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Online is not the same as Virtual

On the face if it, this statement seems obvious. We all know the difference between online business solutions and virtual business solutions. Business have been online for ages already – think websites, web-based software solutions and social media. Virtual solutions on the other hand, bring up concepts such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality – or at least a 3D experience that resembles a real-life situation.

With the onset of the COVID Pandemic, many businesses had to quickly adapt to remote working solutions and we have seen a proliferation of online solutions, claiming to offer virtual business solutions. This is especially true for ‘virtual events’. Perhaps it’s because the word “virtual” sounds more sexy and trending than on-line but its misuse is not only confusing, it’s misleading.

In this article, we will explore the difference between online and virtual business solutions and quickly explore the main considerations when deciding on a virtual solution.

Real engagement is becoming a challenge

One of the first major differences that business quickly realized within the first month or so of remote work is that online solutions might be excellent at facilitating communication between people, but it is really bad at promoting true engagement. Any video conference-based solution – think Zoom, MS Teams – were designed and built to facilitate meetings. It was never intended to replace the human interaction between people.

Virtual Business Solutions (including virtual events) are designed and built with the full spectrum of human engagement in mind. It facilitates formal business communication but goes much further by allowing informal interactions such as ‘water-cooler’ chats (informal, personal chats between people) and enabling game-based competition and collaboration. This results in a more “immersive” experience which is remembered long thereafter as opposed to a 2-dimentional interaction with a multitude of screens.

Attentiveness and Memory Retention

Another major difference between online solutions and virtual solutions comes with the way it approaches task driven activities. Since online solutions are by default website-like solutions, all admin activities resemble the completion of an online form. It is text heavy even if it includes dropdown lists. In this way, online solutions are in essence digitized business solutions – not much more.

Task driven activities are approached very differently by Virtual Business Solutions. Since it includes elements normally associated with game-play such as point systems, unlocks, missions, levels, status bars and leaderboards, it allows people to perform tasks in a fun, inspirational and engaging way. Whether we are talking about employees or event delegates, the user is not confronted with soul crushing, text heavy admin tasks, but rather fun and inspirational game-play that achieves the intended event / task goals.

Many experts contend that the memory retention of subjects after a VR experience tends to be much higher than after viewing normal video or text-based learning materials. In their paper Dual Coding Theory and Education, authors James Clark and Allan Paivio explain how memory is anchored and made stronger when there is increased multi-sensory input.

Using the right terminology

On-line Solution.

This distinction is especially true for complex business solutions like events.

Online solutions are often nothing more than juiced up video conferencing software. Yes, it might include fancy functions such as chat, ‘exhibition stands’ (which is basically a webpage with company info) and networking (exchange of user info) but it looks and feels like a website. It also offers very limited design and branding options. Limited to white-label solutions – meaning your solution (e.g. event) will look and feel the same as everyone else’s – it provides little to no boost for your brand equity.

Virtual Solution

Virtual Solutions on the other hand, offer full design and branding opportunities since is it not built on the same platforms as online solutions.

Do you want your virtual office to be on the beach? No problem! Do you want your virtual event to take place in space? Done! Do you want to transport your customers to the jungle? Let’s do it! Should the exhibition hall resemble one in the real-world? Easy! Virtual Solutions offer the client full development authority. Design, layout, functionalities, colour, texture, avatars, background, environment – everything is customizable, taking your brand equity to the next level. Your event will be truly unique – no other event will look or feel the same as yours.

What solution is best for you?

We have tried to help you decide which option would be best for your needs. Below, please find a table with a few elements you should consider.

Debunking myths around gaming audiences

According to a study by the PEW Research Center, although playing video games is especially popular among young adults, a substantial number of older adults play video games as well. More than half (58%) of those ages 30 to 49 play video games, along with 40% of those ages 50 to 64 and 25% of those 65 or older.

And gaming is on the increase.

According to Stefan Hall, Project Lead, Media, Entertainment and Culture, World Economic Forum, the global video game industry is thriving, despite the widespread economic disruption caused by the coronavirus. With the practice of social distancing reducing consumer and business activity to a minimum, gaming offers an engaging distraction for people at home looking for social interaction, and initial data shows huge growth in playing time and sales since the lockdowns began.

A study by Kantar, one of the world’s leading consumer research agencies, (www.kantar.com), indicated that 71% of people ages 35 to 55 play mobile games on a weekly basis. Interestingly, 43% of people ages over 55 play games on a similar frequency. This study clearly shows that people of all ages are very comfortable to engage with game-based content.

Why are we mentioning this? Many organizations are hesitant at first to move to true virtual business solutions because they are concerned that individuals older than 35 will not enjoy interacting with a virtual solution. We have found that this is a myth not supported by research or our own experience.

While older users might be a bit more tentative before interacting with a virtual solution, once they see that it is not different than working with other software or mobile Apps, they thoroughly enjoy the unique experience that virtual solutions offer.


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