Mobile World Congress previewed what was to come. For a week in early February, headline after headline reported brand after brand withdrawing participation. It was surreal to me at the time that MWC – a conference behemoth with 100,000+ attendees – could actually be cancelled just days before the doors opened. Then, on February 10th, the event was scrapped. Our freefall into the new normal began. The now-rescheduled conference where I was supposed to present already seems another world away.
A forced evolution
B2B brands are at an inflection point many never anticipated and certainly never wanted. Among sales and marketing channel initiatives, Demand Gen Report research tabbed event marketing third in engagement effectiveness and first in conversions. That places event marketing ahead of pure-digital channels like email, product demos, and websites for lead and deal generation. B2B products and solutions are relatively complex – and conferences are we get to show, not just tell. The value of event marketing to the B2B world is proven and won’t be easy to replicate. As COVID-19 cleans the slate of scheduled conferences from now until who-knows-when, B2B brands are also suddenly without one of their most effective pipeline-building opportunities.
But since virtually all B2B sellers are affected, those quickest to find effective alternative strategies will be best positioned. While several of our clients use virtual tools as a part of their engagement strategy, webinars and smaller digital events have less complexity and require less coordination than comprehensive virtual events. As with any successful B2B initiative, success involves the right strategy, the right technology, and the right execution. And those decisions have myriad applications: from brands creating (future) in-person events that will now have more digital accessibility than in the past, to transforming live events into live webinars or on-demand predestinations that can still effectively engage.
We technology marketers are heavily dependent on alignment between product release and marquee event calendars. Will this matter in a new event marketing landscape where brands choose to produce events of their own invention – and perhaps with greater frequency?
The scramble for what's next begins
To evolve any B2B events strategy under the current circumstances, expectations need to be realistic. Leadership must understand that virtual events bring in only an estimated one-third to one-half the revenue of in-person events. Virtual events average 16 presentations. That’s a far smaller number than most offline multi-track conference events, but I believe that number will also now begin to rise. It’s unknown how much time customers and prospects will set aside for milestone virtual event formats, but I expect to see shorter and more focused content. With expectations and the sense of scope properly re-calibrated, internal stakeholders and sales/marketing teams should then work to establish the narrative and themes that their B2B organization’s digital events roadmap delivers.
The next step is rebuilding – at least to some degree – a sales strategy with defined goals around who will receive and act on captured leads, and how they will do it. This is the biggest and most common shortcoming I see in event lead generation. There must be accountability for lead follow-up (as well as accuracy in measuring success). Bake event metrics into execution. The metrics are aligned to proven and tangible activities, the more you’ll get out of digital interaction measurement. This strategy should track engagement, data capture, sales follow-up requests and more – just as you already do with physical events. Any measurement strategy should also include metrics quantifying the perception of the event from the viewpoint of sales targets, customers, internal stakeholders, analysts, and the industry overall. Additionally, you should closely track the frequency and quality of engagements at the event. And, of course, you must track ROI to determine the value of interactions with attendees and customers, all in juxtaposition with event costs.
Moving beyond high-level strategy, planning successful digital events requires tactical technology application. Get this wrong and even the best content won’t save you. A winning recipe for digital events is a mix of live, on-demand, and snackable content that’s easy to absorb and simple to share. Virtual event and webcast attendance and viewership metrics offer valuable guidance in tailoring this mix of available content. Some of the functions that we evaluate as part of technology selection are pre-event communications and registration, speaker management, personalization, polling, social management, meeting scheduling, and attendee-to-attendee networking.
On-demand video and media must be part of every event and post-event touchpoint. Just 39% of webcast registrants and 45% of virtual event registrants attend live. Just like with our favorite TV shows, easy on-demand access will drive a big share of viewership. Remember, too, that part of digital success is in the timing: midweek webcasts and virtual events outperform those presented at the end of the week. Be aware that virtual events also require a longer lead time than webcasts. You need to allow attendees time to register and find space for the event in their schedules.
Today’s physical limitations will eventually be lifted, but B2B event marketing – and the engagement and conversions it is responsible for – can’t afford to sit on the sidelines until then. We have multi-disciplinary SWAT teams that understand this pivotal moment and can help with next steps. Feel free to reach out with questions, ideas, or comments.