Marketing programs are all about connecting with the right audience, at the right time, in the right location. Over the past decade, that has increasingly meant a shift to online, or digital marketing tactics. But despite this shift to digital marketing channels, events have remained one of the top-performing marketing tactics, comprising of 25-30% of total marketing spend for organizations across all industries.
In most marketing departments, the event marketing and digital marketing disciplines remain separate, with a digital marketing or demand generation team responsible for delivering online, digital marketing tactics and the events or event marketing team responsible for delivering offline, in-person marketing events. Rarely would these two groups meet, and even more rarely would companies aggregate the data they collected from events with the data collected from their digital channels.
As the 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic has cancelled almost all in-person events for the foreseeable future, it has forced events online and into the digital world. Now is the time for these two groups to come together and embrace the future of event marketing as a digital tactic, not just for the short-term, but long-term even once events return to in-person.
The Future of Event Marketing is Digital
The primary focus of event marketers has historically been executing the event. The top success metrics typically measured include registration numbers, attendee satisfaction, cost per attendee, and net promoter score. Compare this to the typical reason companies host events – brand awareness, lead generation, and to drive sales – and you quickly see the disconnect between event goals and event success metrics.
This disconnect occurs because the knowledge and expertise to measure goals like brand awareness, lead generation, and revenue attribution typically lie within the digital marketing teams. To truly measure the success of your events, event data must be brought online. Virtual events create a unique opportunity to bridge this gap now.
What Do We Mean by “Digital Marketing”?
To grasp the impact of virtual events, and how we bridge the gap between event marketing and digital marketing, we have to understand digital marketing. According to digitalmarketer.com, “digital marketing is the act of promoting and selling products and services by leveraging online marketing tactics such as social media, search engine, and email marketing.” It focuses on nurturing the customer through a journey of digital interactions with the product or service. Digital marketing relies heavily on content offers to engage the customer while ensuring that content can be found at the right time in the customer’s unique buying journey. As contacts engage with content, their marketing engagement score increases, and when it reaches a level set by the organization, the contact becomes an MQL (marketing qualified lead) and is passed to the sales team for sales follow-up.
The Historical View of Events
In-person events have always been delivered in the right place, to the right audience. Their success lies in the inherent focus on qualified, engaged prospects and customers that are well into the buying process. Event attendees spend hours, if not days, of their “real life” to engage with your content and company. This level of investment by the attendee was assumed to be the buying signal, and little to no thought was given to the actions an attendee took at the event and an individual’s specific interest.
As we said before, event success would be measured on attendee satisfaction and that metric alone often provided the view for marketing leaders that events are a successful tactic. In fact, 40% of marketers believe that live events are their top marketing channel, and if they could do more in-person events, they would.
But in-person events are expensive, both in hard cost as well as time to produce. And traditionally, they did not produce a digital footprint. So, when digitally-minded marketing leaders started to dig into conversion metrics and cost per lead, many started to shift marketing program dollars away from in-person events to digital tactics. This is because event data could not readily be tied back to the same marketing KPI metrics.
The Shift to Virtual Events
Virtual events are different. By the sheer nature of their virtual delivery, they are a digital channel and should be embraced by digital marketing. And, as compared to in-person events, they are less expensive and arguably easier to produce.
Like digital marketing, virtual events focus on content delivery. But to truly be a unique experience, virtual events need to be more than just a webinar. A virtual event requires the mind of a television producer delivering content for entertainment, enjoyment, and consumption. You need to captivate your audience’s attention and keep them tuned in. And, you need to capture the online activity and tie it into your other digital marketing programs to nurture the leads from your virtual event.
The Value of Virtual Events to Digital Marketers
As compared to in-person events, virtual events can attract a much wider audience. As companies have shifted to virtual events, many have seen 5x – 10x the number of registrants they would see for their in-person event. At our own customer conference, Cvent CONNECT, we saw 40,000+ registrants for the virtual event in 2020 as compared to 4,500 at the in-person event in 2019.
These numbers far surpass the lead numbers digital marketers are accustomed to generating in their digital programs. But unlike your typical in-person event, many of these virtual event attendees are likely earlier in the sales and marketing funnel. This makes them the perfect audience for the digital team to step in and work with the events team to nurture virtual event attendees through the sales and marketing funnel. For those who are already more engaged, they can be delivered directly to sales as qualified leads, hopefully increasing sales and marketing velocity from MQL to SQL (sales qualified lead) to opportunity to close.
Take Action on Virtual Event Attendance
Digital marketers are accustomed to being able to track the online behavior of their audience. Virtual event management technology gives event marketers and digital marketers this same trackable insight into the virtual event behavior of attendees. These tools provide the data points that digital marketers are accustomed to such as web analytics, content tracking, and engagement scoring.
These data points can then be integrated into marketing automation, CRM, and other marketing technologies to truly bring your event program and digital marketing program together.
Next Steps and Recommendations
Now that you see the value of event marketing and digital marketing teams partnering for success on virtual events, do not let this opportunity pass you by. The first step is to engage the right teams – if you don’t know who runs your event team (or digital team if you’re an event planner), find out. Set some time to understand what each group is thinking regarding virtual events. Start simply with a knowledge exchange.
Second, now that you know each other, outline your goals. What is the digital marketing team looking to get out of virtual events? What is the events team looking to get out of virtual events? Your goals are likely more aligned than you may think. Once you can align on your goals, you can start to outline a plan of action.
A piece of that action plan should be to look at the technology options for virtual events. What tools do you already have in place, and what opportunities exist? Just like the content and production of a virtual event should not look like a webinar, webinar technology tools likely are not the best fit for a high-quality virtual event. You want to look for a virtual event platform that provides everything you need to support both the logistical needs from a planning perspective and the digital needs and reporting from a marketing perspective.
Senior Vice President, Enterprise Sales
With more than a decade of experience in the meetings and events industry, Anil Punyapu is responsible for guiding the strategic direction of Cvent’s enterprise meetings solutions divisions as well as channel partnerships. Under Anil’s leadership, Cvent launched its enterprise solutions team in 2009, focusing on implementing its Strategic Meetings Management technology for organizations of all sizes.