I was talking with a trusted marketing friend about a 100% virtual event she had just completed for one of her clients. She proudly described the platform's technology and its many cool features: zoom rooms, virtual booths, tracking reports, etc. and finally asked me what I thought. I had to confess that my first gut reaction was, “that sounds absolutely brutal.” And, upon hearing this news, I easily imagined the private “eyeroll” emojis flying among the zoom-weary sales team.
I typically embrace technology but the concept of having an entire marketing event, 100% online seemed too much. Perhaps in accepting this concept, I was surrendering another part of my world to COVID-19. I admit to griping about attending business conferences and tradeshows, but now that I can’t attend them…that’s a different story. After all, isn't gathering with like-minded professionals to share ideas over a drink, a nice meal, or even a tee time, one of the rewards of the job? Isn’t this where we build and cement important relationships?
My friend, Beth, ever the pragmatist, challenged my reaction, “What other choice is there for companies right now? It’s either postpone and hope for the best or take action, adapt and keep things moving.”
Accepting this new reality, we set up a Zoom meeting and I dove into learning more about the virtual platform.
This particular event I toured was a supplier expo and sales meeting being hosted by a national distributor of science products. The expo consists of 22 virtual booths and over 65 Zoom training sessions that will provide education and to a national team of about 100 salespeople.
The event platform is like a custom website, optimized to allow attendees to intuitively navigate the event and its massive selection of content. For the host, the platform, like a CMS, provides templates and tools to allow easy planning, set up and tracking while different templates allow specific configurations for trade shows, educational conferences, or practically any group meeting.
The platforms have the ability to create games, competitions, and incentives that make it far more fun than typical online meetings. For instance, the host can assign points for each booth chat, digital asset downloaded, training participation and award prizes to the various attendees. Additionally, each booth vendor can offer their own promotions or drawings to grab attention from other booths, just like face-to-face events. This event also used hidden “Easter Eggs” that pop up randomly to award points (and a bit of slot-machine like induced adrenaline) to ambitious content consumers. These eggs can later be exchanged for gift cards or even the highly coveted show swag that always seems to be “for my kids”.
Behind the curtain the distributor’s and the supplier’s marketing teams can see in real time who is participating and who isn’t and what content is effective and they are the real winners. They can even tell how long they watched a video, cookies accepted or not. Every attendee interaction, click, and download is documented in an engagement report. Each booth gets their own report showing what each attendee did in their booth, and which of the assets performed the best.
I’ve tried to get in-person trade show “reports” from my salespeople over the years, and they are anecdotal at best (and possibly fabricated on the plane home at worst). The host has global reporting capability to see things like bounce rates, time on page or in meetings,, and more to capture even the most subtle behavioral insights.
Do it Your Way, at Your Pace
Unlike face to face events, attendees get the freedom to select the content they want to view and when they want to view it, completely at their pace. The virtual literature bag allows attendees to save content that they want and come back later to view and/or download. This event, live for 2 days with static or recorded content available for 12 months—all booths, all zoom meetings, all webinars…for 12 months. (Maybe repurpose the content for some great free training materials for new hires??)
Just like face-to-face events, virtual vendors can subsidize or even cover all of the costs to produce the virtual events. Charging for booths, webinars and zoom meetings are one way, but branding opportunities like banners, floor stickers, or sponsorship levels can be sold to increase revenue. Basically, just about any event promotions you see in the real world can be created virtually and monetized.
How many salespeople complain about the lost productivity in having to spend up to a week at a sales meeting or trade show when they have pipelines to fill and targets to hit?. And, how about getting those expenses approved? No hotels, rental cars or 6:00am flights. Just don a company logo shirt, your gym shorts and flip flops and you’re ready for the virtual show!
Virtual lounges, Zoom meetings, and online chat give multiple ways to engage and build relationships with other event attendees. Depending on privacy settings, the host can allow access to attendee contact info or bio.. Perhaps online networking is not as enjoyable as a catered happy hour by the pool or a set-up day golf tournament, but it is effective in getting you opportunities to make new contacts that would not exist otherwise.
Host and Vendor Savings
Producing an online event takes a real commitment in both effort and money but Beth estimates that virtual event will cost her recent client about half of their comparable in-person event last year. The biggest challenge most companies face is simply a lack of experience on the scale required to have a high quality virtual event. However, once digital assets are collected and created, they can be used again and again (think website) with just some refreshing. Beth said the savings grow exponentially with event size. No lost travel time, no air, no Ubers, no hotel, no meals, just quality time on the computer.
Having overcome my initial doubts, I found the virtual expo to be far more entertaining than expected. The virtual event technology allows great creativity, a fun and valuable user experience, and incredible ability to capture behavioral data, at a far less cost than a traditional event. It’s true, you might miss out on drinks and a big steak dinner, hacking around in a golf scramble, or coming home with free swag for your kids. But, it is possible you may get a Ruth’s Chris gift card and swag in the mail. You can even have that drink over zoom in your recliner with your shoes off!
While the technology itself is not new, its rapid and widespread adoption, like so many things driven by COVID-19, will prove transformative to event marketing. “Pivot” is a bit overused these days but, until we can all shake hands again, this virtual event technology will keep your company engaged, educated and connected.
For more information on how your company or organization can host its own online event, contact this convert, Mike Bernert at email@example.com
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