The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way marketers share content and undoubtedly the way we meet with others. It has left companies scrambling to cancel events or rethink their field marketing efforts. While we won’t be going to a tradeshow or conference anytime soon, that doesn’t mean you have to toss all the time spent planning your event out the window. The show must go online!
Increasing your marketing outreach efforts don’t make hosting or promoting a virtual event easy. But, GNW Consulting has a few tips to share that will help you ensure your first virtual event is a success. If this isn’t your first event, these ideas can help you maximize your efforts and host an event that isn’t only attendee-centric, but profitable for your business.
Should Your Event Be Held Online
This is a tough question. Consider why you’re taking your marketing event online, what your timeline is, and how this event fits into your overall marketing mix. If this event is part of your business growth strategy, you should go virtual. Think about what percentage of your planned overall marketing mix was in-person. Were you heavily relying on these events to generate leads and revenue? If so, instead of thinking about moving those events online, consider the impact of adapting your programming. Do you have the infrastructure and digital presence to ensure your virtual attendees have the same experience they would at an in-person event?
Listen to your audience and what they’re saying. Consider your tone and the way you’re delivering your content. Avoid being too pushy or sales-driven if it doesn’t feel right. Think about how you can be helpful to your audience and what they need most right now. Pushing them to make a purchase may not be the best idea, so take a look at some ways you can nurture them as leads and how your brand fits into the existing landscape.
Advantages of Online Events
Beyond safety, the main advantage of holding an online event over an in-person one is cost. Not only for your team but for your attendees. No one has to worry about traveling or lodging costs and you won’t have to provide refreshments or rent out a venue. Think about how you can use these savings to provide a better online experience. Whether you’re allotting those funds toward more paid advertising spend or simply building up your Martech stack, figure out where that money is best spent and don’t be afraid to use up your budget.
If your event wasn’t originally free to the public, you may be able to charge for specific sessions while allowing others to be free. If you’re going to charge for “premium” or “exclusive” content, think of the value that it will bring and set the appropriate expectations.
A second advantage is event capacity, where there are venue limitations in person, you won’t run into this online, so you can lean into this when marketing your event. Create demand and limit attendees to create a more personal session. If you have distinguished speakers, try to limit the audience and promote accordingly.
Focus on Your Event Not the Technology
While there are a plethora of platforms and tools to choose from, you’ve got to think about what options you’re most comfortable using. Marketing automation can help you ensure that your lead generation efforts are successful, after all, you’re hosting this event to educate and generate potential leads for your business. Focus on finding a tool that seamlessly creates contacts from sign-ups and provides hassle-free tools that support your inbound marketing efforts. You also don’t want to fumble with a tool that’s clunky or difficult to use mid-presentation. The focus should be on your virtual audience, not on troubleshooting the technology you choose to host your event.
Remember, your Martech stack should be a collection of tools you use that lend themselves to the experience you want to create for your attendees and speakers. Be conscious of where the bulk of your audience is currently and follow the path of least resistance. If the majority of your customers are your fans on social media, consider going “live” on a platform as your tool. If you don’t have an existing audience base, don’t worry, evaluate your existing marketing efforts and pick the tool that allows you to achieve all of your goals. If you’re still not sure where to start, research what works best with your existing marketing automation platform, you don’t want to waste valuable event time on tools that simply don’t work with your marketing automation platform.
Picking the right tool can make a difference in your overall impact, but most services offer very similar features, so don’t forget about your budget and keep your options open. Set your sights on the event, not the technology.
Build Momentum and Set Expectations
Be sure to set expectations early on, let your attendees know why you’ve chosen to move your event online and how you plan to make their experience memorable. Many businesses are broadcasting their events, so try to communicate how yours is unique. Don’t forget to consider your audience. You’re now on the global stage, so don’t be afraid to cater to a larger network that you may not have considered for your in-person event.
Not all virtual events look the same and your audience is likely to want a lot more detail. Will they get to ask questions? What’s the format like? Will there be breakout sessions? How can I network with others? Create teaser posts that get your audience thinking about how they can plan for their experience. Beyond format, consider your content.
You’ll want your audience to feel satisfied with their experience, but explain what you will teach. Will this be high-level information? What kind of topics can they expect to cover and when? If you’re planning to have multiple sessions, be sure to make it possible for people to access at different times or post-session. Release an agenda of your talking points and be sure to provide very clear instructions on how to join.
Update your Attendees with Important Virtual Event Reminders
Ensure that any email drip campaigns you create are simple event reminder emails or updates you want to share with your attendees. Any additional emails relating to your event should be personalized and behavior-based. Segment your audiences and email accordingly. If they RSVP to a specific session or view one of your event landing pages they should receive consistent information. Keep these types of communications, short, concise, and necessary. A good rule of thumb is to make your tone conversational. Be sure to provide an email where attendees can address their questions or concerns.
Consider your strategy and whether or not it makes sense to send an email. Don’t spam them with communications about your event, but being radio silent won’t be helpful either. All communications should link back to your strategic and event goals.
Don’t forget to include post-event emails in your strategy that provide any necessary information about accessing recorded sessions or taking the next steps. Ensure your tone is in-line with previous emails.
Running an Effective Virtual Event
Is this event for education, inspiration, or connection? Think of your goals. What do you want to achieve? Pick a set of tools that lends itself to your desired goals and strategize around how your chosen technology can help with the possibility of networking, mentorship, and learning. What is it that your attendees want and what connections do they expect to build from your event? Once you listen to your audience, you’ll be able to determine what technology you need and set the expectation.
Some creative ideas and tools to consider incorporating into your event include:
- Start a chat, group or channel to connect with attendees during and post-event.
- Build in down time to encourage conversation and networking.
- Assign a session moderator to create “break out sessions.”
- Use a hashtag to encourage quick Q&A and social media buzz.
- Create a directory to enable post-event networking.
- Use live polling tools to keep your audience engaged.
- Design enticing slides and branding materials that you can share after your event.
Speaking with creativity and authenticity will allow you to cut through the digital noise and capture your audience. Focus on creating connections in this “new reality,” so don’t forget to add some fun sessions such as an optional virtual happy hour, meditation session, or concert to allow for socialization that would normally happen in an in-person setting.
An Opportunity for Co-Marketing
Taking your event online doesn’t mean you won’t be able to collaborate with another company or sponsor. Co-marketing is extremely effective for virtual events and webinars. Determine how teaming up with other brands can be mutually beneficial. If you’re able to leverage their existing audience, focus on driving attendees through incentives or promotions. If you’re planning on providing lead generation opportunities, be sure to set up a lead-share agreement to ensure expectations are defined ahead of time. Don’t forget to consider your brand positioning and whether aligning with another brand makes sense and is an authentic approach for your event.
Co-marketing doesn’t just have to be all about partnerships or sponsorships. Enable your speakers and company employees to promote your event by creating assets and incentives. Don’t forget to track these efforts and enable quick and easy sharing, word-of-mouth marketing should be as easy as clicking one button.
Another way to incentivize partnerships is by doing a giveaway or brand promotion for all attendees. This is a solid strategy for building buzz around your event while still driving brand awareness. Don’t forget to take note of what is most effective and build upon these wins for future events.
Track Your Efforts
We mentioned how important it is to track your co-marketing efforts but think about your overall digital marketing strategy. We want to help you craft a measurable and impactful marketing campaign. How are you using all available tools to ensure you’re able to isolate where your attendees are coming from and what is working? Implementing the following for campaign tracking success:
- Dedicated UTM tracking links for event sign-ups
- Personalized landing pages per audience segments
- Social media and paid advertising Tracking
- Segmented attendee list
- Create a unique social media hashtag
- Be strategic about what information you’re collecting from your attendees on your sign-up forms and polls
Be sure to track how much time is spent on every marketing tactic, big or small. If your time-consuming efforts aren’t yielding maximum results, but your simple strategy is more effective at securing attendees, you’ll be able to make adjustments for future events and allocate your bandwidth toward what works best for your audience.
Ensure Your Virtual Event Strategy is Future-Proof
Don’t put all of your upcoming events in a silo, focus on leveraging them as part of your marketing efforts moving forward. Continue to focus on your marketing strategy and your overall campaign goals. Think about the future, how will you come out of the current situation as a brand? The online event marketing space is very competitive. So, remember to market with intent and showcase what makes your brand and content different than the many competitors out there.
Planning for a virtual conference requires more time and effort, but a good strategy will ensure your event meets all of your expectations. Remember your goals and highlight the who, why, and what behind every session. Are you ready to kick-start your online event marketing? Get in touch with our consultants for technical and strategic marketing services that can help you define the best approach for your next virtual event. We want to make you and your Martech stack allies, so you can focus on creating a memorable event experience and achieving your business goals.