulted in a significant digital transformation for the company, and it has become an ongoing resource for its community of distributors and sewists.
Translating BERNINA’s in-person event into an engaging virtual experience required creative problem-solving. BERNINA mandates training for distributors to sell its products, and the annual event traditionally includes a networking reception, sales awards and face-to-face meetings to sell inventory. A core component of every event is the BERNINA Store, a magnet for attendees.
Meeting BERNINA’s requirements for the annual event was tricky. Nine of the scheduled annual event sessions had to be live, while two could be recorded ahead of time. Ten sessions were hands-on, with audience interaction, and initially 22 sessions could be accessed on demand. The beedance team re-created the BERNINA Store as an e-commerce experience on Shopify, set up video cameras and streamed live demonstrations. The reception and awards became virtual, too, with point-of-view video and strong social media components.
One of the biggest transformations for BERNINA and its distributors was the launch of online calendar booking and order forms to facilitate sales of inventory to distributors before and after the annual event. This online system enabled BERNINA to shift its paper-based, manual process to a fully digital one, and sales grew by 50% over the 2019 in-person event.
Jeanne Delpit, Manager of National Events for BERNINA, noted the transition to a completely virtual program, with a different experience for attendees, was a challenge. “When you intend to have in-person events and then all of a sudden the world shuts down and you’re forced into a virtual opportunity, you have to scramble, you have to pivot, you have to adapt. The team at BERNINA made that happen and we were most appreciative of beedance and their support to bring that to fruition. It’s quite an eye-opener to take it from a typical in-person event to completely online where you have no contact with your friends, face to face, touch to touch, hug to hug. That was the biggest challenge for me,” she said.
Reaching a wider audience
Historically, BERNINA’s annual event would attract more than 400 distributors and 30 district sales representatives. Switching to a virtual hybrid event combining live and on-demand sessions allowed BERNINA to dramatically expand its audience – and meet demand for additional sessions. Nearly 1,900 people logged into the virtual BERNINA event, and the company hosted 78 on-demand classes. BERNINA also made significant attendance fee revenue.
Connie Fanders, Manager of BERNINA’s Embroidery Products, who also managed Virtual BERNINA University, explained the virtual event met its attendance goals and reached a wider audience: “Attendance was very good, and we were pleased. We were able to have a lot of international dealers, so it wasn’t just for our dealers in the states. Internationally, we were able to get exposure and get product information out. That would have never been possible if we had an in person event.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was the impetus for BERNINA to embrace digital transformation, which has brought unprecedented efficiency to the way it conducts business. But the pandemic also created a trend in the sewing community: people began making their own masks with different fabrics and personalizing them.
Replicating a multifaceted in-person event in a virtual environment takes a combination of vision, creativity and technology, which beedance used to deliver an experience that exceeded the expectations of BERNINA and its attendees. Ratings by those who logged in were among the highest ever for beedance: an average of 4.5 out of 5 for the overall virtual experience, and 4.8 of 5 for comfort in promoting, selling and teaching customers about the products. As a result of this success, BERNINA plans to continue virtual components of the annual event and make online experiences available throughout the year.
“Even though it was virtual, the feedback we got was very positive, people were excited. Even our staff seemed to be pretty enthusiastic about it,” said Christy Burcham, Director of Education and Training at BERNINA, who organized classes for BERNINA University. “I was expecting a little more of ‘This was OK,’ and the response was much more positive than that.”
“We can’t wait to be back in person and plan to do so in the next year, but we have set an expectation level for our dealers that there are certainly advantages to a virtual environment – the ability to see more of the content than they would in person, the ability to review it for a longer period of time, the opportunity to digest that information. Another big advantage is you can only send so many people to an in-person event but for a virtual event you can send your whole staff,” Burcham said. “These are all things that dealers want to come back to an-person event but don’t have to give up the advantages of a virtual event. So we have to look forward in providing some sort of hybrid environment where we know that the dealers will get the advantage of both the in-person and the virtual event.”