Think the webinar is a dying marketing channel? Think again

In an age where marketing tools and techniques evolve bewilderingly quickly, coming in and out of fashion at breakneck speed, it’s reassuring to know that some platforms are perennials.

Email is the most obvious example of this, in B2B at least, where rumours of its demise have regularly but always wrongly predicted.

Increasingly, and perhaps more surprisingly, the humble webinar appears to be another, quietly belying expectations of prospect burnout or fatigue, and building on its reputation as an effective, reliable and therefore often essential part of the marketing mix. Albeit one that isn’t necessarily hugely exciting or dynamic.

“Webinars,” says Joe Hyland, CMO at webinar the provider On24, “just work.” And that’s very reassuring for today’s marketers, who need to balance innovation with dependability.

As evidence of this, Hyland points to Microsoft Azure’s decision to ‘triple down’ on its investment in webinars in the last 12 months, based on how effective they were proving in driving conversions – 7.2% of attendees actually went on to purchase. Consequently, the cloud services provider went from expecting to run 200 webinars at the beginning of 2016, to ending the year with an equivalent run rate frequency of 3000 webinars annually. That’s a big commitment in anyone’s terms.

Whilst this example may not exactly be typical, the evergreen nature of the webinar as a marketing channel is also reflected in On24’s own performance, claims Hyland, which has seen it show upper double digit growth for the last three years. That’s impressive for a mature category.

Webinars came to prominence as part of the demand generation explosion about ten years ago, the same trend which ultimately brought us marketing automation technology and arguably ultimately marketing clouds. But whilst it’s the nature of the marketing technology space for niche vendors to be snapped up and assimilated by one of the global players, On24 is still firmly independent.

Precisely why, he implies, is probably due to a subtle mix of factors, which may vary from one potential acquirer to another. But probably most compelling reason is simply that the various marketing cloud brands probably have their attention elsewhere, trying to understand what’s next and beat their rivals to it – they don’t regard this mature technology as a priority. At least for now.

In the meantime, Hyland is anxious to emphasise the extent to which On24 has invested in integration, allowing every aspect of the individual user’s webinar experience to be captured and visible on their marketing automation platform of record. “Data is the key to this market,” he says.

So what’s next for this mature but reliable marketing technology? Hylands accepts that it’s unlikely that webinars will see any dramatic leaps in terms of functionality, but he says On24 is continuing to innovate, with the launch of a benchmarking function, allowing marketers to compare themselves against users in similar markets on core webinar stats to get a different perspective on their output.

That being the case, the challenge for marketers seeking to get the best out of their webinars is once again just like email: it’s all about the content. Put out great content, and your webinars will be highly effective. Put out rubbish…

As a parting shot, I asked Joe Hylands for his three tips for marketers eager to improve their webinar content. This was his response:

1. Webinar activity has to be data driven – marketers really need to get the best out of the data from each webinar to make the most out of it.

2. Don’t do static content – be engaging. Get your users involved.

3. Don’t be boring. Keep thinking different and reinventing what you do.