My friend Loree Stark recently wrote a great article called “A Whole New World” on Virtual Events in Expo magazine. In this article she gives three great examples of companies that have participated in Virtual Events. She also lists “10 Steps to Get You There” which offers some excellent points on what it takes to begin planning a virtual event.
As marketers, its important we make a plan before we charge into any tactic, virtual or not. Without a thoughtful strategy, we increase our risk of exposure and the chances of missing ROI objectives.
This is normally a mortal sin for marketers, and especially risky in this economy. Adopting reactive postures for short term gains at the risk of long term success is a recipe for disaster.
Before taking the first step into this “Whole New World” its critical now more than ever marketers understand what they are getting into.
Today I’ll discuss a few things to think about as you consider adding Virtual Events into your marketing mix. But first, lets make sure we’re operating from a common definition.
What is a Virtual Event?
A Virtual Event is a gathering of individuals who meet through a computer-generated environment at a prearranged time in order to acquire knowledge, share information, interact with each other and engage in activities of common interest. Whew! That’s a mouthful.
Here are the key elements of the definition that should always be top of mind.
Computer-generated environment: Audiences experience Virtual Events using their desktop or notebook computer, and like anything else done on a computer – the surrounding environment (complete with distractions) competes with the experience.
Pre-arranged time: This drives the critical mass of an audience, which in turn fosters interaction.
Interact: Interaction among audiences and between sponsors drive engagement and to some degree, immersion in a Virtual Event. It also promotes a higher level of value for attendees and sponsors alike.
Types of Virtual Events
Webcast – Live audio, video or multimedia distributed via the Internet or on digital networks. Webcasts can only be considered events when the content is live.
Webinar – A seminar conducted over the Internet. In contrast to a Webcast, a Webinar is designed to be interactive between the presenter and the audience.
Web Conference – A group meeting or live presentation over the Internet. Web Conferences use screen sharing accompanied by voice communication via telephone or VOIP. Text chat is sometimes used to complement, or in place of voice communication.
Virtual Trade Show – Similar to a face-to-face trade show, a virtual trade show includes: an exhibition hall, a conference center for keynotes, panel discussions, and breakout sessions, a lounge for attendee networking and a resource center for distribution of content.
Virtual World Events – Meetings that take place in virtual worlds like Second Life. These can be as simple as a speaking opportunity, or as complex as a full-blown virtual conference, with robust multimedia, multiple speakers and sessions, networking opportunities, product demonstrations, virtual tours, etc.
We are experiencing a perfect storm where Virtual Events are becoming a viable tactic for marketers to consider adding to their marketing mix.
- Economic factors: Brands are looking for lower-cost alternatives to engage their audiences.
- Technologies and platforms: Several platforms using different technologies are widely available to host Virtual Events. These are simple to use and robust enough to warrant participation.
- Bandwidth: Broadband technologies make it easier and more effective than ever for audiences to engage and participate in Virtual Events.
- The speed of business: Virtual Events allow employees to be accessible or present and allow knowledge and content sharing, education and interaction without disruption.
- Green: The impact of a virtual activity on the environment is far less than that of a face-to-face tactic.
Here are six things to consider:
1. Virtual Events are not the same as Face-to-Face Events
- Virtual Events are another (different) tool you can use to qualify and acquire leads, reinforce thought leadership, or distribute information. They are not, and will not behave the same as Face-to-Face events
2. Virtual Events do not immerse attendees in a multi-dimensional interactive brand experience
- They are at the end of the day, a two-dimensional attendee experience.
- Outside of software, attendees cannot experience your product(s).
- Audiences participating in Virtual Events are subject to the same distractions, as they would have during any other computer-based activity.
3. Virtual Events cannot facilitate relationships as well as Face-To-Face activities
- No one ever got married as a result of participating in an online dating site based solely on that experience (at least I hope not). There was a live in-person courtship that took place. The same goes for valuable, long-term business relationships. You cannot fax a handshake, and a virtual beer lacks flavor. The human experience requires humans.
4. Virtual Events are best used as part of an overall marketing mix
- Identify marketing objectives first, and employ the most effective tools to meet those objectives, virtual or otherwise.
- Avoid one-off activities – understand how Virtual Events strategically fit within your overall program alongside all marketing tactics.
5. Virtual Events can take the place of *some* live face-to-face events
- Understand marketing objectives, number of attendees, how technically savvy your audiences are, the degree of interactivity required, etc.
- Again, your audiences will behave differently at a Virtual Event than they do in a Face-to-Face event.
- Brands experience a different level and kind of performance from Virtual Events vs. Face-to-Face Events. Plan for this.
6. Virtual Events can be used to complement live Face-to-Face events (a hybrid model)
- Hybrid models bolster attendance, increase access to content, extend the life of a physical event, leverage and reuse assets, increase reach, drive buzz, enhance attendee value and improve ROI.
As Cece Salomon-Lee mentions on her blog PR Meets Marketing, “Going Virtual Isn’t Necessarily the Answer to Replacing Your Physical Events.” Its important marketers “take a step back and look at the larger picture.” Understanding your business objectives, your audience and all the tools in the marketer’s toolbox will help you ensure your marketing mix is balanced, and your relationships with your audiences are addressed appropriately at every stage in the sales cycle.
first published on AMA Boston Blog 3/10/09