Webinars, online classes, Zoom meetups and full-fledged conferences. Virtual events are no longer just another lead gen tactic added to an arsenal of marketing assets — they’re now the only option most people have. If you want to hear from experts in your industry, introduce yourself to potential clients or get your own thought leadership out into the universe, going digital is a must.
However, there are wrinkles that need to be ironed out for you and your team to see the intended results of these conferences. Gone (hopefully not forever!) are the days of standing at your booth, waiting for an interested party to walk up and say, “So, what do you do exactly?” while looking for some free swag.
I wanted to know what some of the pioneers and leaders in the marketing world were doing to make sure that their digital presence at events were matching up with the success they were used to seeing at IRL conferences, tradeshows or workshops. Here’s what I learned.
I haven’t attended too many virtual events since March, but I really like what IABC did with its Convergence event earlier this year and the networking piece over lunch. Each Zoom room had an IABC board member to lead a discussion that touched on various topics. It was a great way to meet new people (and reconnect with a few folks I hadn’t seen in a while!). However, I have continued to network one-on-one during the pandemic. Zoom, Teams and the good old-fashioned phone have been my friend. I’ve probably had 2-3 of these “virtual coffees” a week during COVID. And sure, they’re not like meeting in-person, but I’ve found myself looking forward to them even more as we’re all stuck at home, so I’ll be doing even more of that heading into the winter months!
Earlier this year, I was introduced to Zoom. I thought that it was interesting but didn’t know how quickly it would become a part of my everyday life. I have appreciated the opportunity to stay connected online for events ranging from Minnesota PRSA Career Coffees to the virtual PRSA Classics. While I have connected with people for virtual coffees and happy hours, it’s just not the same. I long for the day when I can feel comfortable meeting someone at a coffee shop for in-person networking or going with my colleagues to an in-person happy hour.
I’ve always been one to live-tweet events (introverted marketer) and I think that’s now one of the best options for connecting with other online event attendees. The event chat is always too crowded and moving too fast for any good conversations. One conference had an accompanying Slack community, which I thought was a great idea, but it didn’t have a lot of activity. I’m not sure a large enough percentage of attendees are comfortable using Slack … it’s still new to a lot of people.
But, Twitter still gives you the time to have one-on-one conversations, share your own thought leadership, and connect directly with speakers who are probably online during their recorded sessions. Plus, tweets are easy to go back to for recap blog posts like this one we recently did for HubSpot Inbound.
We are a B2B SaaS company with an ICP of organization leaders for youth sports organizations (super niche, I know). To put it into context, we typically attend 3-4 conferences annually as a vendor, and we get a positive ROI from attending / having a booth. This year, we are extremely bearish on virtual conferences. We aren’t attending any … and I’ll tell you why.
Most trade shows pitch vendors on some combination of Virtual Booth, a list of leads after the show, attendance to virtual sessions, and opportunities for virtual demos / meetups with attendees. After asking LOTS of questions, it came down to a few simple things for us:
- The game has changed. Gone are the days of blasting an email to conference attendees and expecting a positive response. We see no value in that.
- At an in-person conference, most attendees walk through the vendor marketplace in between sessions to kill time and network. What will they do in the virtual scenario that presents itself in 2020? Instead of browsing a virtual marketplace, we bet that they will tend to their day job, kids, personal matters, etc., rather than enter into a portal with a bunch of vendors eager to pitch a product.
- With in-person conferences, WE have control of the outcome, i.e., approaching people who look interested, spark up a conversation, and align quickly on if there is an opportunity. With the virtual scenario, it’s very much a “sit back and hope” mentality that attendees will choose to interact with your booth.
- We are taking the usual event $$ and putting it towards engaging our existing community of customers and finding ways to connect and grow our brand.
I’m pretty certain I saw a social post go viral recently that said something like “My new hobby is signing up for online conferences and never attending.” Relatable, right?
I’ve heard at least one marketer say they can’t give their full, undivided attention to an online conference the way they once could at live events. They feel pressure to be available at all times in our new work-from-home world.
But like all things in life, we have time for the things we MAKE time for. And those of us who’ve been working from home since long before lockdown know you CAN and SHOULD block off your calendar when you need to focus. Especially now that events are more accessible than ever with low-cost or free registration. This is one of the few upsides of social distancing!
If you truly cannot clear a moment off of your calendar for online events, catch the on-demand versions of the top sessions at your leisure. I take my laptop into my kitchen, into my bathroom, into my living room, and watch sessions while I make lunch, prep dinner, apply makeup (yeah, I started doing that again and it makes me feel so much better!), or polish my nails.
And do take advantage of the virtual networking and social opps online conferences offer. Yes, even you, Miss Introvert. Event pros are getting really creative about finding ways to make us feel connected without making it awkward. You don’t have anything to lose by giving it a try.
I keynote about 120 live events per year globally, so when the world shut down in March I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. Then we all discovered this amazing thing called Zoom — and life went on. For me that meant presenting from my worldwide headquarters — or as my mother likes to say, my basement. 🙂
The unique thing that I am doing that is making the event professionals who hire me very happy is not screen sharing. I use a big screen TV behind me to run my PowerPoint slides, and this allows me to stand back and the viewers can see my whole body. I can move around, get up in the camera to make a point, and do a virtual keynote as opposed to a webinar. I also have a huge office with sports memorabilia from floor to ceiling, which makes it interesting to look at — as opposed to a blank wall or bookshelf. The engagement is great, and I am enjoying interacting with my audiences.
Things are coming back though. In fact I had three in-person events in California this week — and I got creative with the planners to help make them happen: one was in a vineyard near Santa Barbara; one was on a rooftop deck over the bay in San Francisco; and one was in a redwood forest near Sacramento. Everybody loved being outside where they could all socially-distance, and each was an experience that was appreciated by the attendees. The world CAN get back to business, we just need to get more creative.
When the pandemic hit, events went virtual. At first, they were well attended as people were in lockdown and it was a form of content and familiarity. Others started to fast follow and the world became inundated with webinars and online events and the participation and engagement began to fade. Early attempts to replicate traditional sponsor lounges, coffee hours, happy hours, etc. didn’t translate well to the virtual world, and businesses are struggling to manage top-of-the-funnel lead generation in a world where the old playbooks don’t work. Here’s what’s working and what’s not:
- Simply hosting an event with the same name and trying to re-use the old playbook is a miss — you can’t just check the box and say, “we tried.”
- Marketing, whether physical or digital, is all about engagement. Marketers and event planners need to re-think how they best drive meaningful engagement, what will prove to be valuable to the audience and how the experience online can be a meaningful one for all parties.
- There is a tremendous need for compelling content — way more quality content than before — during and after the event to maximize the value. I recently attended an event hosted by a software that simulated a conference, and within that, the event planners spent a significant amount of time educating the audience in advance to prepare them for the type of engagement to expect. It dawned on me the epic amount of time this event planning took, but it was great — maybe even better than a physical event.
The bar is continually being raised when it comes to virtual events. It used to be that so long as your audio was clear, attendees were accepting of poor visuals and/or a poor camera presence. Today, however, presenting seated with your laptop computer camera where attendees are staring up your nose is no longer acceptable. If you want to really stand out, you must have a visually immersive program that is near television broadcast quality.
In addition, a presenter absolutely must have compelling and, most important, actionable content. If you want to keep attendees engaged they must be learning something new that will immediately help in their businesses and/or lives, and it must be presented in a way that keeps the attendee focused on the screen. It’s the presenter’s job to keep attendees from checking other websites and emails.
A professional presenter / speaker needs to have the same energy, excitement and entertainment as one would have on stage, and unlike performing on stage, a true professional today must also now be an expert in audio, lighting, visuals, cameras and video production techniques.
I miss the amazing visuals and photography that comes from a high-energy in-person event. In the shift to virtual, I help clients navigate the pre- and post-event strategies — strategies that were often overlooked or unrealized when real-life events were a thing! Pre-event, I create Virtual Meeting Kits that include tangible items related to the event theme, co-branded by sponsors. The attendees receive the kit in advance and can start engaging online, and the items in the kit make for a great photo shoot and video to built excitement for the virtual event. Post-event, I do what I’ve done for six years: create an engaging written event recap and drive post-event action.
How’s your event marketing going?
After hearing from so many experts, it’s clear that online events take quite a bit of planning — and content — to be the most effective. How are you connecting and engaging with your current and potential customers now? Smart marketing is still as important as it was earlier this spring, and next year will be no different.
If you’re looking for help upping your content production to support your event marketing in 2021 or would like to brainstorm different strategies on how to grow your business, Brandpoint is here to help! Contact us today to see how we can help you succeed, no matter the circumstances.