It’s safe to say that by this time, almost everyone has participated in a virtual event, either as hosts, exhibitors or as speakers in a webinar session. Although virtual events started out as a fad with corporate giants like IBM and X setting the trend, technical challenges like low bandwidth, clunky interfaces, and slow navigation contributed to their low adoption rates among the public. Come 2009 and the corporate world saw a sharp cut in travel budgets but since training sessions were still essential, many companies switched to hybrid events where physical events were broadcasted online for remote employees’ access.
With the technological developments of the past decade where people became more internet-friendly and technical challenges were overcome, virtual events began to experience a hockey stick growth where they transformed from a mere ‘money saving’ tool to a ‘money making’ one. With new use cases being found every day, ranging from weekly webinars, partner educational portals, virtual career fair and trade exhibitions, virtual events are not a novelty anymore but have rather become a smart way to do business which is where they have started to affect the B2B Marketing landscape.
The Link Between B2B Marketing and Virtual Events
Ask any B2B marketer worth their salt and they’ll tell you that B2B marketing is all about driving customers through the sales and marketing funnel with ‘evaluation’ being the most significant stage. This is where the customer has already decided to perform the purchase but is choosing between your and your competitor’s product. It is at this defining stage that virtual events help your service/product stand miles above the rest. Through virtual events like virtual product launches, networking events, trade expos and open days, your target audience can see your offerings up close without the hassle of going to distant and crowded physical events.
What B2B Marketers stand to Gain from Virtual Events
Perhaps the strongest things B2B marketers can offer through virtual events are reach” and “scale”. Virtual Events allow B2B marketers to reach wider audiences with targeted marketing and increase relevance. And all of this at a much lower cost per acquisition compared to physical means.
Another key benefit is personalization. Where physical events focus entirely on disseminating standardized information to attendees, a virtual space allows exhibitors the flexibility to tailor product demos, trials, and presentations for specific prospects. Since the event’s environment is entirely virtual, it can be changed to fit to your marketing needs. Because of this, marketing teams have complete control over the marketing experience of their prospects. So, for instance, if you want to show how your service/product interacts with a potential prospect’s workflows, you can put them right in the middle of the demonstration for maximum impact.
A close third is their ability to do three things:
- (a) capture lead data points via flexible registration forms
- (b) track their behavior in the event and understand interest/patterns
- (b) fast-track your leads through your sales funnel (vs. email-driven processes)
All this with the help of rich, compelling content. Where videos and infographics provide one-way communication at best, with live webinars, discussion forums, live chat tools, embedded poll/surveys and Q&A sessions, marketers can tap into a whole world of two-way communication tools that help build a lead nurturing environment at the event. What these high-touch interaction points allow marketers to do is simple: they let them put their customers in a virtual simulation and allow them to be there with them. With a virtual event, there’s the option of having experts answer questions and star sales reps close the deals there and then with virtual handshakes too.
A well designed virtual event is like a webinar on steroids which is why it’s important to complement the latter with the former. It makes regular webcasts sound like in-person seminars where back-and-forth discussions on customer needs can also take place. The best part? Your attendees get to access everything on-demand. By allowing prospects to absorb content of their choice at their own pace, the event puts them in the driver’s seat in steering their virtual experience which boosts their engagement with the product/service.
Are Virtual Events really worthwhile?
Coming to the most important question that every marketer wants to ask. Are virtual events an effective tool in maximizing ROI? So far, most results suggest that virtual events dramatically improve customer engagement. Research from Stanford indicates that virtual reality can be a powerful motivator in influencing people’s buying behavior and results from charities running virtual events have shown a significant increase in donations compared to physical events.
This is where another benefit of virtual events kicks in. Since their effectiveness can be gauged in real-time, marketers can empirically uncover what aspect of their event yielded the most intrigue and contributed to event engagement and revenues. The analytics are easy to track since every activity performed at the event is recorded be it a registration, a document download, a chat interaction or a click. This valuable information makes it easy to track event ROI and decipher which customer seems most likely to make a purchase based on their involvement at the event.
What does the future look like for Marketers?
What’s great about the developments in this technology is that it is coming at a monumental time for marketers. With the exponential social media saturation that has happened recently, it has become difficult for B2B marketers to stand out in a digital environment that is shielded by AdBlockers. With virtual events, marketers can finally tap into the blue ocean of a personalized, immersive and meaningful message-conveying experience where customer attention is captured more because they signed up for it rather than because of a pop up on their screens.
Since most B2B companies are selling solutions that help their customers achieve smoother businesses processes, it is safe to assume that B2B marketers sell change. This makes it that much more important for them to be the flagbearers of innovation and change themselves. The success of B2B marketers depends entirely on being agile and keeping up with the digital paradigm shifts that are the entire landscape of acquiring, engaging and retaining customers. In every past marketing technology revolution from TV to social media, the companies that adopted change early earned massive gains. As virtual reality takes the marketing world by storm, it goes without saying that the most perceptive and savvy marketers will have the advantage.