Using content to leverage virtual events was the second in our six-event marketing science webinar series.
We held a live roundtable ‘talking heads’ discussion with Danny Layzell (AZoNetwork) putting the questions to:
This blog post includes some of those key points as well as links to the full on-demand webinar.
Watch the full on-demand webinar below.
What are the different challenges that people have experienced when attending virtual events over the last 12-months?
MN: It takes time and attention to travel to a conference. You've packed, you've prepped, you block time in your calendar, and you know what you want out of that event.
We sit down to a virtual event with the best of intentions but have 40 tabs open. There's also this sameness, everything is slick, well done, attractive and on screens. We're looking at screens all day long. So, we're lacking that sensory experience we get from a trade show.
AH: Virtual is not in-person, but the expectations need to be in line with what virtual events can offer.
And this goes for both attendees and sponsors. People have to take responsibility for, being committed to the program online and working to get what they're looking for out of it.
This is a challenge because we have to think about our online behavior or online persona, which tends to be a little bit more anonymous. We browse and explore and do things at our own pace whereas at in-person events, you really are immersed in it.
You have to be immersed at in-person events and it comes more naturally, so the challenge is how can we help people embrace this mindset of how to be online and how to get the most out of a virtual event? That's the challenge.
How can organisers tackle these challenges?
RP: Allowing people to plan ahead.
I think beyond that we're battling the perception of the, not so great shows that have been hastily thrown into a digital environment that didn't translate to virtual and we're seeing a lot of virtual fatigue too.
It’s challenging, so there are many different things that we're looking into.
We want to provide genuine means of engagement to our attendees, including live networking sessions. virtual excursions, live booth chats, etc.
All of these things are providing live human elements to a virtual show. We want to enable people to interact with other real people, and if they do that then they're more likely to stay in the environment that we've created for them.
MH: AI facilitated matchmaking can be really engaging. Attendees can prep, update their profile to reflect what they're looking to get out of the event and be matched with people that meet their interests in 10 minute meetings.
That's a really natural substitute for networking. It resembles that spontaneous thing that may happen at a live conference, gives you something to briefly explore and then follow up with later.
We cater typically to the introvert in the science industry. Moderators can do a lot to improve the quality of those breakouts by deciding to be outgoing and to inspire interesting conversation. If this is done well then attendees will get a lot more out of it.
How can marketers within our space use content to leverage virtual events?
AH: It starts with understanding that the virtual event is just a path that you need to create.
This is a campaign, a campaign that starts weeks, if not months before the virtual event and also continues after.
So, devise a plan and then work the plan.
Consider what content will generate awareness about this event. You want to draw people in, you want to get them to attend your talks, you want them to visit your booth.
Try to bring people into an experience as part of the virtual meeting that offers exclusive content, because the failure here is providing the same old within your virtual meeting space.
If you do that as a marketer, all you've done is create a small microsite linked to what is already available on your website and your results will be underwhelming.
Exclusive, authentic content is key for all stages of your campaign, at the start, the middle and the end.
The plan should take people through a journey of awareness and education, then to some exclusive interaction at your virtual events, your booth, or your talks.
The final stage needs to be another level of more direct connection with them. Webinars work great for this.
You meet, you qualify, you connect with new and existing leads, in a virtual experience and after that you should be planning what's the next thing that we want you to come to, that dives a little deeper into education on products, applications, etc.
Look at it as a full campaign.
MN: You could almost think of the event as a deadline, a midpoint in your campaign.
It was always partially your responsibility to draw prospects to your booth, but that emphasis is greater at virtual events.
Have something new to talk about and utilise social media.
Timing a product launch for a virtual event is still a good way to launch new products. We've always seen great results from going live on social media at a trade show or a conference and unveiling a product with a teaser campaign beforehand that still works now.
Have new things to talk about, new capabilities, multilayer content? Depending on where people are in the buying stage and what they are interested in you could try a: 30 second video - to a tech poster - to a white paper,
What type of content works best in your virtual booth?
RP: Drawing people into your booth is a two-pronged approach.
The show organizer has a responsibility to put in mechanisms to draw people to the exhibit hall and there's a lot that the exhibitor can do to help drive that traffic to their booth.
There's 2 ways. There's the content that's within your booth and the promotion that you do, pre-show and maybe in show to draw attention to your organisation and your point of difference.
The content that you have within your booth is the key so let’s take video as an example.
There needs to be a human element to these videos. Something that people are really going to resound with, especially in the virtual world where we are usually sat at home.
When you go into the booth, the video automatically plays. You don't want to have a 20-minute video there. You want to draw people in. You can introduce them to the company or just the people at the event.
Then you need to give them something to click on. The AZoNetwork example above shows a marketing report, an SEO health check and other engagement mechanisms.
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If you are exhibiting scientific instrumentation, then consider the tech specs because they need to be able to read this stuff and it’s going to encourage people to stay there.
Think also about who people need to talk to. It’s not just sales and marketing so get the experts that actually make the instrumentation involved as well so potential customers can ask product specific questions directly.
Finally, having avatars in your booth is a great idea. I think people are really drawn in maybe subconsciously to a smiling face of a real person that works at the company that they have chosen to give their time to interacting with in that virtual environment.
Download the market report: The State of Scientific Marketing 2021
How important is mindset when attending virtual events?
MN: We need to own our own experience.
If attendees are torn half a dozen ways like many of us are, then it's even more important to know what you want out of that.
What are you here to do? Are you here to learn about a specific technology, are you here to connect with a speaker or meet some peers in a certain area of research, whatever that may be, know it going in.?
All of marketing is an experiment. It's a measured experiment. This virtual event is no less.
Control the variables you can, so plan and create solid content, and then measure it. The more of those things that are within your control, the more you’ll get out of it.
How can organisers ensure a good flow of traffic from conferences to virtual booths?
RP: One of the most challenging aspects of a virtual show is to draw people in because people are going in to hear lectures, to hear the special presentations, the keynote lecture, etc.
Our job is to keep people engaged in the show because simply put, if they're there long enough, if they are interested in the show and stay there, then they are more likely to visit all other aspects of the show.
People want to know who's exhibiting so we promote that extensively. They want to know the instrumentation company at Pittcon. That's simple messaging.
People need human-like interactive elements to keep them engaged in the show. We have networking sessions that are live and moderated.
We have the people from the New Orleans Visitors Bureau. They've provided some great engagement activities so for example a famous Louisiana chef is going to be at one of these virtual excursions.
It's giving a break and saying, "Hey, between lectures stick around for this 15, 20 minute thing. And you've got 10 minutes, maybe 30 minutes, maybe an hour to waste before your next lecture."
Any other top tips for sales and marketing professionals attending virtual events?
AH: Giveaways are a great way to provide that human touch in a virtual world.
Find out who is going to be at the show (you can do a survey in advance). Send the ones you know are attending something in advance and then say, come to our webinar, bring your mug, bring your t-shirt, join us in a networking event where we're going to launch some information or share some information about a new product.
But invite them to participate as a human being, not just online as a virtual being. And so merch or swag is an opportunity to get that.
I love the idea of doing it in advance. Gifts are great.
This is either something we're going to give to you in advance to say we see you; we recognize you, we appreciate you. You're part of our tribe. We know who you are and we want you to continue learning about our products and our services.
Create some exclusive experience.
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I think that's the way giveaways need to be structured as a pre or post strategy that lure people in. But the biggest motivator should be making people feel good.
How would a marketing manager attending a virtual event determine whether the event was a success or not?
RP: In face-to-face, you're looking at high quantities of visitors that you can't really track who's interacting with what, unless they're speaking to a person or you scan that badge that we all have with the phone app that you get.
A benefit of virtual is that it's likely going to be a higher quality of visitor too because they are really choosing to visit your booth.
The biggest advantage though is that you can track who's interacted with different elements of your booth.
And that in the end to me it's like an informal survey. For me as an exhibitor, I would be, who's interacting with this piece, what actually got the most interaction from that?
There's ROI beyond the conversations that you're having with people, there's ROI beyond the sales, there's marketing information ROI that I think comes with this virtual world.
And as a marketer, that's enormous because that will augment future sales strategies and that's just streamlining the whole marketing effort in the end.
I mean, that's exciting.
What about the future of virtual events in a post COVID world?
MN: There's no replacing the face to face aspect from live conferences, but I do think we'll move towards hybrid events because the virtual elements will provide many benefits.
Think about diversifying your audience, diversifying who you can attract as employees, we can bring in so many more people to the space to become involved and engaged with an association.
It reduces that burden of travel and for a long-time trade shows were burning out great salespeople. This gives all of us a bit more time with our families. It makes it more approachable to engage more often with the right associations in the industry. So, for the diversity of STEM, I think it's got a lot of benefits.
The above edited transcript came from webinar 2 in The Marketing Science Webinar Series. This is now available on demand by clicking the link below:
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