How to Preserve Customer Engagement During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Major conferences and trade shows around the globe are being canceled
or postponed due to concerns about coronavirus, and this opens opportunities for marketers to get creative in replacing in-person events.
With hundreds of thousands of diagnosed cases of the novel coronavirus across the world, events continue to be canceled and postponed as companies ramp up their efforts to prevent its spread.
It’s too early to predict the full impact of the pandemic on the $15 billion B2B trade show market in the United States, but one thing is certain: Face time with prospects, customers and the community at large is being reduced significantly without these conferences and meetings. In many locations, travel may not be advisable or even possible, which has forced organizations throughout the world to rethink their internal and external events.
These are uncertain times for marketers and sales teams who rely on trade shows and conferences to generate demand and close deals. Rather than let months – or years – of planning and financial investment go to waste, it’s time to figure out new ways to reach customers now.
“Nothing can completely replace the one-on-one time you get with your customers at an in-person event,” says Laura Beth Young, Vela Agency’s events and logistics manager. “But until concerns related to the coronavirus subside and things get back to normal, there are alternative ways to drive interactions and demand.”
Pivoting to Virtual: Content is King
Instead of canceling or even rescheduling conferences,
many companies are turning to virtual events. The organizers of Adobe Summit, Red Hat Summit and Microsoft Build have all taken this approach, eliminating the in-person aspect of their conferences and opting to bring their communities together digitally. By using livestreaming platforms such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Slack or Skype for Business, organizers can exponentially expand the reach of an event to attendees who might not be able to attend because of health concerns or travel limitations. Simulcasting a conference stream through Facebook or LinkedIn Live can further broaden engagement.
“Producing strong, engaging content is always critical to an event, but while in-person events can attract attendees with unique destination and networking opportunities, content is the main reason people will opt to attend or skip a virtual meeting,” says Young. “Planners of virtual conferences must make extra effort to engage their audience with powerful keynote speakers and sessions tailored to their interests.”
Pivoting to a virtual event late in the planning stage – moving away from a setting which was likely well-vetted and possibly even custom-built – can be challenging. However, once a suitable alternative is determined, a virtual event allows planners to get creative with their content format. They can take advantage of opportunities to add speakers as remote guests and engage the audience in measurable ways. Slides and speakers can be recorded for use in webcast “sessions,” which can then be streamed as digital panel discussions. Attendees can participate by adding their comments and reactions or by being a part of live Q&A sessions. Virtual events can give this valuable content an extended shelf life. Because attendees familiarize themselves with a virtual event’s format while it is live, it’s easier for them to access and share recorded material afterward. Packaging slides, films and speeches as a branded experience – and making it publicly searchable after the event is over – can continue to drive engagement.
Considering Alternative Ways to Deliver ContenT
Switching to a virtual format makes sense in many, but not all, cases.
Depending on the situation, it may make more sense to cancel or postpone an event and reinvest any money that can be recouped into your website, blog, email marketing and social media platforms. These channels can be used to create an integrated experience with customized ads and social media posts that retarget new visitors to the event landing page or people who attended your previous events. Messages can be customized to reiterate that, although the event isn’t going on as planned, the lines of communication are still open.
Extra budget can also be invested in top-of-funnel content such as case studies, infographics and videos that can be shared with prospects by email or pushed out on your website or social channels. As this content is generally evergreen, potential customers can review it at their own pace, providing marketers with the opportunity to generate ongoing returns.
In the coming weeks and months, companies will need to exercise agility to come up with new ways to replace opportunities for face time with customers and prospects. Regardless of the direction they choose, marketers should rely on digital strategy, which can continue to provide value after the uncertainty related to COVID-19 ends.
“In-person meetings will never go away,” predicts Young. “After the pandemic passes and restrictions are lifted, there will be pent-up demand and excitement for large gatherings and face time. In the future, we’ll likely see a very innovative approach across the board to blending digital and face-to-face engagement at events, born out of the extreme measures that had to be taken in 2020.”
Do you need to develop new strategies to engage customers in the wake of event cancellations? Vela can help – contact us today.