How businesses can reimagine B2B marketing events during times of uncertainty

For as long as I can remember, B2B marketers have used physical events as an effective way of connecting with customers, generating leads and increasing brand awareness. But with the health and safety of our employees, customers and partners front-of-mind for the global business community, we’ve understandably seen many events cancelled or postponed until later in the year to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Earlier this year, major events such as South by Southwest and Cannes Lions 2020 shut their doors. This trend has since continued with events around the world, such as Slush and the 2020 NAB Show, following suit. With this, the industry has been forced to reimagine how events in this new environment are hosted. As a result, we’ve seen many businesses leverage technology and online platforms, to replace in-person gatherings as physical events move online.

Over the past few months, I’ve seen lots of discussion about the ROI and impact of these types of events. People have also asked me whether or not you can truly create relationships with customers when you don’t meet with them face to face. The answer to that is an emphatic “yes” - if they’re done in the right way. There are other benefits too; virtual events can help businesses keep the safety of people as the key priority, while minimising business disruption and ensuring planned activity can still run as close to normal as possible. 

But not only does hosting events in this way mitigate the financial and emotional loss of a cancellation, it creates a space for brands to engage with audiences in new ways, strengthening relationships and sparking conversations that can help bring brands’ stories to life. 

For me, there are four key benefits of replacing physical events with online events that go beyond COVID-19 mitigation:

1. Reaching wider and unexplored audiences

By hosting events online, businesses can reach more people than ever before. For example, a live key-note speech can be streamed to a much broader audience than a physical event would have allowed.

When the Geneva Motor Show was cancelled in February, automotive companies, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz embraced this new virtual route to stakeholder engagement by premiering their new cars online through online channels, including LinkedIn Live. By doing this, these brands were able to showcase new products, while interacting with potential B2B and B2C customers on the platform. 

2. Creating a more personalised experience

Virtual events can also help businesses to create a much more personal experience for attendees. By embedding slides or other supporting documents within the live stream, you can give audiences a richer and more interactive experience. 

By addressing the camera directly, speakers can provide a more direct and personal experience than might have been possible in person. Tools where you can leave comments, chat boxes and animated icons all serve to bolster the sense of interactivity. A great example of this is when Microsoft live-streamed CEO Satya Nadella’s keynote at the Build developer conference.

3. Exploring new formats

It isn’t just keynotes that work well online. Businesses can explore new event formats, such as panel discussions, workshops, ask me anything sessions with CEOs and executives and fireside chats. Businesses can also host product demos online to showcase new products. 

LinkedIn Live and similar tools are a good place to start. They help organisations of all sizes bring their professional community together in real-time, wherever they may be in the world, and encourage new forms of engagement and connectivity with stakeholders. Businesses can also help drive targeted awareness of upcoming events and engagement with attendees before, during and after the program. 

We’ve seen that a large majority of audiences prefer seeing live-streams from brands to regular social posts - proving there is a latent appetite from our community for interesting live streams from businesses.

4. Reducing our carbon footprint

The onus on all of us is to find ways to rapidly reduce our carbon footprint and replacing or supplementing physical events with online ones is one great way to do that. Digital tools can help us to reach audiences wherever they are - and without the need to ship hundreds of people across land and sea. So as we think ahead to how we access new customers, brilliant thinking or inspired speakers in the low-carbon world of the future, online events will play a key role in connecting businesses and people in a sustainable way.

The past few months have undoubtedly been an uncertain and challenging time for us all, but they have also provided an opportunity to think afresh about how digital tools can enhance our businesses and workplaces. In B2B marketing, this is a moment for thinking creatively about how we inspire our customers, with virtual events providing an effective channel to reach the people our businesses depend on.

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