Trade shows, seminars and other face-to-face events are very expensive, but frequently a key part of many companies’ marketing strategies. The opportunity to meet and build relationships with customers and prospects face-to-face is highly valuable, and an event team that works hard can produce great results.
In the era of COVID-19 social distancing, however, events are no longer an option. So, what can B2B technology companies do to replace their events programme?
One of the obvious ways to replace speaking opportunities and other interactions at events is by holding a webinar. Personally, I feel that webinars were very slow to take off, but in the past few years, they have often been clients’ top lead generation tactic. Even before isolation, engineers were keen to watch webinars, and now they are at home our clients are reporting even bigger attendance (50% or more than before the crisis).
Webinars are super-easy to run. There are many tools available that make the process of delivering a webinar simple: for example well known, large vendors such as GotoWebinar and smaller vendors such as Webinar Geek that are perfect for less-ambitious events. Companies like WorkCast even offer managed events where they ensure the technology works flawlessly.
Webinars are hard to deliver. It is surprisingly tough to present with no audience feedback, and frequently attendees are only giving partial attention to the presentation.
Practice is obviously key: no one excels when presenting a webinar for the first time, so practice before the main event. You can even pre-record the webinar itself and just answer questions live if you are really nervous. Our top webinar tip is to have someone sitting opposite to you, listening to your webinar and giving you the visual feedback you’d get from a listener as this is extremely helpful to improving the quality of your presentation. This was easy when we were all in an office, but now you may not want your audience to be your six-year-old child!
eBooks and Other Written Content
We’ve seen a lot more interest from clients in producing eBooks. The logic is that there is a good chance engineers will be keen to learn while working from home, and it seems to be reflected in an increase in registrations for this sort of content.
Although eBooks are great and can generate leads, of course you have little information on whether the content has been viewed, particularly if you supply the information in PDF format. The great thing is that marketing teams are good at producing this type of content.
We’ve seen some really creative uses of online tools to enhance content that otherwise might have been a bit [whisper this so no one hears] boring. It’s amazing how a little bit of editing and some images or graphics can spice up something as simple as a press release: a great example of how this can be done is the way our client, SMART Modular Technologies uses Adobe Spark and just a few minutes of creativity to create engaging versions of releases (like this one https://spark.adobe.com/page/onbYrScLlogsy/) for use on social media.
Technical B2B video content was taking off well before the coronavirus crisis hit and has continued to grow during lockdown. We’re seeing a particular affection from clients for video demos, particularly those shot at trade shows, to try to re-create the event interaction. Again, video consumption is up while engineers are isolated, and there seems to be a real appetite for technical content.
The challenge is making high-quality video. It’s hard to get a high-quality video shoot at home, and we’ve heard from several clients who have been frustrated by this challenge. Although live video is hard, we have seen some clients shoot video using iPhones and a tripod with reasonable success.
Live-action video, however, isn’t the only format that works in B2B. Of course, there are webinars (voice over PowerPoint), but we’ve seen a big increase in enquiries about 2D and 3D explainer videos. Animated explainer videos can be as complex or straightforward as you like and are particularly good at showing the operation of complex systems. As building 3D models is time-consuming, our top tip is to plan how you can reuse the models in different ways to maximise the return on what can be a fairly expensive process.
Showcase Landing Pages
One approach has been to create landing pages that showcase the latest products or services from a client. Although they look completely different to a trade show, they replicate the experience by highlighting just a few key – and generally new – products.
Showcase pages are incredibly simple to create, and can offer a variety of different content, from pre-recorded webinars to eBooks. Although you are replicating the highlighting of products, you are not re-creating the environment of a tradeshow, so simply offering the chance to “ask an expert” as you would do at an event will not result anything like as many conversations as you’d get face-to-face. The quality of the enquiries, however, can be very good.
Our tip for showcase pages is to think about what the visitor might value sufficiently to give up their contact details. This could be a technical eBook, a development kit or even a competition to win something. In fact, many of the approaches to gather business cards at trade shows work on these pages, although it’s harder to offer a coffee or glass of beer!
Virtual Trade Shows
Several companies have created virtual booths, either using their own technology or a virtual exhibition (e.g. Industry Expo). This approach is fun! It’s also different, and there is definitely a novelty value around creating a virtual booth that will attract interest, without any limitations. In our experience, however, the user experience can be variable, particularly when trying to access technical information and so it can be hard to justify the extra investment required to create a virtual booth.
Increasing Email Marketing
I’m sure everyone has a company they did business with a long time ago that has suddenly decided to start emailing. First it was the CEO’s COVID-19 statement, and then a stream of promotional emails (of course with one that has a special offer to help you work from home). Many B2B tech companies are also dusting off their email databases with the thought that if the engineers aren’t coming to see what’s new, then the information will be delivered to their inboxes.
The problem with this approach is not the increased number of emails. In fact, more emails are better, but only when coupled with a good segmentation strategy. Creating several emails so everyone has content that is relevant to them is good: simply blasting the whole database with more emails is a terrible idea.
With people working from home, we have seen increases in both open and click rates of emails for many clients, particularly those that think carefully about what they send to each contact. If you are planning to move budget to email marketing, we recommend you spend the time to segment your database and send highly targeted emails that are personalised to each recipient’s interests and needs. If you are looking for results, it’s relevance, not volume that matters.
Virtual Press Launches
Even press conferences have gone online! PR professionals can hold online press conferences or one-to-one video briefings to replace the traditional press event or meetings at trade shows. Delivering a good event is tricky: the presentation of a product’s features and accompanying PowerPoint slides has never been the most valuable part of the press conference: it is always the conversation and questions afterwards. For this reason, one-to-one briefings are often easier online.
Moving Budget to Other Activities
We’ve seen budget moved from events to almost any other marketing activity, from social to contributed articles. In these cases, however, there is a clear decision not to try to replicate the benefits of an event, but rather to use the money to achieve a different goal. In our opinion, starting from a zero-base is a great way to look at how you allocate budget, rather than trying to replace a show with something that feels similar. As always, it’s the business objectives that matter, not trying to replicate the status quo.
Not using the Budget
Although replacing the impact of trade shows is not easy, the worst thing that you can do is give up the budget when the event is cancelled. We’re not ignoring the realities: companies will be more careful about spending now than in the “good times”, but it’s important as marketers we highlight that cutting spending during a recession may produce short-term financial gains, but is a long-term mistake. Studies consistently show that decreases in marketing spend during tough times produce a small improvement in return on capital employed (ROCE), but result in a decreased ROCE in the long term, a longer period of time before the company recovers from a downturn and a reduction in brand equity and product use.
We’d love to hear what you are doing to replace trade shows and events in your marketing mix. As Billy Ocean told us (ironically at the start of the mid-80s to 90s economic boom), “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. So let us know what creative ideas these tough times have inspired!