Five Strategies for Turning a Virtual “Oh Well” Event into a Success

Almost six months into our new reality of social distancing and virtual everything, we are now seeing articles, including a recent one from Wealth Management , wondering whether in-person conferences are dead. This speculation is fueled by questions about when it will be safe to mingle inside with hundreds of other people and by a growing recognition that virtual conferences – when executed creatively and thoughtfully – not only can have advantages over in-person but that there are ways to mitigate the disadvantages. The key, as we discussed in a previous post, is to think about virtual not as a “better-than-nothing” substitute, but as a viable alternative.

In this vein, we have developed a list of the key components for developing a strong virtual conference strategy that can help sponsors and speakers to maximize their value:

  • Get intimate. To a great extent, conference experiences are defined by physical limitations of space: 50 breakout sessions with 5 people in each or 100 one-on-one private discussion sessions would be very difficult to manage. But, within reason, you can in a virtual environment. Speakers can break an hour-long session into three 20-minute sessions each serving a smaller, more homogenous audience. Speakers and sponsors can also set up and promote virtual office hours for private discussions.
  • Short and sweet. Combat the disengagement effects of distractions and lack of physical proximity by making the presenting part of sessions shorter and the Q&A longer. Leverage the polling and “hand raise” features of most virtual meeting platforms to solicit and field comments and feedback to better engage the audience. (Pro tip: If you’re a speaker, make sure you have some “friendly” attendees who will get the interaction started with questions in case other attendees are hesitant.)
  • No limits. In a virtual world, time and space are no longer a barrier to engagement. Sponsors should powerfully leverage more senior management, who only need to make themselves available for short periods rather than committing to days of travel and attendance. Speakers are also likely to obtain greater participation from a broader range of partners and panelists who don’t have to weigh the benefits against the days out of the office.
  • The Journey not just The Destination. With live conferences, there’s a tendency to under-leverage the pre- and post-conference opportunity because you know that the time spent together in (fill in hotel in Florida here) will be what makes the event worthwhile. Sponsors can work to make up for the loss of that capstone opportunity by making better use of the pre- through post-conference communications to engage and spur conversation. Pre-conference, ask attendees what they want to get out of the conference and develop a connection to a sales resource. During the conference, use social media to initiate conversations. Post-conference, ask what they found valuable and send out related content.
  • Value-added on-demand. One of the best things about virtual conferences is that everything can be recorded and shared afterwards. Sponsors can use that as an opportunity not only to broaden the reach of their content, but also to further engage with their customers. Consider offering commentary and curated lists of sessions/topics that would be of interest, both to customers who registered/attended and even those that did not.

The bottom line is that many 2021 conferences have already announced as virtual. For B2B companies, the investment in these events is too great to just cross our fingers and hope that things return to normal soon. Necessity is the mother of invention: It’s time to develop approaches that make the most of our “new normal”.

Marketing in the Coronavirus Crisis: Notes from a Discussion at the Boston Meeting of the Gramercy Institute

Just before everything shut down in the face of the pandeminc, a group of financial marketers convened in Boston for a meeting of the Gramercy Institute. The session was billed as focusing on the topic of ”What’s New and What’s Next in Financial Marketing“ and indeed much of the content touched on the future, but, taking a cue from the news at the time, the host initiated a discussion of marketing in a crisis.

Broadly, the conversation fell into two buckets: communication “best practices” and the role of marketing. Two key take-aways:

  • Communication “best practices.” There was agreement that transparency and authenticity were key to building connections with customers, but also that there was no clear playbook for communication frequency and channel. Discussion participants recognized the need to respect the limited time and frayed nerves of customers but also saw potential value in providing clear guidance in an environment filled with uncertainty. Likewise, they recognized the need to find a balance between communication overload – exacerbated by the worldwide turn to digital communications in light of severe restrictions on face-to-face contact – and the value of demonstrating presence and building community when so much of the current crisis feels (and is) isolating. Finally, participants expressed mixed feelings about finding opportunities in the crisis. Many said that this was definitely not the right time to be promoting products. Some made the argument that people are looking for concrete assistance and that there was a place for tasteful promotion of solutions that could meet the needs of customers in the current environment.
  • Role of marketing. As the discussion turned to the role of marketing amidst the crisis, there was widespread consensus that in some ways the environment was one in which marketing could really prove its value in building relationships with customers and prospects and in delivering timely, conscientious, clear communications. Even more, though, there was agreement that marketers at B2B financial services companies should seize on this as a chance to forge a closer partnership with their sales colleagues, who are likely to be struggling to adjust to a world in which face-to-face contact is minimized or even completely foregone. Everyone agreed that if Marketing could find a way to enable sales to leverage digital and voice channels to nurture relationships at a distance and at scale, it would have a significant impact on the ability of the company to navigate these difficult times.

While the event was likely the last in-person meeting for the near future for most in attendance, it was a valuable opportunity to share ideas with colleagues and learn from each other as chaos seemed to be descending. It has given us much to think about as we all now hunker down, socially isolate to try to stay safe, and think about what the future might hold in store.

When Engineers Speak: 4 Key Cloud Marketing Implications

For marketers, almost nothing is as valuable as hearing the unvarnished, unfiltered point-of-view of buyers. At last week’s Massachusetts Tech Leadership Council’s “Cloud Seminar: Choosing the Right Cloud for Your Business,” marketers would have had a lot to listen to.

Speaking to a sophisticated, engineer-centric audience with over 20 years’ experience in development and operations, GitHub’s Mark Imbriaco didn’t pull any punches in presenting his perspective on the myths and realities of the benefits of the cloud.

  • Cost savings? Myth.
  • Means of avoiding IT bottlenecks? Myth.
  • Driver of increased agility and speed to market? Definite reality.

From a value proposition perspective, the implications are clear: be wary of emphasizing cost and operational advantages of your cloud solution because they’ll like meet with skepticism.

A panel discussion featuring engineering executives from Carbonite, Ipswitch, Acquia, and Scribe built on Mr. Imbriaco’s perspective. In responding to questions about their infrastructure evolution, they said that decisions about when and how to deploy IaaS, PaaS, and S(torage)aaS would always be based on the strategic business needs for a given initiative or project: when time-to-market is critical or in which utilization is highly unpredictable, cloud is attractive; in a scenario with consistent demands and a need to control variable costs, cloud is a poor choice.

This nuanced view of the application of cloud services should point marketers towards the development of materials and campaigns that enable the customer to drive the buying process based on specific requirements for specific projects. Specifically, the following would likely be effective:

  • Inbound marketing to allow prospective customers to pursue the information most useful to them
  • Web-based self-diagnostics to help prospective customers learn which cloud solution may be the right one for them
  • Sales enablement tools to facilitate sales’ role as a partner and helpful guide
  • Cross/up-sell marketing based on utilization data to take advantage of natural evolution of needs