Skip to main content

Virtual Events: An Evolution of Marketing and Selling

Within the business-to-business (B2B) realm, large enterprise corporate events are often a major component of the marketing organization's operating budget. These events are frequently held at resort hotels or conference centers in popular destinations, such as Las Vegas. They're very expensive to produce.

What are the typical event goals? How does this investment deliver results?

In many cases, these events are funded as 'sales progression' activities. Meaning, the company invites key contacts from their existing customers that they know are already likely to purchase products and services. In reality, there's very little 'selling' that takes place.

More often than not, the event execution actually revolves around scheduled hospitality (meals, cocktails, and entertainment) rather than a definitive business objective. Keynote sessions set the tone for the remainder of the event. Education and certification opportunities are sometimes offered to attendees.

On the whole, the outcomes are somewhat predictable. Attendees appreciate the hospitality and knowledge transfer. Given this backdrop, what happens when B2B organizations must shift to virtual online events?

Virtual Events Market Development

Online conferencing applications were already in wide use prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. When the pandemic created the need to move in-person events to virtual meetings and conferences, these event hosts had a huge challenge. To a large degree, they were looking to replicate their 'in-person' experiences in the virtual world.

Some of the most common activities when attending an event in person are engaging in conversation, socializing, and networking with other attendees as well as exchanging business cards. Attendees at virtual events want to pursue similar activities by posting to social media, interacting with other social media handles, and exchanging LinkedIn profiles.

In fact, International Data Corporation (IDC) found that nearly half of all attendees at virtual events engage using social media, compared to just 16 percent at in-person events. But few event organizers actively facilitated this kind of attendee interaction with less than half of the events offering live chat to ask questions of speakers or for audience interaction.

"Live events are an important source of information for attendees and this is a function that organizers can handle very well with live streaming and content downloads," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director at IDC.

But an equally important reason to attend these events in person is the opportunity to meet and network with other people. According to the IDC assessment, organizers still have some work to do here to deliver an experience that will be equally beneficial to a remote and distanced audience.

The sudden shift to virtual events in the first half of 2020 produced mixed results in terms of attendance. While just over half of the events lost the audience in the transition, 46 percent gained attendees as a result. Removing travel requirements and audience familiarity with video presentations worked together to keep event attendance largely intact.

Moreover, it's a significant shift in execution -- moving from a focus on in-person hospitality towards delivering meaningful and substantive education content that provides real value in exchange for the attendees' time and attention. Minus the hospitality benefits, the attendee bar of expectations is raised.

Overall, about half of the attendees at these virtual events were neutral on their experience, more or less getting what they expected. But nearly a third indicated that they had a better experience than expected with some stating they had a better experience than an in-person event.

From an event organizer's perspective, the virtual events were largely seen as a success. The metric used by most organizers to measure success was attendance, but downloads, revenue, and audience engagement also scored well.

In general, technology companies were more successful with audience engagement while companies with branded communities saw higher session attendance and greater social media hashtag usage. Overall, nearly half found the virtual event to be less expensive to produce than an in-person event.

When asked what could have been done better, event organizers and attendees both identified 'engagements' during the event as one of the top areas for improvement along with 'audio quality' (organizers) and the need for 'closed captions' (attendees) on the technical side.

Both groups also identified 'networking' activities as something warranting further attention.

Outlook for Virtual Events Superior Value Creation

"Looking ahead, virtual events are people’s new 'real world' events," added Kurtzman. "To succeed, make sure attendees have easy ways to engage with each other, the organizers, and speakers. Use platforms that were meant for the purpose and prepare the platform, your social team, and support teams. Finally, make the impression a good one with video, lighting, and audio – and usable, authentic content."

Furthermore, I believe that when virtual events are executed effectively the marketing and sales return on investment can be a remarkable improvement over the more traditional in-person conference and exposition that's produced at an expensive hotel or conference center venue.

Besides, rather than merely inviting existing 'familiar' contacts at current customers, virtual events should also host 'unfamiliar' net-new client contacts and net-new prospective customers. Virtual events must be envisioned as a catalyst for 360-degree buyer and sales enablement -- where the attendees are exposed to thought-provoking ideas that enable them to achieve a business outcome.

Therefore, let's reimagine corporate event modality, and evolve beyond the status quo mindset of the past. Let's fully explore the untapped potential of utilizing digital media to convey bold and brave commentary about upside opportunities. Dare to be different.

Popular posts from this blog

2022 Tech Trends Outlook: What Happens Next?

This year may very well be another period of unprecedented challenges and opportunities. In 2022, several highly anticipated technology-related advancements will NOT happen, according to the predictions by ABI Research. Their analysts identify many trends that will shape the technology market and some others that, although attracting huge amounts of pundit speculation and commentary, are less likely to advance rapidly over the next twelve months. "The fallout from COVID-19 prevention measures, the process of transitioning from pandemic to endemic disease, and global political tensions weigh heavily on the coming year's fortunes," said Stuart Carlaw, chief research officer at ABI Research . What Won’t Happen in 2022? Despite all the headlines and investments, the metaverse will not arrive in 2022 or, for that matter, within the typical 5-year forecast window. The metaverse is still more of a buzzword and vision than a fully-fledged end goal with a clearly defined arrival d

Digital Transformation for the Oil and Gas Sector

The savvy CEOs of multinational organizations will accelerate their investment in digital transformation projects in 2022, and beyond, to improve their competitiveness. Every industry leader that is forward-looking will act swiftly to grasp the upside opportunity. Global oil & gas companies face a myriad of operational, commercial, and existential security threats. According to the latest worldwide market study by ABI Research, oil & gas firms apply digitalization to combat these threats and will spend $15.6 billion on digital technologies by 2030. Oil & Gas Digital Apps Market Development Investments in digitalization can help to analyze a supply pipeline’s condition, prepare for fluctuations in the changing prices for oil and gas, as well as aid action plans to create more sustainable operations and transfer to producing renewable energy sources. "Safety and Security are top priorities for oil & gas operators. Data analytics allied with IoT platforms have become

How Ride-Sharing Apps Changed Local Transport

Building on significant advances in disruptive mobile app technology, ride-sharing services have emerged to become a popular means of urban mobility. This is unsurprising given the advantages of ride-sharing options over traditional transport modes, such as buses and more expensive taxis. Innovative ride-sharing platforms enable app users to customize their journeys according to real-time phenomena, such as nearby traffic conditions, time of day, and rider demand. However, this is not to say that ride-sharing services are perfect. The popularity of ride-sharing has resulted in some additional traffic congestion in major cities already struggling to control this issue, while the widespread disruption caused by the pandemic affected most stakeholders within the local transportation value chain. Ride-Sharing App Market Development According to the latest worldwide market study by Juniper Research, ride-sharing spending by consumers globally will exceed $937 billion by 2026 -- that's c