Much of B2B marketing is the live event – and a lot of marketing teams really miss it.
Monthly speaker lunches, quarterly sites, and even annual tri-ring industry extravaganzas have all been canceled, delayed, or rushed online. (We interviewed Drift’s Mark Kilens on how they’re transitioning and it’s smart as hell).
Although some markets have attempted to return to host live or hybrid events, industry surveys (like the Northstar Pulse Survey) show that most brands aren’t planning in-person programs until mid to late 2021. Marketers hope for in-person conferences in late 2021 (martechtoday.com)
The problem is, much of the new wave of digital events isn’t very good.
And there are many. The webinar wallpaper is the new white noise.
With audience expectations lowered, even relevant and well-produced digital programs run the risk of becoming “the TV in the background” with participants connected but not paying attention.
It’s disappointing. Because there are many reasons why digital events should be fit for our time and our attention.
In theory, the lack of business travel should create incredible potential for featured speakers and more powerful programs. And “live” and “on-demand” events can also meet the schedules of people around the world, expanding your audience. Finally, the savings on location and production costs can be reinvested in truly unique and immersive experiences – things that are only possible in a virtual world.
In short, this is a great time to brush up on your thinking about online events.
With that in mind, we wanted to share eight strategies that can help you create compelling digital events that inform, entertain, and engage, delivering an experience that inspires audiences to lean in and get involved.
Eight ideas to consider for the new online event experience
Virtual does not replace events, but can create new opportunities for online events that they would not have before.
The mega event
Let’s start with the elephant in the virtual room, the big client and partner event. Major global B2B events such as Salesforce’s Dreamforce or SAP’s Sapphire Now provide inspiration on how to combine experience, training and insight. And while the significant resources and budget required to produce events on a large scale can be daunting, the digital « big tent » agenda can pay off, especially when you bring in a wide range of marketing partners. to co-promote and produce (like Drift’s first virtual program). post-lockdown event, which involved 22 partners to help build audience).
Of course, in order to get people to engage, you really need to invest. Not just in marketing but in content, platform, networking, entertainment, and production (we’ll talk about that later). No one wants to watch a full day of webinars.
Invest in the experience
To paraphrase, “people may forget what you said, but they will never forget a bad user experience”. Zoom presentations (and recordings) are generally not broadcast quality and professional video, presenters, lighting, and graphics will help content break through, as well as integrations for users to share and interact. Think of cool tools like mmhmm.app and macro.io.
Rather than watching other digital events for inspiration, think about what you can learn from your favorite TV producers and the powerful ways they create compelling stories on screen. Content that both informs and entertains will grab your audience’s attention and be much more likely to be shared and discussed. As an example, here’s a pre-event Velocity teaser produced for Salesforce for a show that was filmed at CNN studios with industry guests in a magazine show format. Salesforce | Internal pre-event teaser on Vimeo
Is the stage big enough?
Overall, digital platforms are all similar, although there are tools and features that create a good user experience cost so pay to play. Look for a simple, seamless registration to get started and on-demand support with live chat. Audiences want to interact with the content, presenters and other attendees as well, and it is important to have options to engage and allow attendees to interact during and after the event. Most platforms are still a bit bland visually, so look for opportunities for customization as well and invest in production and presentation, especially for larger events with multiple content tracks. Discover platforms likeOn24, 6Connections, Brella, Crowdcast, Get in, Livestorm, StreamYard, Unhangout, Bizzabo, and Zoom, and others like SplashThat with better design tools.
Or maybe smaller is better.
Often the best room for each conference is the speaker room, so consider making everyone a speaker. A small, focused roundtable, to which everyone contributes, creates an interactive dialogue with the 10-20 participants, especially if you include a featured speaker in the session with you as the host – a kind of intimate question and answer . And if you want to call it lunch, extend a voucher for a nice restaurant delivery as part of the session. The fundamental change is that all participants become speakers who will join in the hope of actively participating in a discussion with peers.
Create a community
Whether you are producing a mega event or a series of Zoom panels, remember that one of the main reasons people are drawn to any business event is the ability to interact and connect with others. Always incorporate chat, networking, and other community tools into your programs, as those who participate are probably as interested in talking to each other as you are, not only at the event, but throughout the year.
For example this year Inbound from Hubspot has been redesigned as an online and immersive event with a wide range of content, also available on demand, and the ability to host individual meetings and organize group sessions via a personalized meeting tool, their allowing to connect with other participants by video call or live chat.
18 minutes (or less) to inspire
TED chats are inspiring, informative, and hugely addicting – and last anywhere from 10-18 minutes, because in their experience, TED has found this to be the ideal length of time. That’s enough time to share leadership and ideas, and short enough to hold people’s attention. In many ways, this forces the discipline to focus concisely on key points, and more likely to gain attention.
TED Curator Chris Anderson explained the organization’s reasoning this way:
‘It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to grab people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. That’s the length of a coffee break. So you watch a good speech and pass the link on to two or three people. It can go viral very easily. The 18-minute length also works a lot like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to spending 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? This has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.
Additionally, the vast majority of their audiences watch on-demand rather than live (even before COVID), a good reminder to produce event-style content in a length and range of formats ideal for on-demand audiences. Why not even produce twenty clips that are 2-3 minutes long, each covering specific aspects or case studies, all adding to the content and SEO. 4 essential TED discussions for B2B marketers | HIPBlog (hipb2b.com) –
Is it virtual enough? Meet my avatar.
No, we’re not talking about Second Life, but rather virtual event platforms that use avatars to deliver a fun, connected experience for guests and meeting and event planners. Typically, these force users to download software, although the user experience on major platforms has really improved, with the entire campus of virtual events and conference facilities including entertainment and interactive experiences for virtual networking. Avatars can interact and join a table or chat, just like you would for IRL.
Event farm The virtual campus is called Echo and is scalable to support over 10,000 users simultaneously from anywhere in the world. The main features of the program include the ability to choose from multiple meeting environments and customize a personal avatar character; there are also built-in support tools for presenters such as file sharing, laser pointers, and video streaming. https://membersuite.wistia.com/medias/peyimsxg7g
Virtway Events Host trade shows at the peaks to broadcast live concerts, and can connect 500 guests in the same digital room. One of the highlights of the platform is team building games and escape rooms where teams of avatars must investigate, infer, debate, and negotiate in order to be successful..– https: //www.virtwayevents
TEEOH A London-based start-up and virtual events platform with meeting rooms such as fireside chats in conference rooms and smaller breakout rooms for focused group chats. https://www.teooh.com/ )
Business events continue to be a vital part of B2B sales and marketing, and I hope this plan can help you inspire your own efforts to innovate and create truly compelling virtual and digital experiences.
Please share in the comments examples of great events you have produced or attended. At least for now, the show must go on (online)!