In a virtual world, how much should we try to replicate face-to-face marketing events?
The global pandemic has spawned a plethora of enhancements to the tools and platforms that help us work remotely. Teams and Zoom have upped their games, although there is still a gap between the fun, riotous, but highly hackable video calls of early lockdown, and the sterile ‘all microphones are muted, please put your question in the chat’ calls. How do we engender a spirit of inclusivity and participation whilst remaining in control of the situation (preventing virtual hecklers, and hackers)?
Many of us will have received communications stating, ‘this year’s annual conference is moving online but will still have all the quality of the in-person event,’. I don’t agree that an online conference in any way has the quality of an in–person event.
As a marketer in a Covid world, I have had to adapt my approach to building brand awareness and generating leads. I suspect we all initially thought that we’d deliver all content online – how hard can it be? The reality is, as we now know, that the online delegate is different. I have investigated several online conference platforms and have undeniably been wooed by the prospect of becoming an avatar, gliding seamlessly across the exhibition floor, and entering break-out rooms. I have also attended a number of online conferences in the last 12 months and found sitting at a virtual round table being asked to discuss a topic with people I couldn’t see, excruciatingly uncomfortable – I left the room. When we no longer have the soft benefits of networking over a buffet lunch, sparking those conversations and ideas that lead to future meetings and opportunities; does the virtual conference deliver value to the marketer seeking stakeholder buy-in and ROI, and the delegate seeking enlightenment?
If pitching the idea of a virtual conference, here’s the element that works possibly better virtually than in-person; the break-out session. Here we get down to the nitty gritty of presenting a client case study, running an interactive workshop with Miro boards and polls, demonstrating technology, presenting dashboards etc. These sessions are recorded, so the screen-weary delegate can watch at their leisure. And, as they’re recorded, the presenters need to be on their A game – engaging content, compelling propositions, all clearly conveyed.
In this digitally saturated world, it has never been more incumbent upon marketers to have clear objectives for their marketing campaigns, and I welcome this. I have often had to listen whilst colleagues told me that ‘we need to attend X, Y or Z conference; we need to have a drinks reception; I want to advertise in the following publications, we need better giveaways’, and in the glorious days of co-op marketing funds ‘we need to invite our clients to the British Grand Prix, I want to helicopter them in’. Now all of these may well be valid ideas, but I would always ask the question ‘to achieve what?’.
Now that we cannot indulge in the fluff that can make a campaign or activity seem more successful than it was, we have to be crystal clear what we’re aiming to achieve. Virtual events provide the vehicle to do this, e.g., ‘we have delivered some great work with this client. We want to share that with you as you might benefit from it and maybe work with us too’, – make it clear to the attendee what it’s about and what they’ll get out of it. Sure, we can tie it up in a bow and give it a fancy title too – it’s marketing after all – but let’s stop trying replicate the face-to-face experience, and instead create virtual experiences that deliver real value to the screen-weary attendee.
Methods are holding a 2 day virtual event in April, where we will share our experiences of working through the pandemic using emerging tech and innovation to deliver adapted services with agility and speed. So come and join us at Vision 2025 to see how we have helped drive the adoption of digitally enabled solutions, and rapidly adapt services fit for a post-pandemic world.