Grabbing the Virtual Events Spotlight

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The pandemic has pushed the 2020 global trade show schedule off a cliff. With most major trade events postponed for at least a year or two, the industry is evolving virtually overnight from primarily a live, on-site business to a hybrid blend of virtual and live experiences. This convergence, which was already underway before COVID, is accelerating to expand the post-COVID event marketing ecosystem.

Established shows are innovating to amplify their value online, opening up the pipeline for more digital content to fuel the extended conversation. Their challenge is to create a user experience that complements the on-site experience for those who’ve been there before and also attracts wider interest from those who haven’t yet.

According to eMarketer, 43% of B2B marketers are moving some portion of their 2020 event budgets into content creation, and 57% are shifting spending into webinars and digital events, all supported by more paid search, lead generation, social media and mailings.

With the events on hold, there’s still a big chunk of “use-it-or-lose-it” money out there — even with lower projected revenues — that’s got to get spent this year. Digital is the obvious beneficiary, not only to help bridge the gap between shows in the short term but to assert its greater value in the hybrid future as a brand extension of live events.

Here are three keys to maximizing your impact with content online and on-site in the new hybrid event marketplace.

Map Your Content Path

Plan from Z to A. Whether you are prospecting for leads, pursuing partners or looking to sell a product, first identify the people or personas you want to reach. Decide what you want them to do with or for you during the main event, then plot the content path to lead them there.

Outline the event-targeted story you want to tell and the different ways you want to tell it through your content channels and networks.

  • Engage — Say something new. Jump-start the conversation with an authentic voice and a fresh vision.
  • Educate — Show them something they don’t already know. Bring intelligence and insight to the table.
  • Amplify — Align with thought-leaders and trends to turn up the volume and validate your view of the world.
  • Activate — Call to action! Capitalize on momentum and trust to collect information that qualifies leads and moves them closer to your camp.

Set milestones along the way to measure progress as your campaign builds momentum. Weeks or months before the show, you’re ready to launch with a road map to success.

Envision the Experience

Trade events thrive on live face-to-face interaction. Virtual’s challenge is to replicate that interaction without being there in person. For some, the programming may be as familiar as facilitated roundtables and thought-leadership presentations, bolstered by dynamic directories and interactive marketplaces. For others, it may require more immersive technologies such as VR/AR experiences, games/competitions and entertainment. Put yourself in your prospect’s head and explore all of the possibilities.

Original content, creativity and production value will be major factors in success. The bar may be low, but not for long. Take a cue from mass media, and think visually. Move the money you were going to spend onsite to production design online. If you have the budget, invest in a technical adviser and even a director to deliver the look and feel of a professional event. Most importantly, don’t just wing it. Rehearse! Practice makes a difference.

Mix it up with a cast of characters — subject matter experts, influencers and thought-leaders — to give your campaign more credibility and personality. There are all kinds of marketing and media studies that support this idea, but the simple answer is, it’s just a lot more interesting and fun for everyone.

Account for Content ROI

If the ultimate measures of success at a show are leads and sales, and you can calculate the cost of success or failure on the floor, count on content to boost the return on your event marketing investment.

At a minimum, content doesn’t get destroyed and thrown away at the end of the day like so much of what’s constructed on the exhibit floor. It has a shelf life in its original and derivative forms that continue to pay dividends long after the show has closed.

The nature of digital also creates more ways for event content to generate data and insights from interactions during your campaign. That knowledge should lead to more informed and productive interactions online and on-site during the event and in your post-show follow-ups.

However you measure results, the bottom line is a strong case for content marketing in the post-COVID event marketplace.

Chris Meyer is a marketing and communications consultant and writer with more than 30 years of experience building brands and businesses that make a difference. Most recently, he was head of marcom for Kallman Worldwide, organizer of U.S. industry at international events including the Paris Air Show and Arab Health. Learn more at www.IARMarketing.com.

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