More so than ever before, marketers are expecting virtual events and webinars to carry their companies completely through the remnants of a pandemic and into a new age of prosperity.
“But the follow-up is where the value is,” says Saundra Merollo, senior engineer for Sharp.
We recently asked Saundra and several other marketers for their thoughts on current B2B virtual event trends. Here’s what they told us:
What’s changed in the last couple years
Mike Odendaal, co-founder of Bluebird Strategy, says the entire structure of virtual events and webinars has changed a lot in the last year or so.
“We’ve seen the evolution from very unengaged, very one dimensional, Zoom-meeting-type conferences, to integrated streaming, live interviews, and Q&A, borrowing a little bit of some of the Facebook features or Instagram TV features where you can live-comment or share emotions, the breakout chat rooms that then started happening with with Zoom, etc.”
Guy, a director of digital operations at a large media and trade event company, says the increase in volume of these events has lead to a lot more understanding about what works and what doesn’t.
“Personally, I’m trying to get the word ‘Virtual’ out of the language we use around our events of these type and prefer to use the terms ‘Digital’ or ‘Hybrid’ events. The term ‘virtual’ almost seems outdated now and conjures up memories of early virtual event efforts that still cause event organizers to take pause when considering planning a digital event.”
Structural & content trends in today’s B2B events
Merollo says more creativity, stricter time limits, rotating sets of speakers, avoidance of pre-recorded content, calling on people, and gamification all all hallmarks of more successful B2B virtual events.
“Don’t expect people to sit in front of their computer and not multitask,” Merollo says. “Minimize the time and take advantage of your medium, which doesn’t allow for as much immediate connection.”
“There’s nothing that pushes people to drift away into their own thoughts and activities than repetitive stream of sounds and conversation and content.
“Make sure virtual events regularly change the pace, the speaker, the volume and the type of content – utilize videos, music, even sponsored commercial!”
Early on in the pandemic, many companies tried to replicate their in-person events 100% via a “virtual” effort and quickly found that it is very hard to do that, and takes just as many hands to pull off in digital as it does face-to-face, Guy says.
“I think what organizers have come to realize is that ‘virtual’ attendees are not going to spend as much time in a digital event as they would a whole day on a show floor.
“So we’re seeing less tightly packed agendas to give people breaks from staring at digital windows for too long, and a lot more opportunities for networking and to have some fun that serve as the glue that keeps digital events sticky.”
The all-important follow-up
As Merollo said above, companies are gaining more value from these digital events from the follow-up.
“Ask for feedback — surveys are always great, but try to stay within 5 questions or less. Ideally 4 questions with drop down options and 1 question for general feedback. Remember the WIFM – i.e. all surveys collected back within 5 days and a raffle to go with it,” Merollo says.
David Baur-Ray, Marketing Director at Neural Experience (NX), says marketers are starting to realize how important it is to scrub and vet useful information from attendees, even ahead of the event itself.
“Instead of trying to shake hands, invoke awkward conversations, and trade business cards, we can now know who is truly in the virtual room, why they are there, and what they are looking for beforehand. This paves the way for a more direct approach and virtual liaison opportunities.”s
What’s up-and-coming in webinars?
Guy says hybrid events are more likely to overtake pure webinars, with things like streaming live sessions from the show floor into a digital platform, offering pre-recorded education, and roundtable meetings with both live and digital persons in attendance picking up steam.
“I’m also seeing a lot more events utilizing AI matching between exhibitors/sponsors and both live and digital attendees, to facilitate in person and online meetings between the right companies and customers. So the element of doing business at a trade show is not lot lost even without physical attendance.”
Another big plus for show organizers is that they can now also serve people who are appropriate for their event, but would never have considered attending in person.
“So hybrid events also offer a big benefit in audience expansion,” Guy says.