With apologies to the late great Olivia Newton-John, getting physical is not exactly en vogue right now—hence the deluge of virtual events we’ve all been invited to in the past 7ish months (wow, it’s November already). Now, obviously it’s been an odd adjustment to make (no one would argue that this year has been ordinary), and some of the early-in-COVID events we attended virtually were pretty bland, but folks continue to improve their approaches to virtual events, and I do think we’ve come a long way from the simple webinars of the past.
In a recent CMO Huddle (which now has its own website here!), I discussed virtual event experiences with some amazing CMOs. A bit to my surprise, almost all had a found a formula that worked despite a wide range of objectives, scale and executional approaches. And perhaps that’s the biggest insight here: take an approach to virtual events that works for your business. To help inspire your thinking, here are 5 success stories along with the lessons learned from already inspired CMOs.
Micro Events for Macro Results
One approach that has been working quite well is actually a series of microevents. These included 20-30 attendees, both customers and prospects, and included no selling, and no brand messaging. The ‘business’ angle here is to have customers share real experiences with each other, and to have the host brand be a background character (though one that is always close by and in the conversation). These are best kept short, from 90-120 minutes. This event type offered informational discussions for prospects, and nudged them ever closer to a sale (without selling). A lesson learned here was the critical importance of organizing these by affinity / vertical market rather than by geography, which is essentially irrelevant in our currently virtual-only world.
Micro-er Events for Macro-er Results
Perhaps the terminology could use a bit of massaging, but the event series one CMO put together was even more micro than the previous one. Here, 8-10 C-suite members, including prospects and perhaps a couple current customers, join together for an exclusive and unique entertainment experience. The key here is to create an exclusive premium experience that an executive would enjoy like a high-end wine tasting coupled with a thoughtful and engaging speaker. Add in a networking component and you’ve paved the way for post-event conversations, at which point you’ve earned the right to tell these execs a bit about your product or service.
Reaching the (Virtual) Summit
In late March and April, a number of big brands like IBM and Adobe rushed out with virtual conferences to replace their physical ones. Sadly, many attendees found these experiences wanting and spread the word that virtual conferences just plain suck. Since then, many CMOs have been understandably gun shy. As it turns out, virtual summits and conferences don’t have to suck and several CMOs have found success making a few key adjustments. First, invest in first rate speakers and performers that will attract attendees. Second, invest in production values (consider having a remote studio). Third, keep the sessions 30 minutes or shorter. Fourth, make sure the right people attend by creating a competition among employees to get customers and the right prospects there. Fifth, include polls and other interactive activities. Sixth, create 1:1 opportunities for your sponsors to engage with select attendees.
Do all of these things along with your own unique additions and you may enjoy the results that one CMO shared. Their virtual event had 3x the attendance of their physical event at ¼ of the cost even with a top-notch speaker (who was 1/3 the standard fee). They were also able to convert about 3% of the attendees into “pipeline,” creating a revenue stream that more than paid for itself.
Making the Most of Media
Partnerships are another great way to add some heft to virtual events. What these events lack in sales generation, they make up for with top-of-funnel engagements, and for building brand perception as a thought leader. Partnering with the right media outlet brings credibility, audience reach, and a great way to create content with enduring appeal. We’ve seen these cost somewhere north of $100k, but it can be well worth it for events that target high value customers. It’s also worth noting that the partner will have more control over content, as the media outlet, but you can definitely help steer them towards business-relevant topics.
Zooming Out of Plain 'Ol Zooms
Zoom fatigue is definitely setting in for many, but don’t write webinars off just yet. As with the other types of events, the key is to make these programs as engaging as possible. Focus on your customers and the expertise they can share (versus your product pitch). Include polling elements to keep things interactive (and to gather information for secondary content), focus on a headline that is relevant and non-salesy, and on a credible, awesome headliner. Assuming your content has legitimate value, is presented in an interesting manner, and you tell the right people about it, you can count on webinars to continue to attract prospects well into 2021.
We’re almost in 2021, and I’m sure plenty of folks are looking to leave 2020 in the dust—who would blame you! If you’re interested in discussing this subject a bit further, or just generally talking about how to continue adjusting your marketing to work in the modern climate, send me a note; I’d love to chat!