If you're like most event marketers, the last year has signaled a massive shift from in-person to virtual events. While going from hosting or attending a huge conference or on-site event to sitting in front of a Zoom screen for hours on end may be a bit jarring at first, this transition should be viewed as a much-needed addition to the event marketing industry.
Even with the return of in-person events is on the horizon, the rise of virtual marketing events has shown the industry a new way of connecting with customers and prospects face-to-face that doesn't need to involve hundreds of other people. Instead, event marketers should be looking ahead to a mix of in-person and virtual events that can complement each other and serve different purposes, depending on your team goals.
Virtual marketing events are here to stay. Even pre-pandemic, the virtual event sector was valued at $78 billion. It's expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 23% between now and 2027. A LinkedIn study revealed that nearly half (45%) of all future B2B events will be virtual.
With this in mind, your team should not hold back when hosting virtual marketing events. Whether you've hosted multiple virtual events and are looking for a refresher or if you're just now getting started with virtual event marketing, this primer can get you up and running – successfully – in no time.
The Building Blocks of Hosting a Successful Virtual Marketing Event
While many event marketers could pivot flawlessly around things like webinars and virtual happy hours, planning and hosting multi-day, online conferences and/or networking opportunities is another beast altogether.
Here is everything you need to know about getting up and running with your next virtual marketing event.
Planning Your Event
First off, it's time to plan and market your virtual event. Luckily, most people are pretty used to the virtual meeting experience by now, making it easy to discuss the virtues and value of attending an event online. But, unfortunately, many people are experiencing screen fatigue and may now want to join an unnecessary event. This is why all your virtual event marketing efforts need to be extremely tight and work to cut through the noise surrounding other virtual events.
Here are some steps to keep in mind when planning your next virtual marketing event:
— What type of event are you going to host? Are you going to drum up excitement for new product features with a webinar? Are you going to ask a client to share a success story on a virtual happy hour event? Or are you going to host a full-scale virtual conference with multiple breakout rooms and vendors?
— What is your foundational goal for your event? This can (and should!) be a pretty simple goal along the line of 'collect 50 new leads', 'schedule ten follow-up calls,' or 'close two customers on new feature buy-ups.
— What metrics will you track to see if you hit your goal outlined above? Will you be tracking as much or as little as possible? Try automating as much data gathering as possible instead of manually tracking each time someone asks a question, for example.
— This stage is also where you will need to finalize the content and message for your event. Work with your product and content marketing team members to get all of your marketing materials pulled together so you can start spreading the word.
Hosting a Successful Virtual Event
There are a few must-have technical elements to any successful virtual event:
— A digital hosting platform (such as Zoom or Meetings) can give you the flexibility required throughout your event.
— A metrics calculator to track attendees, engagement, hand-raises, breakouts, etc.
— A communication platform to engage with attendees before (to drive awareness) and after (to follow up) an event.
Additionally, your team should strive to have as many engaging elements as possible peppered throughout your event. This could include anything from adding in other polls and trivia questions during a webinar to hosting. A virtual cocktail-making class for a fun networking alternative. It has never been more critical for event marketers to think outside the box and then deliver on these big-picture items to help drive new deals forward.
Marketing Your Virtual Event
Now it's time to market your event to potential attendees. While there are a few different ways to approach things here, it's important to remember that, because it's a virtual event, people can register until the event itself begins. So, you want to start your marketing efforts early and keep them going as long as possible to capture as many registrations as possible.
It would help if you also cut through the clutter. A Statista survey showed that 49% of B2B companies are already holding 20 to 30 virtual events annually. More than 20% of marketers say they conduct more than 30 virtual events every year. It's easy to get lost in the shuffle.
As with any marketing event, your virtual event should be advertised across as many channels as possible. Email your contacts and include a promotional blurb in your user newsletter to customers. Go big on social media and ask your employees to share the event with their LinkedIn networks. For high-profile 'wish list' attendees, you can think about sending a direct mail piece to capture their attention. Along the same lines, if you are looking to invite white-glove customers to your event, it is a good idea to have their account manager or CSM give them a call directly to invite them.
Don't forget about setting up automated reminder emails. The average no-show rate for virtual events can be as high as 35% of registrants.
The marketing stage is also when you can start tracking metrics that associate with your original event goals. Your team should begin measuring registrations, as well as any questions that may come in about the event itself. Track your most successful registration channels and then double down on these as the event grows nearer to get your numbers up.
Execution of Your Virtual Event
Now comes the fun part – hosting your event. Depending on the type of event your team decided to host, things could last anywhere from one hour to one day to one week (for larger virtual conferences).
For something to go off without a hitch, you need three things working together:
1. Virtual events are the new, safe way to engage directly with your prospects and customers, which means you need to be able to communicate with them! Your entire event marketing team, other team members, and SMEs, as well as any additional speakers or presenters you have on deck, should all be ready and excited to get started. Even though it's virtual, plan on looking like you would if the event was in-person. And, if you're still working from home, ask anyone who will be on sound or video to find a quiet room without distractions.
2. Technology: If there is one thing to take away from this primer, check, double-check, and triple-check your technology. If you're hosting a webinar, run a practice go-through a few days before to work out any kinks, make sure everyone can hear and see each other, and finalize any outstanding details. For more significant events that may require breakout rooms or multiple speakers from multiple places, have a support resource on hand to troubleshoot at the moment. And, finally, make sure your attendees know exactly how to access your event, log in, and engage back with you through Q&A forums or question sites.
3. Data: No matter how much fun your event is to host, it will mean nothing if you're not tracking data throughout the entire thing. As soon as you decide to get started, it's time to start tracking metrics for your virtual event. This means keeping tabs on attendees, capturing all questions and hand raises, monitoring Google Analytics and SEO sites for page view surges, and more. Your team should be measuring things like views and logouts in near real-time so you can keep serving valuable content to attendees. If you're still looking for ways to track these kinds of metrics, try practicing when you test out your event technology, so you're more comfortable when the event starts for real.Post-Event Wrap-Up
After your virtual marketing event (after you've had time to take a deep breath, of course!), it's time to dig into all of that great data you collected. Here are several things to focus on after your event concludes:
— Did you stay on top of your budget or go over?
— Were your attendance numbers in line with your prediction based on registrations?
— What content resonated most with your attendees?
— Did they ask questions or visit your website during any particular section?
— Are there any follow-up conversations or requests to pass along to your sales team?
— What, if any, kinds of feedback did you receive from attendees?
— Do you know exactly how the event complimented other areas of your marketing strategy?
— Can you compile your results in a dashboard to easily share with team leaders or company executives?
— Did the event meet your goals set during the planning stage?
As your analyzing your results post-event, it's okay if you can't answer some of these questions right away. Instead, take the time to calculate detailed metrics (registrations vs. attendees, average time spent on the event, reach, etc.) to build a fuller picture of your event marketing strategy as a whole. Then, you can present this data to your executive team.
Budgeting for Virtual Marketing Events
One of the biggest and best changes for moving to virtual events has been the much smaller price tag versus an in-person event. However, it's important to remember that the start-up costs are only smaller for virtual events when planned correctly. Too many wrong moves and these costs can escalate quickly.
Here is a list of budget considerations to take into account when planning your next virtual event:
1. Platform costs: One of the essential parts of any virtual event is the platform being used to host the event. If this is a platform your team is already using internally, more significant event hosting capabilities may already be included or available for a small feature upcharge. However, if your team requires an entirely new platform, this budget item could be a little more costly. The best event management platform will integrate seamlessly with your video delivery system, CRM, and email automation.
2. Speaker or vendor fees: While your internal team costs are covered, any speaker and/or vendor fees must be considered. If you're hosting a webinar with one speaker, this is a pretty cut-and-dry budget item. However, this line item can be more convoluted if you're hosting a more significant virtual conference with multiple speakers and/or vendors.
3. Marketing costs: All in all, promotions may take up most of your virtual event budget. This includes everything from list costs to social ad budget to promotional placements in vendor publications.
4. Thank you gifts: Virtual events are an excellent way for customers to share their stories with prospects, but in return, it's always wise to say thank you. Depending on your client type or industry, this gift could be pretty pricey, so it's essential to make this a separate line item in your budget.
5. Follow-up communication: Whatever technology platform you use to host your virtual event will have some functionality to follow up with attendees. If this isn't the case (or if you want to communicate on a broader scale through a different channel), you should consider this.
It's incredibly easy to get carried away adding line items to an event without considering budget constraints. This is even more true in the world of virtual events, where new technology and trends are popping up regularly.
While it may be tempting to add in the hottest technology like AI or personalized meeting experiences 'just because you can,' always take a step back and consider the budget implications. What will this event experience bring to the table? How will it impact your overarching event goal? Will this addition increase your ROI?
For most marketing operations, the ROI of any marketing campaign helps determine whether or not that specific campaign channel will be included in the strategic plan for the team down the road. For example, if direct mail isn't performing well but email is, then a marketing team will invest more money into email marketing than direct mail. This same logic applies to virtual marketing events.
As you're building your virtual event marketing budget, it's essential to keep in mind the long-term impact these events can have on your team's resources. For example, if your budget is too high and you don't meet your virtual event marketing ROI goals, then your total event marketing budget may be slashed in the next planning cycle. Therefore, it's critical to be open-minded and realistic about your budgeting goals, as you will be tasked with proving tangible value to your team and executive leaders.
6 Key Metrics Event Marketing Teams Need to Track for Virtual Events
As event marketers have shifted to virtual-first events, the approach to event marketing metrics has also had to shift. While many in-person events rely on softer metrics (such as in-person visits to a booth), virtual event marketing metrics are very qualitative – and available in real-time. There are a few things to note here before we dive into critical virtual event metrics to track:
— Although virtual events may not be as high-dollar as in-person events, there is the chance to host or attend more of them. So, even though marketing events might not take up as much as the budget, they will be more commonplace throughout the year.
— As your team hosts virtual events, the tools you use to track and manage virtual event metrics may look different from how you managed live events. Because you aren't scanning badges or tracking conversations, those tools should instead make way for digital-first engagement tracking, messaging platforms, and dashboards to visualize audiences.
— Your event marketing goals shouldn't have to change too much from in-person to virtual events. Whether your bottom-line goal is to collect new leads, move prospects through the sales funnel, or close a current account renewal deal, these can all work with virtual events – if you are tracking the right metrics.
Now, let's get into some of the critical virtual event metrics your team must be tracking this year:
1. Registrations: This is a critical metric for any event but can be incredibly informative when tracking virtual event metrics. Look at registrations – and where they are coming from – to identify your top advertising channels moving forward.
2. Attendees: This number is typically looked at in comparison to registrations. If you're hosting your own virtual event, this number should be pretty high to help track towards a good ROI. On the other hand, suppose you are attending a virtual conference or networking event. In that case, the number of attendees can help determine if this should be part of your overarching event marketing strategy down the road.
3. New contacts: A favorite virtual event metric for many event marketers, new contacts are fresh, new leads not yet part of your system. Many teams have found virtual events a great way to attract new contacts from social media, online postings, or shares that they may not have heard of the event otherwise.
4. The average length of attendance: One creative virtual event metric to track is the length of attendance. If you're seeing a mass exodus of attendees during your webinars around the 45-minute mark, this could be a sign to start running 30-minute webinars instead.
5. Attendee engagement: Just because you're not face-to-face doesn't mean you can't track lead and attendee engagement. Instead, virtual event metric tracking looks at questions, hand raises, post-event follow-up, and other types of interactions to see how engaged your audience was during your event
6. Post-event lead movement: This is the significant virtual event metric that everyone (including executives!) looks at when gauging ROI. What are some tangible numbers we can attach to the virtual event in question? Were any deals closed? Did a prospect change to an opportunity? Tracking these details in your CRM – while linking back to your event – can put real dollars next to your event.
Power Your Virtual Event with Circa
Circa can handle all of your virtual event needs from registration forms and reminders, live streams and on-demand video, in-depth metrics to track performance and conversions, and integration with your existing tech stack. With Circa, you can host robust and engaging virtual events.
Contact Circa today to learn more about how we can turn your virtual event into a sales machine.