In recent weeks, global concerns about the novel coronavirus have compelled many companies to cancel their in-person events or move them online. While businesses are now facing many new challenges, this moment also offers a valuable opportunity: to understand why, and how, to create a virtual events strategy that’s integrated with your overall marketing plan, now and for the future.

According to Bizzabo, 80% of marketers believe that live events are critical to their success. When surveyed, B2B marketers rate events as the single most-effective marketing channel over digital advertising, email marketing, and content marketing. Consequently, 24% of B2B marketing budgets are dedicated to this marketing channel. Given the impact events have on B2B marketers’ results, the COVID-19 crisis reminds us how important it is to continually innovate our practices to anticipate how global changes will evolve how we meet and work.

Why virtual events can be the new reality now

At Yesler B2B marketing agency, we support events for some of the biggest tech companies in the world, and we know the importance of having an effective event marketing strategy. As an integrated part of your marketing strategy, events can build your brand and establish you as a thought leader. And they can help deepen your relationships with existing customers and prospects, at any stage of their buying journey.

However, even before the current COVID-19 crisis, hosting in-person events had some trade-offs. In-person events are pricey to organize as well as to attend. Attendees face downtime and lost productivity, while employers must subsidize their travel, dining, and hotel costs. And, as more businesses strive to go green and promote more environment-friendly policies, attendance at these events may decline.

These are good business reasons to host virtual events—even after this global crisis passes. But by developing an ongoing virtual event strategy, you also take a forward-looking stance into the ways work will continue to evolve.

As an example, Yesler’s sister division, Projectline Services, a strategic resourcing agency with employees who work from home offices around the world, has made it a priority to lead the way in the Future of Work initiative for distributed workforces. To live their mission, the Projectline team has held highly engaging virtual team-building events, including virtual parties for its employees. The event preparation is familiar, relying on event planning staff, martech, and other services to send swag and party favors ahead of time to make sure everyone enjoys the same access and the same perks.

While a team-building event isn’t in the same ballpark as a multiple-day industry conference, keep the spirit of the Future of Work—long-term and wide-reaching benefits as work practices evolve—in mind as you consider our comprehensive approach to a virtual event strategy.

6-step virtual event strategy checklist

We built this checklist to ensure that a virtual events strategy uses the right content and technology and aligns with your overarching marketing strategy. It has 6 essential steps.

  1. Strategy: Analyze your market, current plans, and KPIs from past events. After that’s complete, look at the most beneficial activities and begin to think of how you might replicate them virtually. This could take time with your team to brainstorm or do some research to see how others are doing this. Keep your focus on the kinds of activities that have provided the most benefit and that align to your overall goals and integrated marketing approach. Resist activities that would be just for fun or that you can’t measure.
  2. Infrastructure: Assess your martech infrastructure and digital event management tools. The right martech infrastructure will help you run a successful virtual event from beginning to end and beyond to nurture, so you can get long-term value from your content. This means assessing not only your marketing automation and online meeting and classroom software, but the tools you will use to analyze the event when it’s over. And of course, it also means making sure you have the right-skilled staff to run it.
  3. Operations: Consult with your marketing operations and automation teams early so they’re prepared to execute each event, deliver promotions seamlessly, and capture engagement data.
  4. Promotion: Develop a targeted promotional plan for every virtual event, just as you would for any other event.
  5. Digital experience: Create thoughtfully designed content and digital experiences to fully engage audiences. You can also use these assets to nurture prospects as part of an ongoing campaign.
  6. Analytics: Make sure you have the right tools to manage the data you’ve captured and track leads after the event. As mentioned above, analytics tools need to be in place beforehand and set to measure your KPIs. They are a critical part of your overall strategy and pre-event setup. Use this data to measure your success and inform your strategy for future events.

A tale of two events

When restrictions on large events and travel are eventually lifted, many businesses will face a new choice: to host in-person events again or continue to create virtual events for an increasingly agile, distributed workforce.

While some businesses might still be accustomed to the former, many others will have experienced the benefits of the latter—particularly when executed with a strategic vision. For example, let’s compare these two scenarios.

Imagine an attendee arrives for an in-person event and registers for three sessions. Unfortunately, on the way to the first session, she’s distracted at a booth where she picks up several handouts and misses most of the session. She arrives on time to the next session but loses interest and leaves early. The third session? It’s awesome! She stays the whole time, takes all the handout materials provided, and asks two questions that are relevant to her organization’s needs.

The event is over and you’re now ready to nurture the prospect. Unfortunately, here’s all you know: You have her contact information and can surmise her interests based on the sessions she (hopefully) attended. That’s it. You don’t know precisely where she went, what she did, which speakers most interested her, what questions she asked, or which materials she wanted.

Now, imagine this:

The same prospect registers for your all-digital, virtual experience. Only now you can see exactly which sessions she attends. You can see if she arrives late or leaves early. You have a record of every question she asks, at every session. And you know which materials she’s interested in and what she downloads.

Insights like these are gold when scoring leads and converting prospects into customers—and in understanding which sessions participants found valuable. With the right infrastructure and tools, you can track and manage this data. Now, when you follow up after the event, you can place her in the nurture stream that is of most interest to her. You can personalize your emails and tailor your follow-up. And you can build a deeper, more profitable, relationship.

Looking ahead to brighter times

With thoughtful planning and a well-structured, strategic approach, B2B companies can create deeply engaging and rewarding virtual events.

Prospects, customers, and even internal employees often seek opportunities where they can learn, network, have fun with peers, and even get some swag. With a virtual events strategy, you can provide those experiences while reducing downtime, costs, and lost productivity. You can expand your target audience—making your events accessible to more people (regardless of money, time, or other circumstances), lowering the walls to participation, broadening your reach, and shaping the Future of Work. Finally, you can gain deeper insights from virtual events about prospects and existing customers—to drive greater ROI and help you achieve your marketing goals.

Let’s talk if you’d like to explore how we can help you do that.