In the last seven months or so, global concerns over COVID 19 have compelled many companies to cancel their in-person events or move them online. While businesses are now facing many new challenges, this moment also offers a valuable opportunity: to understand why, and how, to create a virtual events strategy that’s integrated with your overall marketing plan, now and for the future.
According to a research study last year, 80% of marketers believe that live events are critical to their success. When surveyed, B2B marketers also rate events as the single most-effective marketing channel over digital advertising, email marketing, and content marketing. Consequently, 24% of B2B marketing budgets are dedicated to this marketing channel. Given the impact events have on B2B marketers’ results, the COVID-19 crisis reminds us how important it is to continually innovate our practices to anticipate how global changes will evolve how we meet and work.
This also underlines the importance of having an effective event marketing strategy. As an integrated part of your marketing strategy, events have been certified as having the edge in building your brand and establish her as a market leader. And they can help deepen your relationships with existing customers and prospects, at any stage of their buying journey.
However, even before the current COVID-19 crisis, hosting in-person events had some trade-offs. In-person events are not really cheap to organize as well as to attend. Attendees face downtime and lost productivity, while employers must subsidize their travel, dining, and hotel costs. And, as more businesses strive to go green and promote more environment-friendly policies, attendance at some events are bound to slide downwards.
These are good business reasons to host virtual events—even after this global crisis passes. But by developing an ongoing virtual event strategy, you also take a forward-looking stance into the ways things will continue to evolve.
While some businesses might still want to cling to the accustomed former, many others will have experienced the benefits of the latter—particularly when executed with a strategic vision. For example, let’s compare these two scenarios.
Imagine an attendee arrives for an in-person event and registers for three sessions. Unfortunately, on the way to the first session, she’s distracted at a booth where she picks up several handouts and misses most of the session. She arrives on time to the next session but loses interest and leaves early. The third session? It’s awesome! She stays the whole time, takes all the handout materials provided, and asks two questions that are relevant to her organization’s needs.
The event is over and you’re now ready to nurture the prospect. Unfortunately, here’s all you know: You have her contact information and can surmise her interests based on the sessions she (hopefully) attended. That’s it. You don’t know precisely where she went, what she did, which speakers most interested her, what questions she asked, or which materials she wanted.
Now, imagine the new normal:
The same prospect registers for your all-digital, virtual experience. Only now you can see exactly which sessions she attends. You can see if she arrives late or leaves early. You have a record of every question she asks, at every session. And you know which materials she’s interested in and what she downloads.
Insights like these are gold when scoring leads and converting prospects into customers—and in understanding which sessions participants found valuable. With the right infrastructure and tools, you can track and manage this data. Now, when you follow up after the event, you can place her in the nurture stream that is of most interest to her. You can personalize your emails and tailor your follow-up. And you can build a deeper, more profitable, relationship.
Now decide, which one is the better option? While it might not be a stroll in the pack to achieve this type of digital success in a multiple-day industry conference, considering a comprehensive approach to your virtual event strategy can facilitate success.
Using this checklist to ensure that your virtual events strategy uses the right content and technology and aligns with your overarching marketing strategy.
The first step is to evolve the needed Strategy.
Analyze your market, current plans, and KPIs from past events. After that’s complete, look at the most beneficial activities and begin to think of how you might replicate them virtually. This could take time with your team to brainstorm or do some research. Keep your focus on the kinds of activities that have provided the most benefit and that align to your overall goals and integrated marketing approach. Resist activities that would be just for fun or that you can’t measure.
Another step is to assess your technology infrastructure and digital event management tools. The right martech infrastructure will help you run a successful virtual event from beginning to end and beyond to nurture, so you can get long-term value from your content. This means assessing not only your marketing automation and online meeting and classroom software, but the tools you will use to analyze the event when it’s over. And of course, it also means making sure you have the right-skilled staff to run it.
Consult with your marketing operations and automation teams early so they’re prepared to execute each event, deliver promotions seamlessly, and capture engagement data and develop a targeted promotional plan for every virtual event, just as you would for any other event.
A quality digital experience is another vital item on the checklist.
Create thoughtfully designed content and digital experiences to fully engage audiences. You can also use these assets to nurture prospects as part of an ongoing campaign.
The last tool that looks like one of the most vital tools is getting top-notch Analytics.
Make sure you have the right tools to manage the data you’ve captured and track leads after the event. As mentioned above, analytics tools need to be in place beforehand and set to measure your KPIs. They are a critical part of your overall strategy and pre-event setup. Use this data to measure your success and inform your strategy for future events.
When restrictions on large events and travel are eventually lifted, many businesses will face a new choice: to host in-person events again or continue to create virtual events for an increasingly agile, distributed workforce.
With thoughtful planning and a well-structured, strategic approach, B2B companies can create deeply engaging and rewarding virtual events to achieve your marketing goals and expand audience participation.