85% of company leadership thought in-person events were essential to their company’s success. Then, 2020 came and flipped that idea on its head. As the novel coronavirus took hold in the United States, live events came to a screeching halt, and marketers had to adapt fast. This is where the virtual event came in.
Today, virtual events are more important than ever, particularly for companies in the realm of SaaS and technology. A 2020 PathFactory study found that a whopping 90% of B2B professionals were hosting more virtual events than they had in the last 90 days. That tells us that virtual events work, but how much do they work?
While it’s easy to measure the ROI of a ticketed webinar with a price tag, it’s usually not that simple for the majority of virtual events. ROI is completely dependent on a company’s individual goals, but there are some things that all B2B businesses can do to maximize their earnings. The bulk of the work actually starts long before the event ever happens.
These tips can help you boost your virtual event’s ROI before you go live.
Don’t be afraid to think small
Not all virtual events are created equal. Sometimes it pays to get creative, especially if you don’t have a large budget. Though PathFactory’s study found that companies garnered the highest attendance rates by throwing large virtual events with multiple speakers, sponsors or vendors, consumers can get the same — or an even better — experience with smaller events that take fewer resources to produce. Why? They’re more personal, more engaging and easier to access.
Hosting webinars and webinar series are the most popular option for B2B businesses because they’re quick to produce and you can maximize your reach by inviting guest speakers or partnering with different brands. This way, you’re tapping into a broader range of audiences rather than limiting your reach to your existing consumer base. Webinars are particularly effective when balanced out by smaller events that take almost no resources and minimal planning to produce.
For example, anyone with a smartphone and some good lighting can live-tweet a product kick-off or host an Instagram Live Q&A. While these kinds of events generally garner the least amount of attendance, you can throw them more frequently without significantly chipping away at your marketing budget. You can even use them to promote larger scale virtual events.
Choose your virtual event technology wisely
Event technology is a term that casts a wide net. It encompasses everything from your ticketing platform to your live-streaming software to the chatbots that help attendees navigate virtual trade shows. This type of technology helps the average business save 200 hours per year, but there’s no one size fits all option.
Overall, different events require different kinds of tech. Most businesses that host webinars can save time and money by utilizing a ticketing service that will automate registration and follow-up emails. Unless you’re throwing a small event, free streaming platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts may be out of reach. In that case, there’s a wealth of streaming software that can support thousands of attendees and effortlessly share files en masse. Sometimes, these services can even integrate on-demand product demos or e-commerce, which helps nurture leads long before the post-event follow-up.
Don’t rush it
According to PathFactory’s study, timing is the biggest roadblock B2B marketers face when throwing a virtual event. Mainly, there just isn’t enough of it. 59% of marketers admitted they struggle to promote their events in short timeframes, but this is something that can be easily avoided.
To maximize the ROI of your virtual event, give your marketing team and audience adequate time for promotion. Remember: your attendees are actual people with a schedule of their own. You want to make sure your marketing messages have enough time to reach them and that they can block off the date in their schedule. Rather than firing off an Instagram Live at the 11th hour, leave yourself at least two weeks to solicit attendance.
Think beyond email for promoting your virtual event
Email is still the most direct way to reach your audience, but it’s not enough to successfully promote a virtual event on its own. A 2018 study found that the average professional has 199 unopened emails in their inbox — not to mention those who allow their unopened messages to soar into the thousands or tens of thousands. Truthfully, most emails go unopened, and 44% of marketers promoting a virtual event struggle with underperforming emails and digital ads.
In order to reach the widest audience and boost your event’s ROI, you should adopt a cross-platform marketing strategy. If you’re publishing blog posts, work in a mention of your event. If your company has a podcast, invite your listeners to join. Utilize a mix of social media ads and individual posts, put banner ads up on your company’s website, and encourage those who are involved in the event to share your message.
Keep messaging consistent
Just because viewers don’t have to leave their couch to attend a virtual event doesn’t mean they’ll show up. They still need to see the event’s value. This is where the marketing message comes in. A lack of consistent messaging is the top challenge faced by organizations throwing large scale events, and oftentimes, this has to do with a lack of communication across departments. This can seriously cut into your event’s attendance and drive down ROI.
Before launching your event, define a clear set of messaging and branding guidelines that can easily be distributed to everyone involved in the pre-event promotion. This should include all social media graphics and other marketing materials. Get all participants on the same page.
The bottom line
Virtual events are definitely having a moment during the coronavirus pandemic, but they’ve opened up a whole new door for marketers that won’t easily be closed. Even as live events start to ramp up, it’s expected that businesses will adopt a hybrid model where in-person events come with virtual elements. This is the future of B2B marketing, and companies will get a better handle on ROI as they wade deeper into the virtual event waters.
Keep an eye out for our next blog post in the “Boosting ROI for Virtual Events” series! We will be sharing tips and tricks for raising engagement, maximizing your reach, and collecting data during the event.