May 15, 2020 – In wake of the coronavirus outbreak, large business events are being cancelled or shifting to a virtual format. As a result, marketing teams feel the need to balance, but it is a delicate dance. The approach marketers will take while drafting their event marketing strategy, will determine whether virtual events and conferencing can become the latest vaccine for marketers for COVID-19.
That is why, our experts share insights on these tough questions: how should be businesses marketing themselves and driving sales during a crisis? Which are the most effective virtual event formats to engage with different groups? Which factors are critical for the success of an online event?
Here’s what they had to say:
1. Evaluate if Your Brand Narrative Warrants a Virtual Event
“There is a lot more on everyone’s minds than just what’s going on at work. Leveraging empathy to create connections and form trust will provide stronger working relationships that last beyond the crisis. Consider your intention for the event and build a narrative accordingly. Are you simply making an announcement on a new offering or demonstrating how this new offering will optimize a client’s workflow? The subject is the same in both narratives, but only one demonstrates a need for a virtual event.”
2. Take a Unique Approach for Different Event Formats
“Virtual events can be applied in several different ways:
“Customer/user conferences: We love these because they are a great way to focus on your products and to share and encourage ideas with customers. This is exactly what we did at Momentum where we helped customers and partners understand how to be successful with the DocuSign Agreement Cloud.
“Event series, such as roadshows or city tours: This format allows organizations to highlight business continuity, an essential during a pandemic.
“On-demand product trainings: Now more than ever it is important for our customers, who are also working in a remote and distributed way, to gain easy access to training materials. We have thought about what resources our customers need to be most effective with products like DocuSign eSignature or DocuSign Agreement Cloud products.
“Prioritize the attendee experience: Carefully think through and be cognizant of the attendee experience and incorporate digital representation of your company’s brand. We suggest having a host or moderator throughout the event to keep the agenda moving forward along with having a variety of presenters with demos or customer use cases readily available to share with the audience. We have also found it helpful to craft “bite-sized” content ahead of time to ensure keynotes are concise and interesting.
“Create highly targeted programs and establish baseline measurements for success: Each event will and should have different goals and objections. Some baseline metrics to consider might include developing attendance goals, setting conversion rate targets, measuring the average view time of event elements (e.g. things like keynotes, breakouts, and demos) or conducting a post-event survey.
“Use a simulive model to avoid risky technology issues: These days, attendees are drawn to live interactions, but this can be risky. We have found using a “simulive” model mitigates any technology issues you might run into in a live situation. All or some portions of the event are pre-recorded, but are moderated live and presenters are available for a live Q&A. This gives the audience the best of a seamless presentation experience, with the interactivity they crave. Tools like polling for engagement or leveraging an internal chat software can triage any technical issues and are especially important to maintain a natural and effective flow.”
3. Build a Strong Virtual Event With Account-Based Marketing in a Crisis
“Not adding to the noise of an overcrowded digital market. We are stripping down many of our marketing activities like paid media placement and more top of the funnel brand awareness plays in favor of more focused account-based marketing efforts and other personalized approaches. During a crisis, sales language and aggressive tactics are not appropriate for most efforts. That is where marketing folks can step in with clean and concise copy and a gentler approach. At the same time, the sales teams are masters of lead generation and audience targeting that are crucial to streamlining our efforts.
“Focusing our lead generation and sales strategies on the biggest changes and pain points are specific to B2B sales teams. For example, we know that physical events and tradeshows are key grounds in the B2B world for meet-and-greets, prospecting, and closing deals. So we built a strong marketing play specifically geared toward bringing all the benefits of physical events to the digital space and highlighting the other tangible benefits a sales lead could gain for these virtual experiences that are not possible at physical, in-person events.”
4. Double Down on a Consultative Sales Approach in Virtual Webinars
“With in-person events cancelled, we got creative and leaned more heavily on virtual webinars and content marketing, tailoring all content to be relevant to marketers’ new normal. We have also spent time previously allocated to tradeshows on updating fundamentals, like revamping our Salesforce process and automations.
“Meanwhile, Whereoware’s sales team doubled down on their consultative sales approach, understanding each prospects’ unique situation, and recommending easy-to-implement ways to sell online, while businesses were closed. Our marketing and sales strategy did not change as much as it tightened focus on helping clients now to withstand COVID-19’s impact.”
5. Pivot Virtual Events on Social Media Toward Empathy
“While COVID-19 has drastically impacted every industry, the marketing sector is one where we have had to re-evaluate many of our existing strategic plans and shifted our approaches to:
“An Increased Focus on Social Media: According to Tech Crunch, social media use on Facebook has spiked 37% since the start of the pandemic. With everyone stuck indoors, we are seeing a higher number of engaged social users than ever before. With social spikes across the board, it is crucial for marketers to tap into this captive audience and respectively share their message where relevant.
“Taking an Empathetic Tone: Brands need to acknowledge the situation at hand and lead with compassion in all communications. There is a time and place for certain messages, and many people have experienced loss in some way due to COVID-19. This is not the time to take advantage of the situation to promote your brand. Consumers will remember the companies that handled the pandemic with class versus those who used it as an opportunity to sell. It is in your best interest to be in the company of those that led its message with empathy.
“Demand for Informational Content: Now more than ever, people are looking for expertise and a fresh perspective anywhere they can find it. Businesses that fill this need will become the go-to for purchasing. Find a gap in your industry and fill it with engaging and informative content. Smart and relevant content will be far more appreciated now than an empty sales pitch or promotional ad.”
6. Curate Great Content to Engage Target Audiences in Virtual Events
“The most significant changes have been events being cancelled, business travel nonexistent, and working remotely. This has forced our marketing and sales teams to find new ways to not only engage with our customers and prospects, but each other.
“Now, more than ever, the content is critical to these events. Regardless of format or platform you choose, you do not have a swanky venue or travel destination to attach to anymore. It has really evened out the playing field and made the best content rise to the top.
“Understand and know your intended audience and curate content that will have them leaving satisfied. Find unique ways to engage during the event, whether that is live polling, crowdsourcing ideas for charity donations, etc. If you have done a great job with your content, the best marketers will not be thinking of their virtual event as a one and done. This content can and should live on to help your intended audiences beyond the day of.”
7. Focus on Low-Latency Video and User Engagement in a Virtual Event
“We turned to our customers to help us tell our story. We’ve built a great tool, but our customers use it every day, for everything from critical communications, to enabling the ‘new normal’ (like our work with Jewish Heritage Network), to helping businesses develop new standards for remote work and virtual conferencing.
“Finally, we have got some very exciting use cases right now. The previously mentioned JHN application helped bring together communities during an important Jewish holiday. We are also working with companies like Pragli that are redefining the virtual ‘workspace,’ or a virtual tap room with Secret Hopper that helps the hospitality industry find creative ways to run happy hours.
“In each cast, there are three things that you need to run successful virtual event:
- Low-latency video – no one wants to log onto a virtual event that lags and cannot handle scaled usage.
- User engagement – we have worked with several companies using our tech to create not only a virtual meeting space, but private spaces for people to engage inside conversations.
- Humanize the event – consider video fatigue. It is important for organizers to think about the best ways to allow people to feel engaged without feeling forced to be glued to the screen.”
8. Maintain Your Focus on Delivering Highly Relevant Messaging
Rob Giglio, chief marketing officer, DocuSign
“While there is no doubt these are unprecedented times, and the DocuSign Global Marketing team has made some slight tactical pivots with regards to strategy, overall, we have felt confident in our approach. Because of that, it’s allowed us to remain consistent in our strategy: maintaining an acute focus on our customers and their needs, continuing to focus on highly relevant messaging so that we can break-through the extensive marketing noise that exists, and measuring all that we do to learn from strengths and opportunities.
“From a tactical standpoint, we recently shifted our events strategy for 2020 from live and in-person to digital. And we have seen some surprisingly successful outcomes. For example, we made the decision to go virtual with our annual customer conference Momentum in March, shifting it from an in-person event to a special two-hour livestream in less than 72 hours from kickoff. We had more than 5,000 people virtually join the livestream from 90+ countries. In addition to the shift in our approach to events, we have increased our focus on customers. Over the last several months, we have identified segments that need our product most at this time and boosted our focus on customer success so that customers feel heard and supported.”
“Cut zero corners. To get messaging out and keep up with the quickly changing COVID-19 landscape, ensure the quality and finish of materials and communications continue to reflect the quality of your brand. Your audience can distinguish a slap-stick deck and automated email confirmation from a thoughtfully crafted experience.”
9. Deploy Information in a Mix of Video and Interactive Formats
Events are a huge piece of a brand’s strategy, both for business goals and community building. Now, many events have gone ‘digital first’ and brands are deploying information in a mix of video and interactive formats, instead of in person. We have seen success with a variety of alternative event formats, including:
Changing the format of a standard webinar: For example, a late-night talk show-style webinar with an industry leader as the host can dramatically increase engagement for a product launch.
Taking to the stage: We recommend using Large Format Stage Presentations (LSFPs) for major announcements that would normally be live. LSFPs are filmed at large theaters with multiple cameras to mimic the scale of a live event. A green screen is used behind the speaker and engaging videos and graphics are added in post-production.
Working with media partners: Partnering with relevant publications for a site takeover, branded content or paid placement is a great way to hit a wide audience for an announcement. This method works best when the announcement is newsworthy and the media partner you choose is truly relevant to your audience.”
10. Offer the Audience Value With Key Takeaways in a Virtual Event
“Virtual events are a critical replacement for cancelled in-person events, filling a void for businesses eager to stay connected within the changed environment. Their flexibility meets various objectives: a virtual market on your e-commerce website can replace a canceled vendor market, a webinar can replace a conference speaking session, or a teleconference meeting can replace an in-person sales meeting.
“A successful event requires reliable and accessible technology, a focused topic or agenda, and interactive features to encourage engagement. For sales and group meetings (even Happy Hours), we use video chat tools like Go to Meeting or Zoom to mirror in-person meetings. Meeting face-to-face (even virtually) elevates the collaboration in a way an email or call rarely can. For our webinars, we use video, solicit Q&A, and strategically focus the content to ensure the audience walks away with concrete actions, regardless of budget or resources. Focusing on audience value is the number one priority, regardless of channel or physical limitations.”
“Today’s average workday calendar often consists of back to back meetings, squeezing in lunch, tending to children/parents/babies, catching up on emails and making time to, work. Respect your audience’s time as they make time for you. Provide an agenda, start on time, summarize key takeaways, and leave room for questions (it’s the best part).”
Notes for Your Post-It
Whether you are a vendor who is creating your own virtual event or a brand who is sponsoring one, keep your focus on catering to your audience needs. That is the most important thumb rule for delivering a successful virtual event. From thereon what matters is your format selection, targeted messaging, and an empathetic tone during these complicated times to help you stand out from your competition. Keep in mind, aggressive sales pitches can dilute your overall brand’s messaging, whereas creating brand awareness will play in favor of your account-based marketing efforts during a crisis like COVID-19.
Read the original article on Toolbox Marketing