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B2B events: Fast & furious transformation

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Events were the B2B marketing discipline that changed fastest and furthest in the wake of the first wave of Covid19, with investment in digital rocketing as physical events became unviable. But as attendees to our recent B2B Marketing leaders roundtable testified, this change has far reaching implications and (if anything) is continuing to accelerate as the pandemic deepens

If there was ever a marketing channel that was in the eye of the Covid storm, it was events. With lockdown’s arrival, physical events became impossible overnight, and B2B brands migrated wholesale to digital – with many embarking on an unprecedented level of innovation and experimentation.

Although many marketers and B2B brands have benefited hugely from this period of enforced transformation, the consequent explosion in webinars and other digital events has resulted in online event fatigue, and many are having to continue to recalibrate and reappraise their role in the sales cycle. In the meantime, the continuing evolution of technology, format and buyers’ expectations means B2B marketing events need to continue to evolve – the transformation may have only just begun.

These were amongst the issues that we sought to explore in our latest B2B Marketing Leaders virtual roundtable, which was attended by a senior marketers from a variety of sectors, all with unique perspectives on the past six months and what may lie ahead. We were delighted to be joined by B2B events industry expert Carolyn Morgan, who brought her unrvialled industry knowledge to bear on the topic at hand. One thing’s for certain, B2B event marketing remains in the eye of the storm. Here are my key takeaways.

1.  Herculean feats of innovation

Most brands doing events, or event marketers within B2B organisations, have been on an extremely sharp learning curve. Most have done radical things in timeframes that they wouldn’t have believed possible beforehand, and the experimentation has continued largely ever since.

2.  No going back…?

No one believes we’ll return to the old normal any time soon… if at all. The earliest time people are considering a return to physical events is summer next year. But even then, it’s unlikely that we’ll return to them at the extent to which we did before. Some of the large global trade shows may have gone altogether.

3.  A greener future

The environmental benefit of this shift should not be underestimated – the reduction in carbon emissions since lockdown is around 7-8%, which is roughly the same as was committed to under the Paris Climate Accord. When allied with the associated cost benefits, this presents a compelling reason why virtual events are likely to be with us for the foreseeable future, and that this may be a change for the better.

4.  An evolving role for webinars

Most B2B brands have upped their use in webinars during the pandemic, but many have found that engagement has declined over time. This certainly doesn’t mean webinars are redundant, but it can require a reframing of the role that they play in the funnel and demand generation more generally – this is where marketers need to apply creativity to maintain interest and engagement! Expectations from the old world increasingly no longer apply, and the scenario is likely to continue to shift. More serious buyers can be engaged by the promise of peer-to-peer engagement, and commercial messages delivered through case study rather than sales pitches.

5. Events are just another content channel

The shift to digital events has implications for the events team, its structure, resourcing and integration with the rest of the marketing function. At best, digital means events may need to be much closer to ‘content’ in the conventional sense, requiring greater collaboration and a blurring of boundaries… at worst the events team may disappear altogether.

6. An opportunity for leadership

Event marketers have been expected to be experts on all things digital events overnight… which they obviously were not. This places them in a position of great responsibility, but also some stress, with the business demanding robust solutions in next-to-no-time. However, this expectation brings the opportunity to show leadership and help the whole business understand what the future might look like. This hasn’t gone away.

7.  Measure everything

The whole world of digital events is changing so fast that understanding success along the journey can be really hard. Effectively, brands are sailing in uncharted water each time they do one. It can be frustrating and time consuming, but as a consequence event marketers need to measure everything, and (where possible) test everything. After all, in the current environment, pretty much everything is a test anyway.

8. Prioritise CX – don’t ignore it

With webinar fatigue reportedly impacting on the effectiveness of digital events in some markets, event marketers have to focus on customer experience. This should improve the positioning and proposition of the event, but also the attendee engagement. Ask yourself: what are they getting from attending this? What do you want them to feel before, during and after? How can you maximise engagement?

9. Hybrid events are still an enigma

There’s a lot of hype about hybrid, but still little consensus about what it means in reality. The notion of a hybrid event sounds exciting, but there are few tangible successful examples to call on, and that makes planning one highly problematic. Most agree that there’s some component of both remote and real-world, but how they interface to create a compelling experience for both parties is open to question. Arguably hybrid should also include some component of AR or VR.

10.  Think ‘talk show’ not ‘lecture’

Successful digital events are likely to increasingly feel similar to a TV broadcast, with a high level of curation and moderation, and a highly engaging style. Although by the same token, opportunities for peer-to-peer engagement should also be embraced and create significant points of difference.

About the B2B Marketing Leaders programme

B2B Marketing is running regular roundtables to help CMOs, marketing directors, VPs and other B2B Marketing Leaders to navigate the coronavirus crisis and prepare for what comes next. For more information on the programme go to

our website

.

If you’d like to join one of these sessions, email

sarah.casswell@b2bmarketing.net

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