A survey identified ideas B2B marketers can use to improve attendance, engagement and get more value out of their investment in virtual events
Webinars, digital tradeshows and online conferences have been a go-to substitute for live physical events in the wake of the pandemic. While there’s been some positive news coming out of the medical community for combatting the virus, chances are virtual events are still going to play a significant role for many B2B marketers throughout most of 2021.
That also means the competition among virtual events will remain high. Getting people to attend such events is a challenge – and a survey of 200 B2B professionals by PathFactory and Heinz Marketing provides some benchmarks:
- 44% of respondents said they get attendance rates of 26-50%
- 39% of respondents said they get attendance rates of 51-75%
- 8% of respondents said they get attendance rates of greater than 75%
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Those numbers look pretty good to me by comparison. About this time last year, I looked at data in two reports by providers of SaaS software for hosting virtual events. The average conversion rate – pre-pandemic – for webinars was around 39-44% according to ON24 and GoToMeeting, respectively.
The takeaway is, if you’re getting 50% of your registrants to attend your virtual event, you are doing better than many of your peers.
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No matter how your numbers match up to these benchmarks, the pressure to improve performance is continuous. This survey produced some ideas for improving virtual events.
1. Collaborate with the sales team to produce events.
The survey found about 59% of salespeople say they help to produce virtual events. If you are part of the other 40% that doesn’t collaborate with sales, this is a good opportunity to solve a several problems.
First, sales talks to customers and can help generate some ideas for event topics.
Second, if the sales team is invested in the subject matter, they’ll more be inclined to help drive attendance.
Third, some 38% of respondents said they “are most challenged by not knowing what content from an event resonated with attendees.” The sales team can help you get some feedback.
Finally, the survey surfaced some issues around messaging in promotional materials, like email and digital ads, for virtual events. These issues were more prominent among sales respondents. Getting the team involved earlier will go a long way toward fixing such problems and speaking with a consistent voice.
2. Provide more opportunities for audience interaction.
“Audiences crave participation and interaction,” according to an analysis of the survey results. The survey found “67% of virtual event attendees report that having opportunities to participate and interact with the speakers and other attendees makes them more inclined to stay, listen, and engage.”
Among the ways B2B marketing organizations are facilitating interaction during virtual events include:
- 79% provide question and answer (Q&A) sessions during the event
- 65% put presenters on video (as opposed to just slides or audio)
- 59% use live chat during the event
- 57% offer multiple speakers or sessions; and
- 57% conduct polls and quizzes during the event.
Many of these are features in software for hosting virtual events so it’s important to get comfortable using them. For marketers that do, the survey shows it pays off. Of respondents who said they have attendance rates of 75% or more, about three in four said they use “a mix of both Q&A and live polls and quizzes to drive audience engagement.”
In a separate, but related question, about 40% of respondents said they made supplementary content available during the event. An easy example of this is research reports. You probably can’t cover an entire report in a 30- or 45-minute session – but you can make the full report available to attendees.
3. Consider smaller and more exclusive events.
The survey had mixed results in terms of the size of the event and performance.
For example, on one hand, “the most successful companies (those with over 75% attendance rates) most often utilize largescale, multi-vendor virtual tradeshows and user conferences.” On the other hand, “moderately effective companies (those with 51-75% attendance rates) most often utilize small-scale, single-vendor virtual events and webinars.”
The twist is pulling everything you need together to produce an event was one of the biggest challenges cited in the survey. As the report says, “Smaller virtual events, on the other hand, require far fewer resources to produce effectively. And these events, arguably, offer comparable if not better experiences for the attendees, feeling more personal, more authentic, and more engaging.”
This reminds me of an event type that marketers in the U.K. have used for a long time: roundtable discussions. These roundtables can vary in size, but these generally bring a small group together for a moderated discussion on some industry problem everyone is facing. Everyone contributes; in a sense these are almost like a temporary mastermind group.
Where the participants will permit it, I’ve seen reporters, and sometimes analysts invited to these discussions, which also produces coverage. Certainly, there’s good content that can be repurposed afterwards. Finally, it’s great for marketers to hear their target audience express problems in their own words. Have a skilled moderator and facilitator is crucial for such events.
4. Partner up to extend your reach in your ecosystem
A good way to make a bigger splash is to partner up with non-competitive businesses in your industry. This can be as simple as inviting a speaker to participate – or going all-in with an agreement for co-marketing.
As the report puts it, “Co-promotion is a powerful way to drive attendance to a virtual event, big or small. The more you can do to extend your reach to new audiences, the better chances you have to drive greater attendance to your virtual event.”
One of the biggest sticking points in putting agreements like this together is over the sharing of registrant data. Still, this isn’t too hard to navigate – businesses set up joint referral, sales and marketing programs all the time.
5. Keep the momentum post-event
Just about 18% of respondents said they are effective at generating engagement after the event is over. That means upwards of four out of five aren’t, which given the resources that go into event production, you’d think marketing would want to squeeze every possible bit of value out.
Some of the basic things marketers are doing include the following:
- 71% promote a recording of the event (so 30% don’t!)
- 58% create a nurture steam tailored to registrants and attendees
- 54% repurpose the ideas from the event into new content
- 28% create a shorter recording of the event; and
- 2% have SDRs conduct outreach.
This list the bare minimum. There’s a lot more that can be done before, during and after an event. Here are some ideas: 12 ways to leverage your existing investment in B2B webinars.
6. Develop a system, processes and templates
There isn’t a specific data point in this survey about systems and processes, but all the data, collectively, does convey the sense events are hard on a marketing team. Anyone that’s ever worked in event marketing knows this is true. The best way to address this is to develop a system and process for events and put it in writing.
Chose an event format that works and build a process behind it. The key to this is shifting the marketing mindset from thinking about virtual events as a campaign that starts and stops. Instead, think of them as a program that never ends. Sure, the first one or two will be taxing, but you’ll find your team will get into a rhythm.
Importantly, having a process doesn’t mean you can’t improve on things. On the contrary, putting the process in writing and running through it as a team will naturally conjure up ideas to improve things.
It’s worth noting that writing out the process doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a simple checklist ordered in sequence. Something simple is preferable in my experience because if you make it sound like a policy memorandum, nobody will read it.
When you develop a checklist, review it in your weekly meetings with the team members. When everyone on the team knows you’ll be asking about progress, those tasks will get done, or it’s a chance to bring up challenges that need addressing.
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The full report is ungated and has several other ideas that merit consideration. You can download it here The Virtual Event Experience. I first learned about the report in an article about the survey in Marketing Charts.
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