Anyone involved in planning, promoting or attending virtual events in the last year and a half can speak to the challenges involved in transitioning from in-person events to virtual alternatives. It was an abrupt and unexpected shift necessitated by a once-in-a-generation pandemic. But now that we’re almost a year in, with virtual (or at least hybrid) events looking like they will be the way of the future, it is critical to optimize these events to springboard demand generation and meet current needs.
B2B event marketers started 2020 with fully baked plans and budgets, as most of that legwork is completed many months, if not years, in advance. As COVID-19 spread across the country in Q1, most marketers began to shift plans, but even then, there was a wait-and-see approach. Eventually, in-person events were no longer a viable option — or even allowed.
This was a momentous loss for many companies, as these events are key opportunities to generate leads, to share their corporate message, and to gather key decision-makers in one place to connect face-to-face and lock down sales and renewals.
Naturally, event funds were reallocated to hybrid and virtual events, such as webinars and online conferences. So far, the consensus has been that, like most things, virtual doesn’t compare to in-person but has its fair share of advantages, too.
The upside includes expanded audience reach and accessibility — as attendees no longer need to take time off and travel — and the ability to capture more information about event attendees for better lead analytics. There is also more flexibility in if or how virtual events are gated and what kind of information you want to require attendees to provide, based on your goals — such as reach, engagement or lead generation.
It seems safe to predict that although the event industry will undoubtedly push hard for hybrid events, virtual events will continue to lead the way in 2021. It’s unlikely that we will see a meaningful rebound in live events, even with a vaccine, until 2022.
In the meantime, there will be an oversaturation of virtual events. Here’s how to stand out:
- Know Your Audience: Virtual events are competitive and numerous. Now, it’s not just your competitors’ events you’re up against, but the laundry, for example, your attendee could do during the time spent in a webinar. You have to offer a unique message that your audience wants to hear and can’t get elsewhere. To do that most effectively, ask them what they want! Survey segments of your audience to learn what they’re looking for and then deliver it.
- Segment Your Audience: With the sheer number of virtual events out there, it’s helpful to tailor your content to segments of your audience so you can go deeper with them. Using the survey data from #1, create events that specifically touch on their challenges and pain points so they walk away with clear takeaways — and will want to attend future events because they know you’ll deliver value.
- Grab People’s Attention: Ask yourself why someone would set aside time to attend your event. What will they gain from it? When in doubt, imagine the buyer’s journey to determine what would resonate with them at different stages — and use that insight to plan and promote your event.
- Aim for Real Engagement: Engagement is the top priority, and engagement is more difficult in a virtual setting. It’s important to facilitate the event in a way that encourages participation. Make sure attendees have opportunities to be heard: in small forums, chat and peer networking. We recommend being an audience member of your own and other events and using that experience to optimize the engagement of your events.
- Express Your Brand Through Personalization: Engaging your audience isn’t just about your content or the discussion that takes place. It’s also building in time to stretch, breakout rooms to network, or fun activities to try. It’s easy for your brand’s voice to get lost in events, but there are usually many opportunities to personalize in ways that are true to your brand. The goal here is to establish and express brand identity, while also keeping attendees engaged in new ways.
The successful event marketer recognizes that “virtual fatigue” is real and that can’t-miss content is the way to combat it. Differentiation is critical as well.
B2B event marketers who know what prospective attendees are looking for will use that knowledge to inform events — and marketing strategies — in 2021 and beyond.
Dana Moberly is Senior Manager, Marketing Events at Spiceworks Ziff Davis (SWZD).