B2B Virtual Events, Re-Imagined | Marketing Maestros | Blogs | ANA

B2B Virtual Events, Re-Imagined

July 1, 2021

By Michelle Bandler


We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a shift to virtual events — but even as in-person events begin to resume, virtual will remain a key strategy for B2B marketers. According to Google's latest research with Ipsos, 46 percent of B2B buyers plan to attend more virtual events this year than they did last year.

If you look at the term "virtual event" in Google Trends, you'll notice a sharp increase in searches last March when many companies (including Google) scrambled to bring their planned in-person events online. But over a year later, demand remains high — still far above pre-pandemic levels.

The great news for B2B marketers is that these events work — 72 percent say that virtual events drive ROI equal or greater than in-person events. So it's not surprising that 84 percent of marketers are planning to hold at least half of their events virtually this year.

One reason virtual events have proven to be successful is that the digital format democratizes access to content for the full B2B buying committee. In our research, we found that the average number of stakeholders involved with B2B purchase decisions has tripled over the past two years. Today, 43 percent of decisions involve eight or more people, compared to only 13 percent in 2018. Virtual events can help B2B marketers solve for the key influencers that may not be able to attend in-person events due to cost and/or time constraints. These events enable a much wider group of stakeholders to engage with relevant content, learn about your company's products and services, and interact with your current customers.

Consider how you can maximize impact by thinking beyond traditional event formats and objectives and move toward a hybrid approach moving forward in three key ways:

  • Expand your audience. For high profile content such as keynote presentations or new product launches, consider how you can get your message out to a broader audience, beyond those attending the full event. Live streaming through platforms such as YouTube can make your content and brand more accessible to more people at a much lower cost.
  • Expand the lifespan of your content strategy. Virtual events can offer a more evergreen way to drive conversation with current and future customers. A great example is Salesforce and their Leading Through Change series which showcases how their customers leveraged technology to get growth back to their businesses. Digital enables snackable, ongoing engagement post-event — an area where marketers can leverage their YouTube channel to house on-demand highlight clips and recap videos.
  • Expand your impact. With virtual, you're no longer confined to live attendance, which means your content can do more than drive registrations and leads. It can also drive awareness, consideration and retention, a full end to end lifecycle strategy for marketers and sales teams.

As you reimagine, don't forget to think about how you promote these events in an equally compelling way. This is not an "if you build it, they will come" scenario. We've shown that demand for virtual events remains strong, but B2B buyers have limited time and there are many brands competing for mindshare. On any given week, I get over 20 different event or webinar invitations. To break through, you must be intentional about the way you get the word out — before, during, and after your event.

  • Before your event, build excitement by engaging your audience with rich media formats across mobile and desktop. Reimagine the way you bring buyers into the experience with an upbeat preview video — YouTube's Video Action ads are a great way to grab attention while highlighting a call to action. Remember that virtual events are a great way to engage a broader audience, so make sure you're reaching new prospects with intent in addition to your current customers and pipeline.
  • At launch, maximize reach and engagement by leveraging high impact ad units on the days leading up to your event — particularly to promote any content (such as keynote presentations) that are being made available to a broader audience.
  • After the event, focus on continuing the conversation and driving ongoing engagement. Repackage content into digestible on-demand segments such as a sizzle reel recap video that can be leveraged in your marketing efforts to re-engage attendees. Make sure your on-demand content is easily discoverable on your website or YouTube channel so your customers and prospects can catch up or share across the organization.

Change brings new opportunities for marketers, and virtual/hybrid event approaches should be viewed as a welcome evolution. Wider reach, lower costs, and improved marketing and sales alignment can build toward better business outcomes with a cohesive event strategy today, and into 2022.

Michelle Bandler is managing director of TechB2B at Google.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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