18 Lessons We’ve Learned from a Year of Virtual Marketing Events

Over the last year, the pandemic forced many organizations to shift from in-person to all-virtual marketing events. As a result, businesses have had to become more innovative to figure out how to deal with never-before-seen problems on the fly.

It’s been challenging, no doubt, but it’s also taught us a lot about our ability to think outside the box and adapt to unforeseen circumstances. Organizations that have been willing to remain flexible, listen to feedback, and address challenges head-on have learned hard lessons they can now apply to their businesses moving forward.

The lessons we’ve learned and outlined in this article can help strengthen your business and empower you to connect with your colleagues and consumers on a deeper level.

Quick Takeaways

  • Going virtual has taught us to think outside the box and adapt quickly to changes and issues that arise.
  • Communication, flexibility, and personalization are three pillars of great virtual marketing events.
  • Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes – if you’re willing to learn from them.
  • Good preparation and having a backup plan (or two) are essential steps to successfully running an online event.
  • Creating compelling experiences for your online audience and setting clear expectations upfront are both crucial.
  • Ensure you understand your audience and set realistic goals for your event so your team can stay focused and get the results you seek.

What’s a Virtual Marketing Event?

Virtual marketing events are constantly evolving. At their foundation, they’re live or pre-recorded presentations delivered to participants online.

Many events require registration or payment to attend. Content may only be available in real time throughout the live event, or it may be available to view on demand after the event ends.

Virtual conferences often revolve around a specific subject or topic – like content marketing or B2B digital marketing.

18 Tips to Make Your Next Virtual Marketing Event a Smashing Success

Flexibility, communication, and personalization are three essential elements you’ll need to run a successful virtual event. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned over the past year.

1. It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

When something is new, you’re going to mess up. There’s no avoiding it. We quickly learned that running or attending a 100% virtual event involves many unknowns. It also requires making quick decisions and experimenting. But the only way to know what works is to start trying.

Launch the event, and gather as much feedback as possible as you go. You’ll learn what’s resonating with people and who to target with what content. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Try new things, and pick yourself up after you fall. Fail fast and you’ll improve continually.

2. Create an Interactive Experience

People are looking for experiences over presentations. Doodle saw a 296% increase in group meetings for virtual happy hours and a 100% increase for virtual exercise, yoga, and other workout sessions in 2020. They also saw an increase in the number of virtual game, trivia, and quiz nights.

Source: Doodle

Consider creating an experience where attendees can interact in fun and creative ways rather than choosing a strictly speaker-audience format. How can you get your audience to engage in an experience they won’t forget?

Marketing experiential aspects of an event can also set your event apart from the competition. Let’s say, for example, that one business is hosting an entirely educational event with a long list of presentations scheduled one after the other. Another company is planning an event with breakout sessions, happy hours, virtual trainings, and several other ways to engage with others directly. Which one would you rather attend?

3. Have a Plan A, B, and Maybe C

When it comes to virtual events, everything hangs on technology functioning properly, and many factors are outside of our immediate control. Having a backup plan (or two) can help you avoid a lot of stress. If Plan A fails, you’ll have Plan B or Plan C to fall back on.

Think through what may go wrong with your first and second options so you have a backup course of action planned. But also remember this: you’re going to make some mistakes, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, your goal is to connect with your audience in a meaningful way. You can accomplish that in a variety of ways – regardless of whether everything goes according to plan.

4. Test and Then Test Again

Plan to have an on-site IT team prepped and ready to monitor your online event. They can troubleshoot issues as they arise to make your technology run as smoothly as possible for all participants.

Before your event begins, make sure you test everything to know how it will run and identify any issues before the big day. Test your technology internally and externally so you know it will work well for all parties involved. Ensure all of your speakers are comfortable using the technology.

Also consider running A/B tests to improve open, conversion, and click-through rates, emails, ads, and other aspects of your marketing campaign to increase engagement.

5. Collaborate

Communicate with other marketing teams or businesses attending the event so there isn’t too much overlap or duplication of efforts. You don’t want to overwhelm your audience by giving them too much different information, but you also want to have enough diversity to keep them interested throughout the event.

Keep open lines of communication among teams and colleagues by creating group chats, holding regular video conferences, using Slack channels, etc. That way, everyone can remain on the same page and have similar expectations. You can share important updates as the event evolves.

6. (Over)Communicate

Ensure you set clear expectations upfront and explain them thoroughly, so all participants understand what part they play in the event. Understanding your goals for the event will help you better communicate expectations and keep everyone on track and focused throughout your time together.

Source: Personify

7. Use the Right Content in the Right Places

Virtual event attendees expect to consume content tailored to their specific needs. Understanding where your audience is in the buyer’s journey can help you deliver more relevant information.

Make sure you provide contextualized experiences across every channel your participants will use throughout the event. Giving them relevant information at the right time can make a huge difference in their personal customer experience.

8. Make Registration as Easy as Possible

Instead of forcing registrants to fill out lengthy forms, keep the registration process simple and straightforward. You can (and should) track user behavior throughout the event, so you can focus on simply getting participants on board beforehand. Then, using the information you’ve gathered throughout your event, you can deliver more personalized content and develop more targeted personas for future events.

9. You May Need to Reset Some Expectations

Some people may register for your event at the last minute – especially if it’s free. Your campaign may run for months, but you could accumulate a large portion of registrations within the last couple of weeks or even on the last day leading up to the event.

Here are some interesting statistics from an Eventbrite study that may lead you to rethink some of your registration expectations and marketing campaign tactics:

  • Up to 50% of participants could get their tickets the day before or the day of the event if it’s free.
  • For a paid event, expect less than 20% of your revenue to come on the day of the event or at the door. Expect to reach 80% of your revenue target before the day of your event.

10. Collect Feedback Regularly

During the event, you want to understand how people are engaging, whether they’re enjoying themselves, and what would make the event better for them. Collecting feedback throughout your event can help you facilitate better engagement and deal with issues as they arise. Participants will appreciate you asking for their opinions and caring enough to make changes that affect them positively.

11. Attention Spans are Shorter Than You Think

You may have heard that virtual attention spans are shorter than in-person attention spans (or experienced it yourself). Many businesses have found this to be true. We’ve seen some say their attendees only participated in one day of a multi-day event. Others have had trouble keeping people’s attention while primarily delivering educational information.

The key to higher engagement is getting your audience to not just listen to their screen but to participate in real time. If they can interact with presenters, content, and other attendees, they may stay more focused for longer. Taking breaks in the right places and allowing participants to network and communicate with others is crucial to your success.

You need to captivate your audience. Start by telling them how they can interact throughout the event. Get innovative to create a fun, personalized experience for every attendee. Having different options for engagement can keep your event interesting and exciting. Here are some ideas:

  • Give attendees the option to chart their own course by picking which sessions they want to drop into and which ones they can watch later on demand.
  • Create engaging networking opportunities.
  • Invite people to participate in polls, quizzes, and surveys.
  • Offer prizes for attendees to win after engaging with online content throughout the event or participating in live Q&As or workshops.

You have plenty of options for engaging your audience and keeping their attention throughout your event. It may look a lot different than it would in person, but offering new, fun options can help you create a memorable experience.

12. Highlight Lasting Benefits

What long-lasting benefits will attendees experience by participating in your event? Will they get to hear from and engage with highly admired speakers or organizations? Will they learn new ideas on how to increase their revenue or improve their department? Will they make important connections that can impact their future careers?

Letting your audience know what they will gain from your event will help you attract the right people and get them excited about their experience.

13. Include a Broader Speaker Lineup

Since your event isn’t limited to a physical location, you can invite speakers and participants who would be unable to attend an in-person event. If relevant, you can extend your invitations to participants throughout the country or across the world. That speaker you’ve always admired may be available to attend and speak at your next online event.

14. Understand How Free Events Differ from Paid Ones

Many of the virtual events throughout 2020 were free, which resulted in higher event attendance for many organizations than the in-person events they replaced. If you plan to start hosting paid in-person events again, understand your numbers may be lower.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means you need to market to serious prospects and convince them that the event will be worth their investment. Deliver engaging content that connects with leads in a meaningful way while also entertaining and compelling them to take action. Your offerings should be relevant and timely.

Source: Bizzabo

15. Virtual Events Attract Top-of-Funnel Prospects

Since virtual events often drive large numbers, they can be a great place to collect leads for your business. Virtual events often attract top-of-funnel leads. In-person events, on the other hand, attract leads further down the marketing funnel. Knowing this can help you cater to the right audience, offering content that encourages participants to move in the right direction on their buyer’s journey.

16. Establish Yourself as a Thought Leader

Event sponsors and exhibitors have an opportunity to demonstrate thought leadership at virtual events. Without the space limitations and time constraints you may face during a live, in-person event, you can use virtual meetings and presentations to establish authority in your field.

17. Consider Facilitating a Hybrid Event

97% of event marketers believe they’ll see more hybrid events in 2021. Consider hosting a hybrid event rather than 100% in-person or virtual. Then you can take advantage of the benefits each model offers.

For example, someone who works from home may find it easier to hop on a computer and engage with content online versus traveling to a physical venue. On the other hand, they may appreciate spending networking time in person and collaborating face-to-face with others in their field.

18. Budget Accordingly

You might expect a virtual event to be far less costly than an in-person event. But you may end up spending just as much creating a successful experience for every customer online. Virtual events often involve a robust platform and hiring a production or IT team to ensure everything runs smoothly. It also requires creative thinking and marketing tactics. However, bear in mind that many organizations can get away with spending less on virtual events.

Source: Personify

Virtual Events Require Quality Content Marketing

Marketing Insider Group can create high-quality, engaging, SEO-driven content to help you reach and engage your target audience. Whether you’re hoping to increase registrations by educating leads about your offerings or drive more traffic to your website, we can help.

Our team of experts will research your business and audience to develop a customized plan for your organization. Our content writers will craft expertly written pieces – like blog articles and landing page copy – to help you reach and win new customers. We’ll also help you measure and calculate ROI.

Learn more about our Content Builder Services.

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

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