If you’re in the marketing, sales and events industries, take a deep breath. We’ve all been having a rollercoaster of a year and now as we face 2021 planning, everyone’s heads are spinning with hybrid, live, virtual, taped, webinars, etc. It’s become more confusing than ever, but my hope is after reading this you’ll be able to make sense of all the virtual event shifts and create a solid blueprint moving forward.
So how did we get here and what’s to come? First, let’s consider the four phases:
- In-person – pre-COVID-19
- Virtual – Feb.–Aug. 2020
- Virtual 2.0 – the present and near future
- The Next Normal – 2021/22 and beyond
Your packed trade show floor where hundreds, if not thousands of people mingled from booth to booth and squeezed into keynote presentations. Marketing budgets were heavily reserved for travel, printed materials, booth décor, swag and more. The energy was (hopefully) high and you made important personal connections face-to-face. Then, the in-person event world abruptly stopped.
Marketing leaders who pioneered digital transformation strategies invested their budgets wisely. Visionary organizations, including AWS, Cisco, Dell, and many others, bowed out of major trade shows, but their investments in interactive customer engagement solutions were immediately pivoted for online deployment within virtual events. This was possible because these solutions were not one-off applications; they were built on digital transformation platforms designed to transcend any single event or customer venue.
However, the majority of virtual event feedback in 2020 has been quite negative. Registration numbers are through the roof, attendance is higher, but the customer experience is sub-standard due to the lack of interaction.
Why? Because alone, web conferencing is not a sufficient solution to those challenges. It is a foundation for connecting people, but as a replacement for meeting in-person, it does not deliver the experience people expect. It puts attendees in a passive role when they want to be in the driver’s seat.
The unengaging stopgap of the virtual trade show booth is already obsolete. Marketers must maintain focus on helping customers solve their challenges – always delivering an understanding of how to create value, rather than focusing on what they sell. For B2B companies, we know that customer engagement is the key to conveying memorable value and differentiated competitive value.
We need to rethink how we should do business virtually and how to effectively engage customers again. When we think of virtual “connection,” we typically think of connecting with other people, not content. However, we make emotional connections with content, as well. The key ingredient with establishing a connection with content or an application is creativity.
So, why digitize your trade show booth? You can recreate any place or space, but you have to know why you’re recreating it. Here are two examples of when to use real-world scenarios:
- A space that’s widely inaccessible to the average person (an oil rig or inside a medical laboratory)
- A specific location that acts as a metaphor to visually showcase difficult processes (a stadium featuring various technology solutions)
The Next Normal
If/when we can convene at shows again, we predict there will always be a virtual or hybrid option. How can we can use the technology at our disposal to excite attendees and meaningfully engage them in the process?
Long-term marketing and sales success is not just about investing in a virtual booth and/or event. It goes beyond that, enabling a digital omnichannel marketing strategy. It’s about investing in reusable and extensible customer engagement experiences that spur personalized buying conversations – during and after events, on the expo floor or in the conference room – and arming your sales and marketing teams with the right tools for years to come.
If you’re looking to increase customer engagement at virtual events, meetings and briefings and are ready to make a digital transformation in this area, platform characteristics should include:
- Availability offline and online (on the web or native applications running)
- Device-agnosticism (mobile, tablet, PC, touch screen)
- Venue-agnosticism (website, trade show, analyst briefing, training, onboarding, sales meeting)
- Interactive 3D augmented reality and virtual reality experiences
- Scalability and extensibility (with real-time cloud updates)
- Unlimited global users (customers, sales, marketing, channel, training)
Long-term transformative customer engagement strategies will allow companies to clearly communicate their differentiated value, develop sustainable and predictable revenue streams, and provide a true competitive advantage – thus, coming out stronger when the storm clears. We won’t go back to the old way of doing things or continue to operate as we have. We need to change, starting TODAY.
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