Remember those halcyon days where you could just rock up at an event, grab your first of 20 free coffees for the day, run into random old acquaintances, ex-employers, or colleagues from way back and cruise around between workshops, seminars, and 1–1s at your leisure?
While we’re inching back towards those days, we’re not quite there yet. Virtual and hybrid events are still very much with us. In fact, a 2021 survey by Statista revealed 40% of respondents plan to attend virtual events in 2022 with 35% saying they’d be heading to a hybrid event.
The likelihood is that we will have at least another year of virtual and hybrid events. So, if you are marketing in an industry where networking and events are crucial, then you’re probably at a point where you have to accept these kinds of events and make the most out of them. In fact, you could even turn them to your advantage. But how?
This article will talk you through some top tips on how to grab virtual event attendees’ attention with your marketing collateral. We’ll look at some elegant and effective ways to attract leads at virtual events and the kind of content and fireside chats you could offer.
Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado… *drumroll*… let’s get this show started!
How to be successful at virtual and hybrid events
How you gauge success at virtual and hybrid events will differ from those that happen in person. While you’ll struggle to create the great atmosphere you aim for in normal times, you will be able to get some truly valuable data from your attendees including their interests, preferences, and post-event feedback.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… back to preparing for your great event!
We’ve offered a few tips below for how to be successful at virtual and hybrid events though one of the most important things to keep in mind throughout your whole strategy is to make your event as welcoming as possible. We’ve all had a tough few years and people are, frankly, fed up with Zoom et al. Make yours the event that people come away feeling energized, educated, motivated, and connected.
Know what your audience wants
Making sure your virtual events are as successful and popular as possible means getting a thorough understanding of what your customers want from you. A 2021 survey by markletic revealed that 80% of respondents attend virtual events to be educated on the specific subject matter or business trends, with networking a close second.
Why not send out a survey or post on LinkedIn beforehand asking people what they would like to see or do at your event.
- Are there particular speakers they are excited to hear from and if so, why?
- What business challenges are they currently facing and how could you help solve them?
- Are they craving breakout sessions and if so, what size groups do they think are appropriate and useful?
- When it comes to networking, what would work best for them?
Your survey results will help you put your event schedule together and you could even use the data to approach people or businesses that would benefit from being matched in a 1–1.
Get your technology right
Unless you have been hiding under a rock these last few years, you will be more than familiar with the technical issues that arise when organizing virtual meetups, or even a quick call with your boss. But with 38% of marketers reporting to markletic that they run into technical problems when hosting virtual events you need to do all you can to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience.
Test your equipment, then test it again and provide contingencies where possible. Practice with your conference speakers beforehand using the devices and connections they plan to use on the day. Make sure you have the capacity for the maximum number of attendees possible, even if they haven’t all confirmed they will be there. Finally, choose an emcee who can hold it all together if things go awry.
Create some awesome lead generation tactics
When you’ve put all the hard work into delivering a seamless, entertaining, and enjoyable virtual or hybrid event, you want to make sure you get some great leads for your efforts. Nearly half of the marketers surveyed by markletic say generating pipeline is their main goal with virtual events so why shouldn’t you have a piece of the action?
Here are some tips for getting more leads at virtual and hybrid events
- Get interactive. Attendee polls, surveys, and live Q&As are all great ways to understand your audience’s interests and needs. For example, if an attendee shares an experience with the (virtual) room about struggling with content creation processes, our resident guru, Jerry, might send them a personalized newsletter with an article on how to avoid chaos with a content workflow after the event. Smooth, right?
- Offer recorded content after the event. Gated content doesn’t work for every stage of the user journey. But if you can offer your potential customers a video download or podcast after the big day that has proven to be a success with their peers they should be happy to give up a wee bit of data. You can demonstrate its worthiness with a few well-chosen quotes from satisfied attendees or a bulleted list of key learnings to whet their appetite. You may also get interest from people who watched on the way and want to refresh their knowledge.
- Check your analytics. As we mentioned above, one of the main advantages of virtual over in-person events is the ability to gather audience data. So, as with pretty much every marketing activity, always take time to review your analytics and act on any insights. Which aspects of the event did particular people or demographic groups prefer, or not? Which content, formats, or exercises hit the right notes with your attendees?
Track how your audience moves through the event and the time they spend on specific activities. These insights not only inform how you follow up with a particular lead, but they will also help you shape future events, as well as your wider content marketing strategy.
What kind of content to offer at virtual events
Making sure your offer the right event content is key to your success. You need to keep those Zoom-numbed attendees engaged and interested, and you have to stand out from your competitors. You’ll probably need to keep your sponsors happy, too.
Brands have tried a variety of new formats for events since the pandemic, including virtual booths, and virtual networking. Making these work is all about ensuring they make sense as part of the customer journey. Dropping an unsuspecting lead into a sales pitch when they had expressed a passing interest in a brand or product will have them running for the virtual hills!
If you are running a hybrid event, there are more opportunities to create a physically welcoming space and hand out printed content assets. Make sure your virtual and physical customer journeys complement each other and tell the same story.
Let’s look at some content you could offer at virtual events.
Virtual panel discussions, and fireside chats
These kinds of event fixtures are better if your panel or fireside chats are in the same room, but if this can’t happen, try to ensure there is a good structure to the proceedings. You don’t want people talking over each other, and great interactivity is everything to create a memorable event. A well-ordered and communicated program helps speakers prepare their unique standpoint and gives your viewers the chance to formulate questions beforehand. You could also include one of your colleagues or partners as the moderator to demonstrate your thought leadership and expertise.
We mentioned the powerful lead insights you can get from these chats earlier in the article, so don’t forget to factor this into your post-event follow-up marketing activities.
Video introductions and 1–1s
Virtual events offer the opportunity to connect your sponsors, speakers, and your own sales team with interested attendees. The best way to do this is to encourage people to book 1–1s on your website or app or even through your event team. If they aren’t sure who they need to talk to, check their nominated interests and suggest a pairing.
It’s a good idea to limit meetings to a specific length of time to avoid any uncomfortable mismatches. Both parties should be provided with a good amount of information about the other person’s background, budget, current product usage, and other relevant information.
Event attendees are keen to learn. To facilitate this and to prevent seminar burn-out, consider organizing some breakout sessions for attendees to discuss specific topics and issues. It might be a nice idea to include an expert from your business as a moderator or group leader to help get the party started (and gauge opportunities for lead gen or follow-up).
Networking is one of the main reasons people go to events. While your attendees might feel slightly tired at the thought of meeting a potential customer in a virtual environment, you will still need to offer them the option and make it as comfortable as possible.
Over 68% of event marketers surveyed by Bizzabo said it was more challenging to provide great networking opportunities when hosting a virtual event. However, you can employ a few tactics to make it less cringe and more enjoyable and productive for all parties involved.
- Schedule networking at the right time. Before lunch is a no-no unless it is specifically food-related. The end of the day could be risky unless a social/refreshment element is involved. First thing in the morning could be fun if it is positioned as a breakfast breakout. Timing is everything with your networking agenda. As is the duration — half an hour or an hour should be more than enough time for a single networking meetup, and your participants can always arrange to connect after.
- Get the numbers and character mix right. Limiting the groups to 8 or so participants should give everyone the chance to speak and interact. Try to create groups where there is a good mix of personalities, business backgrounds, and levels of seniority. Though make sure there is a good amount of potential synergy too!
- Make introductions. It’s worthwhile doing this beforehand so people can do some LinkedIn sleuthing. Confirming who everyone is on the day, including a fun fact about them, is a sure way to open up the virtual floor.
- Break the ice. Icebreakers can be great warm-ups for breakout sessions, from ‘two truths and a lie’ to virtual scavenger hunts. Make sure they are conducted by someone who can get people involved without feeling forced.
- Keep the conversation flowing. Prepare some questions and prompts in advance in case the conversation dries up. A simple “Greg was telling me that he struggles with organic SEO after his website was relaunched. Phoebe, perhaps you could offer some insights?” can jolly along with the proceedings.
- Wrap it up gracefully. Thank everyone for their time and reiterate the pertinent points and discoveries made. Encourage everyone to stay in touch and offer to connect with them after the event.
Capitalizing on the plus points of virtual and hybrid events
I hope these tips and ideas on grabbing virtual event attendees’ attention with marketing collateral have been useful. The trick is to identify where your event can offer genuine value, then think of engaging and creative ways to start the conversation. Make your event as interactive as possible, even before the big day. Yes, you can offer reports, ebooks, etc., but people do events because they want interaction, so your content should be interactive as well.
While we continue to be constrained by the pandemic and movement restrictions, why not capitalize on the great things virtual meetings do offer. You might have access to a wider pool of seminar superstars to speak at your event now that flying them thousands of miles isn’t required. You may also offer sessions in different languages or across different time zones.
Ensure you encourage attendees to download content after the event and ask them to give you honest feedback on how it went. Then take a deep breath, have a nice soothing cuppa, and get planning your insight-filled content plan — and next year’s event!
Marketing Power Plays
Whether you’re in content, comms, or demand gen, here are some novel tactics from Foleon’s Marketing team.
When I’m not thinking up B2B marketing strategies and processes, you’ll find me in the kitchen, at the yoga studio, or in my favorite chair with a cat and a book.
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