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From Zoom fatigue to broadcast nirvana: a B2B marketers guide to virtual events

Given the ongoing pause on physical events like trade shows, customer roadshows or exclusive dinner roundtables, B2B virtual events are set to become one of the biggest channels for marketers in 2021. But many people (both marketers and customers) assume virtual events = webinars. But we’re not in 2019 anymore. This article outlines what’s changed.

The webinar

The trusty webinar is now well known to marketers. It’s quick, easy and gives the impression of activity to the rest of the business.

But are webinars the best option for attracting and converting qualified leads? Or could they actually be an outdated, time-consuming and budget-sapping activity?

Firstly, with Zoom fatigue a fact of life for the home worker, a webinar is really just a another Zoom call in the diary. And the restrictive one-way presentation format of a webinar doesn’t truly engage attendees, and hampers efforts to build credibility with buyers looking for relevant resources and information.

Low attendance ratios versus registrations, added to low levels of interaction, equate to surprisingly low ROI figures, only exacerbated by the amount of time, energy and resources that go into organising them. To say nothing for the all-too-common technical issues.

The virtual event grows up

Necessity is the mother of invention and the coronavirus has meant a virtual event now covers a dramatically wide spectrum, to fill the void left by physical events. And they have got better and stronger in lieu of competition from their older trade show/exhibition big brother and sister!

The hosted event

A hosted event is typically managed on your behalf by a third party – usually a specialist events company which can provide all or some of these: its own events platform, event management services, professional speaker/presenter and even post-event sales support. In this regard you could consider a hosted event to be an “Event-as-a-Service,” where the majority of the event’s production is taken care of.

Such events tend to have fewer delegates than a webinar, since they are focused on a higher quality of production and a more targeted audience. A virtual roundtable, such as those run by Meet the Boss, is a good example, creating a more focused event with more opportunities to discuss topics that relate to your customers.

These debates focus on a single business issue and can be highly interactive, allowing every participant to share insights, ideas and pain points. Such events are similar length to a webinar – usually 90 minutes – but the tighter content focus and higher production values deliver a far better experience for delegates, and significantly higher returns for the sponsor.

The virtual summit

Virtual summits build on the high production values of a hosted event but on a larger scale, delivering the nearest digital equivalent to a live multi-day conference. Some summits also offer a full broadcast quality experience with professional presenters and multiple camera angles and sets.

They also have a greater focus on quality over quantity than your typical webinar, with selective invites focusing on senior decision maker attendees only. This ensures that each interaction is a quality one, with a sector and role-specific selection process.

And virtual summits elevate themselves above a typical hosted event by bringing together multiple solution providers to recreate the value, buzz and excitement of a physical trade show or exhibition.

In contrast to webinars and hosted events which can be delivered multiple times a year, virtual summits are typically stand-out annual events with sponsors, multiple speakers, multiple streams and break-out sessions, and even awards ceremonies.

Some providers, such as GDS, also offer their platform, studio and production services to clients to run internal events like set piece company meetings or customer roadshows.

But whether a hosted event or a virtual summit, we have found these styles have many advantages over webinars:

Develop your thought leadership:

Virtual events go far beyond webinars when it comes to brand positioning, distinguishing your brand from competitors as a thought leader. By tapping into the talent, experience and passion from inside your business, you can engage with audiences that want to hear what you have to say.

Learn more about the audience:

Virtual summits provide a wealth of useful marketing and sales data, such as the participants’ upcoming projects, challenges, budget and readiness to buy. Almost none of this was possible in any sustained fashion at physical events. But this insight is a game chaner for marketing and sales teams, ensuring they have all the right information for following up.

Building deeper connections with the C-suite:

Forging relationships with C-level executives isn’t easy, and sales often have to go through layers of management before they can reach the main decision-maker. Having a third-party curate this audience, and help you engage and entertain them, is priceless.

For B2B marketers, virtual events, either hosted or in summit format, now provide an invaluable weapon in the digital arsenal, enabling them to deliver value when many of the traditional sales and marketing playbooks are defunct.

So let’s not fill another calendar year with dreary webinars. Let’s give our customers and prospects something to be energised, enthused and excited about. And make 2021 the year of virtual sanity.

Propolis: Execution

Want to learn more about events in B2B marketing? Check out our execution hive at our new community hub Propolis. You’ll get tons of insights on digital, data, events, creativity, propositions, internal communications and agency management.

Check out our execution hive!

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