This is a guest post from Marketo, a leading marketing automation software company.
Here at Marketo, we’ve found virtual events to be highly successful in driving leads and opportunities. We particularly find value in hosting them ourselves. In November 2012, Marketo hosted “Good to Great—A Marketing Virtual Event” to announce the launch of our LaunchPoint™marketing solutions ecosystem. The event was one of the largest virtual events in ON24 history, with more than 10,000 registrants and almost 3,500 attendees.
Here, we examine how we planned and executed our virtual event to illustrate why companies should consider hosting their own, and offer advice on how to drive the maximum amount of registrants and attendees to make a virtual event a real success.
Why Virtual Events?
Many businesses are now including virtual events as part of their marketing strategy. They’re a great way to reach and engage with thousands of participants around the world without accruing steep costs for travel, venue rental, extra staff, etc. What’s more, they’re highly effective at increasing brand awareness, generating leads, engaging and educating customers and showcasing your organization’s industry expertise and thought leadership.
A sample view of a virtual event hosted through ON24
According to an ON24 survey of nearly 5,000 marketing professionals:
- 63 percent say they’re more likely to attend a virtual event than an in-person event;
- 72 percent say they’re equally as confident interacting virtually;
- 30 percent say they’re more likely to speak to a salesperson in a virtual booth;
- 47 percent say they’re more likely to ask a question at a virtual event; and,
- 15 percent actually prefer virtual events over in-person ones.
Along with being a popular—and extremely convenient—way to attend an event, virtual events can be a highly effective way to generate new leads and nurture existing ones. They allow companies to control every aspect of the user experience and provide attendees with multiple “touch points” that expose them to valuable marketing content, such as live discussions, webcasts, instructional videos, white papers and case studies. These touch points provide a way to keep attendees engaged and informed about the product or services your company offers, which increases the likelihood of converting them into customers.
Additionally, since virtual events tend to generate higher attendance rates than in-person conferences, they can generate more leads, sales and press coverage and result in a higher ROI.
Here are a few stats on the results from our virtual event:
- 10,155 registrants
- 3,126 attendees
- 6,627 documents viewed
- 6,303 webcasts watched
- 1,800 new names added to our database
- Approximately 2,000 tweets during the event
- 25 press releases from partners around the Web
Virtual events also provide organizations with detailed metrics on integral aspects of customer behavior, such as what content they viewed most and how long they engaged with it, which helps improve behavioral lead scoring and increases the chance of future sales. When you combine these benefits with the low cost barrier to entry, it’s easy to see why virtual events can be an easy, effective, budget-friendly win for your business.
The Logistics of Hosting a Virtual Event
Once you’ve decided to participate in or host a virtual event, there are many logistical items to consider during the planning phase. Just like a physical event, virtual events require careful team coordination, creative input and resource planning in order to succeed.
Cost. The cost of a virtual event will very depending on your level of participation—hosting your own event will obviously be much more expensive than if you’re simply sponsoring or exhibiting at one. Costs can also vary widely depending on the capabilities of the technology platform you use to host the event.
For example, will you require a cheaper self-service platform that allows you to create, design and product the event yourself, or do you prefer a more expensive full-service option that takes care of everything for you? What level of live day event support will you need? To find the best option, determine the features and functions you will require and submit a request for proposal (RFP) to several vendors, then compare the bids to select the one that best meets your needs.
You should also consider costs for content creation, creative services, prizes and giveaways, and other promotions such as social media paid advertising and pay-per-click advertising. All of these components should be decided upon well ahead of time and factored into your budget.
Setup. There are many technology platforms on the market you can use to host a virtual event, including ON24, InXpo and InterCall. Most platforms feature a fairly easy-to-use interface that allows you to customize the look of the event with pre-designed templates, upload videos and content, choose prizes and/or giveaways and add social sharing capabilities.
Once you’ve selected a platform, a critical next step is to assign someone to manage the virtual event; ideally an event coordinator. This person will be responsible for ensuring things run smoothly on the day of the event and assigning additional staff to engage with attendees.
You should also familiarize yourself with the back end of your virtual event platform, as this is where you’ll be able to drill into key metrics, such as how many people interacted with your booth and downloaded your content, and how engaged they were (i.e. how long they spent viewing it).
Look and Feel. You wouldn’t choose a color or theme that doesn’t suit your company when participating in an in-person trade show, so the same standards should apply when planning a virtual event. Make sure you adhere to your style guide when selecting your logo, company information and booth colors/themes to stay aligned with your brand.
Here, you can see the look and feel we selected for our virtual event:
The different booths within Marketo’s virtual event
You should also be thoughtful about how you label the various areas within your virtual event. The default setting for tabs in pre-created virtual event templates may not be right for your company, so be sure to categorize your content in a way that makes sense for both attendees and in the context of the experience you want to provide.
Interacting with Attendees. Many virtual event platforms allow you to chat both privately and publicly with visitors. Your public group chat box is often visible upon entry, so keep it clear of too much “white noise” and keep conversations on track. Use the chat box to welcome visitors with a personal message, answer questions, direct people to an appropriate piece of content based upon their interests or needs or connect them with a sales rep.
If you need to privately answer a question posted in the group chat box, explain that you will contact the person privately and move the discussion off your public chat so you’re not interfering with the conversations of other attendees.
Marketo’s virtual event Networking Lounge
Prizes and Contests. Engagement is an integral part of hosting a virtual event. Just like a physical event, prizes and contests are a great way to get attendees to interact with you and your booths to increase their exposure to your content and brand. Prizes or points can be awarded to attendees for completing a series of specific actions during the event, such as:
- Exchanging a vCard (virtual business card)
- Visiting certain booths
- Attending a session
- Downloading content
- Completing a survey
- Participating in a group chat in your booth
You can also set up your virtual event so that attendees who complete all of the required actions can be entered to win a prize.
Selecting Content for Your Virtual Event
The most important part of hosting a virtual event, whether you’re sponsoring or hosting it, is your content. You can promote content both in your booths and in the live sessions you choose to feature. The key here is to have content available for all attendees, no matter what stage of the buying cycle they might be in. From top to bottom-of-funnel, make sure you have it all, and that attendees can both locate and interact with it this content easily.
Introduction Video. It’s always a good idea to include a video introduction on the entry page of your virtual event that welcomes visitors in a way that’s informative and inviting. People like to interact and do business with real people, not cyber-characters. Featuring a video with a quick pitch or that highlights the main takeaways from the event may be all you need to get somebody engaged.
With many virtual event platforms, you can set your introduction video to autoplay, which means visitors are exposed to your message immediately upon arrival at the event. The key to a compelling video message is to keep it short and to the point so as not to overwhelm or bore attendees.
Your introduction video should also offer a call to action, whether it’s to download a piece of content, attend a session or simply remind visitors that you’re there to answer any questions via live chat. Just keep in mind that some hosts impose regulations and/or limitations on the size and type of the video file.
Booth Content. Most virtual event platforms allow you to have in-booth content. Each booth, and the exhibit hall as a whole, has a resource center where you can add eBooks, videos, case studies, etc. Attendees can rate each content asset and choose to put pieces in a “virtual briefcase” to save and view later.
Many virtual event attendees will likely just be learning about your company, so you should have a fair amount of thought leadership on industry trends and best practices in order to position your company as an expert in your field. You should also provide case studies and customer testimonials to those attendees that are already familiar with your company and are perhaps considering making a purchase.
Our event last year consisted of a keynote presentation, three additional presentations attendees could choose to watch, and a final keynote presentation. Our virtual booths included videos for customers to watch and a library with content downloads from both us and sponsors, such as “A Marketing Automation Buyer’s Kit” and “A B2B Free Database Analysis and Enrichment Potential Assessment.”
Examples of content in Marketo’s 2012 virtual event Resource Center
Promoting Your Virtual Event
Getting people to attend your virtual event, visit your booths, and attend your sessions is difficult without having a well thought out promotional plan. Treat your virtual event as you would any large event and include email and social media channels as part of your promotional plan. Create a detailed strategy that outlines your goals and how you plan to achieve them.
Email Promotions. To maximize registrants and attendees, start by alerting people to the virtual event several weeks before it kicks off, then send periodic follow-up emails as reminders. For last year’s virtual event, we sent out a series of emails to different segments within our database of names:
- Three email invites sent starting two weeks prior to the event
- Invites sent to event sponsors
- Two email reminders sent: one the day before and the second an hour prior
A sample email promotion from Marketo’s virtual event
Social Media Promotions. You should also maximize the use of your social media channels to ensure all of your followers are aware of when your virtual event will take place and the benefits they’ll receive by attending. We had a carefully planned social media promotion plan that began three weeks prior to the event, consisting of:
- One Tweet per day
- Two posts a week on Facebook and Google
- One post and one Tweet the day before the event
Below is a sample social media plan that you can use for your virtual event.
Sample social media event promotion plan (from Marketo’s “The Definitive Guide to Event Marketing”; click to enlarge)
Next Steps Once Your Virtual Event Is Over
Create Post-Event Content. After your virtual event has concluded, make sure all content featured during it is available for people to view. If you had a presentation, include it in your website’s resource center, promote it through your social media channels and send out a link to it in a follow-up email campaign.
Another great technique, and one that we have done many times at Marketo, is to take your presentation materials and extend the value further by creating an eBook out of the content. Take a look at this one we created from our virtual event keynote:
A Marketo eBook created from their virtual event keynote
We also used what we learned to create a 124 page eBook called “The Definitive Guide to Event Marketing,” which covers the ‘soup to nuts’ process of planning, executing and measuring the results of both live and online events.
Track Event Results. Once your event is over, it’s also essential that you measure the results to determine how successful it was. Identify and measure key performance indicators (KPIs), including:
- Total registration
- Total attendance
- Registrations from partners/sponsors
- Total number of new database names
- Social engagement metrics
- Content views and downloads
- Total conversions
You should also use the booth manager section of your virtual event platform to download the list of people who interacted with your booth and collect any virtual business cards contributed by attendees. The next step is to classify these leads so you can plan how you’re going to approach them. At Marketo, we use the following chart to determine the status of leads in our system following a virtual event or tradeshow:
Marketo’s lead status chart
Once you’ve classified these leads, use lead scoring to identify their sales-readiness, then create lead nurturing campaigns to stay engaged with them and move them down through your funnel. Remember, hosting a virtual event is just the beginning: once it’s over, it’s essential to develop an effective lead management strategy to ensure you capitalize on the success of the event.
Virtual events can be a cost-effective and highly efficient way to market your organization and engage with your audience from the comfort of your own office. With careful planning and a well-organized team, they can be a highly successful addition to your event marketing mix.