By Chuck Leddy
With the COVID-19 global pandemic forcing customers and employees to stay at home, and compelling the cancellation of countless live events, B2B marketers and their companies should be redefining customer experience in a way that leans toward virtual events (VEs) and digital experiences while moving away from conferences that bring large groups of people together in physical spaces.
Events that were previously face-to-face are now becoming virtual, which poses a number of challenges for marketers seeking to create and convert leads. Neuroscience has shown that virtual communication, such as virtual events, simply don’t have the same emotional resonance as live, face-to-face interactions. It makes sense: human beings have been strengthening relationships in face-to-face encounters for millenia, while virtual communication has been with us for a relatively short time. Our brains are wired to prefer face-to-face interactions, all things being equal (but with COVID-19, all things are definitely not equal – we need to social distance).
Why “interactive communication” is key
In general, the more interactive the communication is, the more engaging and emotionally resonant. This means that B2B marketers may not be able to fully replace the powerful tool of live events to create emotional bonds with customers. But marketers can add more interactive elements to virtual events and then blend in other technologies such as email, email newsletters, webinars, and videos to drive deeper digital engagement that creates customer loyalty and lifetime customer value.
While virtual events can’t exactly replace live events, they can be a great way to drive interaction and strengthen relationships. That said, adding interactivity to virtual events will take creativity from VE organizers. As this great Salesforce blog post on designing effective virtual events makes clear, creating spaces for customer interaction is key: the post describes one effective virtual event where attendees “could explore 18 virtual rooms . . . A company expert hosted each room, sharing demos with visitors and answering questions in real time.” The result? “The experience let visitors engage with content in a way that was more active than watching a video and less formal than a scheduled meeting.” The VE drove engagement and conversion.
As in any marketing content, what matters most is the value customers receive from the interaction and how it makes them feel about the brand. So marketers need to build virtual events around offering value, making sufficient room for interactive elements, and leaving customers feeling closer to the brand.
The benefits of virtual events
Virtual events are growing in popularity, not only because live events aren’t feasible as this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because of the many inconveniences associated with traveling to live events. Those inconveniences include lost time in transit, large carbon footprints associated with jet fuel and auto emissions, monetary costs, being away from home and the office, and beyond. On the other hand, virtual events also offer unique benefits and added perks that live events simply can’t match.
Here are five great reasons VEs benefit customers:
- Stay where you are and avoid the hassles of travel. Airport terminals can be crowded and surrounded by traffic congestion, even in the best of times. With COVID-19, many airports and airlines have temporarily discontinued operations. What if you could simply eliminate travel headaches and easily access an entire event experience from the comfort and convenience of your own home, office or device? You could even show up in sweatpants and slippers. That’s exactly the hassle-free experience VEs can enable.
- The gift of time. Time is life’s most precious, non-renewable resource. Lost time can’t be regained. Travel time to live events means time not allocated for other, potentially more productive uses. When you don’t need to travel far (i.e., when you open your laptop on the living room table and access a VE), you have more time for work, family and things you care deeply about. A recent study indicated that remote workers are more productive because they use the time they would have normally consumed for travelling into workplaces for, yes, actual work. With virtual events customers are liberated from the time drain typically connected with travel. Customers can repurpose their “saved” time to whatever endeavors they choose.
- Virtual events and experiences are improving. Digital tools and digital experiences have improved in quality at a rapid pace in the last decade. In 2020, so many great customer experiences are actually digital experiences. With virtual events, customers can access event content like keynote speeches and presentations. Even better, customers can choose to access virtual event content live or on-demand, whenever they want after the event. There’s no “fear of missing out”/FOMO, as there can be at crowded live events with too many offerings happening at once.
- Virtual events promote sustainability, and are green. Climate change seems to be on everyone’s agenda these days: individuals and companies are both trying to act more sustainably and reduce carbon emissions, Virtual events are as environmentally-friendly as it gets. They don’t generate any automobile and airplane emissions connected with travel, and virtual events typically have no food or paper waste that requires disposal into landfills.
- Virtual events save money. Last, but far from least, is cost. VEs are generally cheaper to organize and attend than live events. Often, virtual events are offered for free or at a low cost. With virtual events, customers can gain value (and B2B marketers can deliver brand value) at a lower cost compared to live events.
The takeaway here is simple, B2B marketers are going to need to organize/design more virtual events for the forseeable future, at least until the COVID-19 pandemic gets better controlled. While virtual events don’t deliver the emotional resonance of live events, they can be an important part of your customer engagement strategy. You’ll need to design your VEs with interactive elements and optimize your way to improvement, as you should be doing with all marketing approaches.
How is your B2B marketing team addressing this shift to virtual events? We’d love to hear from you about it! Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story (and if you’d like, be featured in a blog post).
Note: We’re not just writing about it, we’re living it as well! We’re scheduled to present at B2B Marketing Ignite 2020 on May 28 – so now we’re going virtual vs going to Chicago. Our friends at B2B Marketing are doing a great job shifting the event – there’s still time to register, so book your free pass or platinum pass now!
(Our session is in the platinum track: “How to finally understand the ROI of every bit of your marketing spend: The lessons learned from one remarkable attribution journey” presented by Carmen Gardiner, Marketing Operations Director at Progress, and Dan Vawter, Managing Partner at Sojourn Solutions.)