As we all know, COVID-19 has changed everything. Everything from how we get groceries to how we have happy hours, to how we consume entertainment. Not to mention work has gone totally digital.
As we get on video conference calls and work from home, the line between our personal and professional lives has blurred. That means we have to disrupt the way we do marketing. If our B2B buyers are remote-first, we must pivot to marketing digital-first.
We can no longer rely on in-person events to make human connections. But, making the change from physical to digital is not as simple as downloading an app to shop for groceries. For true digital-first event transformation to take hold, you need to do more than just upgrade your technology. You need to completely rethink the people and processes that use the technology to make this new digital vision a reality.
If it sounds complicated, it doesn’t have to be. Just follow the four Ts to get started:
- Turnout; and
Time is a major factor in preparing for either physical or digital events. Physical events unfold in a sequential, linear fashion. You start with a plan that includes event design, content creation and live presentations, and then figure out how to manage and nurture leads after the event is over. Once a physical event concludes, there's little to no opportunity for lead generation once everyone has gone home.
In a digital world, that sequence is different. Marketers often work backwards, identifying the end result they want and outlining what they want to do with the leads they collect. Once that process is complete, you have to simultaneously create the content, create the promotions and start promoting the event. Often, plotting out pre- and post-event lead nurture programs for virtual events requires a series of discussions with sales and demand generation teams to identify the criteria for an ideal lead.
Of the two event approaches, digital takes far more planning and coordination. The best thing you can do for a digital event is to develop a work-back plan: Identify the goals for an event that you can work back to during its production. During this process, you’ll need to coordinate with your sales and demand gen teams to act on the engagement data you’ll gather from both your event and your promotions. Then, develop nurture plans accordingly.
Every event needs a team to get things off the ground and running. But, again, physical and virtual events differ in how teams are organized and how those teams operate before, during and after an event.
Physical event execution is typically siloed. It’s usually headed and owned by a field or event marketer who turns to demand generation and marketing operations specialists for promotion and organization of an event. Consequently, these separate roles typically generate their own key performance indicators and continue to operate in their own silos.
In the digital world, you must have a much more integrated operation. Demand gen and operations teams need to be involved from the start. That’s often because your team will gather actionable data as soon as promotions start. In fact, your team will need to be ready to pass leads on in real-time as they qualify either for sales or nurture. Your whole team and event structure must be ready to continue the journey for your prospects.
Here’s the good news, though: Now that you’re digital, nearly everything can be integrated to inform your approach. Consider how you use your digital channels to promote events. Integrations can consolidate and analyze those channel results to inform and optimize your campaigns. When you create a virtual event, it’s no longer only about the success of the event but also about how this moment in time can help improve the entire buyer’s journey.
Every event has turnout, but there are massive differences in scale between in-person turnout and digital turnout. In the physical world, for example, there are concrete limits on the number of people who can attend, no matter whether you’re renting out a hotel ballroom or convention center. Attendee numbers are restricted by the event’s location, cost of attendance, fire department limits and more. In a post-COVID world, marketers can expect to be limited to 25% or 50% capacity in the near term.
Digital's scale is nearly infinite. Anyone who wants to attend usually can, often at a time of their choosing. That’s because virtual event turnout is measured over weeks and months, not one or two intensive days. But with so many attendees over a period of time, your traditional methods for processing those leads get a lot more complicated. Now that you have so many signals coming from so many people, you need a strategy to understand who in your audience is ready to buy and who is just there for some interesting content.
You’ll need to have a series of serious discussions with your sales, demand gen and marketing operations teams about how to surface buying intent from audience activity. For example, what virtual activities show a buyer is ready for a sales meeting and serious about making a purchase? How can your team hone in on these leads while reducing noise from attendees who are not interested? How can you prioritize follow-up based on the different buying stages your audience is in?
Any approach you take will need to be multi-dimensional with an approach to segment leads by the interest, intent, stage and fit the have for your solution. Decide if and how you want to engage attendees who won’t become viable leads — there will be many of them and they may be a good opportunity to help boost brand presence elsewhere.
Physical events tend to have a lower demand for technology because success measurement is determined by a predictable outcome: Those who attend and of those attendees, those who buy. The need to nurture and segment is limited because your audience — by merely attending — either signal high intent or are active customers looking to optimize their use of your product.
But digital enables data to be generated in real time and across each channel. As a consequence, all activities — from social to email to attendance — need to be integrated for analysis and optimization. The right kind of technologies can make lead flow and marketing operations much, much easier.
If you’re looking for event technology that’ll boost your virtual event experience, you need to find a viable solution that’s up to the task. That requires a platform that integrates into your existing marketing technology stack and to provide you with the data and insights you need to inform future campaigns, segment nurtures and optimize sales follow-up.
Just like your technology stack, all of the four Ts must work in synchrony with one another — only then can you really make a winning digital-first event strategy successful.
Tessa Barron is the VP of Marketing at ON24 and leads the company’s brand, digital and demand generation strategy. She brings with her a wealth of marketing expertise from both in-house and agency roles. In 2019, she was named to DMN’s “Top 40 Marketers under 40” list and is a founding member of the Women in Revenue Marketing organization in NYC.