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Posts Tagged ‘integrated marketing’

Virtual Events: Six things to consider on the way to the New World

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

virtual event

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.

Why now?
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.

Nine Rules of Engagement… Marketing

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Long before the social web, people would get to know those who they did business with on a personal level. Now we have built Customer Relationship Management systems so that we have some understanding of who our customers are, how often we are talking to them, what products they are interested in, etc. to help us manage customer service and automate sales and marketing. This has not changed the fundamental truth that,

“People do business with people they know, like and trust.”

~Rachelle Disbennett-Lee, PhD

By engaging our communities through face-to-face experiences and the social web, we have a new opportunity to reconnect our brands with the people we do business with. Here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Don’t focus so much on Second Life that you forget people have a “first life”

My 14-year-old son was talking to his best friend about “leveling” his character while playing World of Warcraft. I asked them what level they were in real life. A deeply philosophical discussion ensued, and then, for the rest of the afternoon, they played with each other outside.

In all the buzz about social media and web 2.0, we seem to be forgetting that the most important interactions take place in person. Make sure you allow opportunities for people to experience your brand in person. This is what builds real relationships.

2. Experience Matters

I saw John Mayer perform at a BlackBerry event in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. There were some folks in the audience that were so focused on taking pictures of the concert with their mobile devices to share with their friends, they seemed to forget that there was a special experience happening that was just for them.

Without experiences we would have nothing to share on blogs, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and the like. Engage your audiences face-to-face in a meaningful way, and they will become your brand advocates, both on and offline.

3. Its Not About You

While I was at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, I was amazed at the inward focus most of the leading consumer electronics companies had about their brands. Some products were larger, some were faster, some were better looking, but at the end of the day, it was all about them.

It reminded me of a band of gorillas standing around and beating their chests in the hopes of attracting a mate.For face-to-face experiences to be successful, they need to be customer-centric among other things. The same holds true for engagement online. Think of your most successful personal relationships. No one likes to hang around people who talk about themselves all the time.

4. Engagement Marketing Hasn’t Driven a Single Sale…

…its influenced millions of them. According to Forrester Research, the traditional sales funnel has radically evolved from awareness, consideration, preference, action and loyalty, to a maze of recommendations from friends, peer reviews, competitive alternatives and user-generated content resulting in both buyers and contributors.

Make sure your legacy linear marketing and sales models reflect this, and adjust as necessary. How are you influencing both contributors and potential buyers in the sales process? Marketing and sales efforts need to be community-focused. This is true for both face-to-face and online interactions.

5. Engagement is Even More Important After the Sale

According to Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company,

  • “Businesses may lose as many as 1/2 of their customers over a 5 year period.
  • “Acquiring a new customer can cost 6 to 7 times more than retaining an existing customer.”
  • “Businesses who boosted customer retention rates by as little as 5% saw increases in their profits ranging from 5% to a whopping 95%.” 

Make sure you balance your face-to-face and online marketing activities to address everyone in your community all the time. This includes influencers, suspects, prospects, customers and brand advocates.

6. Engagement is an Ongoing Conversation

Earlier this week, I was reviewing the social media presence of some of the world’s largest brands. Some of which have been my clients, and some have not. I was interested to find that many had set up FaceBook Pages, Twitter profiles and the like, but have long since abandoned them. Instead, the communities have taken over and driven the conversation, sometimes in a very unfavorable way to the brand.

You wouldn’t open a restaurant or retail store, or set up a tradeshow and not show up. Why behave that way online? Have we learned nothing from Dell Hell and the Comcast technician asleep on the couch? Listen, and participate in the conversation.

7. Mobility Brings the Conversation Full Circle

In the beginning, there were face-to-face interactions with a brand. Then these face-to-face interactions would drive further community engagement online. Mobile engagement takes place at the same time everywhere. You can be having a face-to-face experience while you are engaging your mobile and online communities. A person can truly be in more than one place at once!

The opportunities and potential for the integration of mobility, online and face-to-face marketing are boundless. Consider tapping into the power of mobility and integrating it into your engagement plan.

8.“What We Do in Life, Echoes in Eternity…”

~Maximus, Gladiator - (I loved that movie) …or as Forrester puts it,

“what brands do offline echoes online.”

Long before there were mobile devices, computers, or even telephones, people would have a brand experience, either positive or negative, in person. This would influence their perception of a brand. Sometimes, they would share this experience with their friends which would in turn influence them. According to Jack Trout,

“Marketing is not a battle of products. It’s a battle of perceptions.”

A study conducted by the Event Marketing Institute found,

  • 98% of people will recommend your brand after a positive experience(50% will tell at least 4 people)
  • 95% will trash you based on a negative experience(62% telling at least 4 people)

Create a strategy that integrates your face-to-face activities with online and mobile activities. Helping to facilitate the conversation across your marketing portfolio, or before, during and after an event will ensure your investment has reach well beyond the original point in time of the event, creating a ripple effect. This long tail will not only help foster new acquaintances, but build deeper relationships.

9. Measurement is critical to continuous improvement and ongoing success

As marketers, we’ve been searching for the end of the rainbow for some time now. Understanding the optimal number, frequency, cadence and type of tactics helps us improve our art and our science. Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer writes,

“The problem with trying to determine ROI for social media is you are trying to put numeric quantities around human interactions and conversations, which are not quantifiable.” 

I understand Jason’s point, but would add human interactions and conversations are quantifiable to a point. We can quantify number of engagements, and through the application of semantic technologies, we can understand whether these engagements were positive or negative, but social media alone does not provide ROI.

Events on the other hand are quite measurable. In a recent BrandWeek article, the latest EventView study was discussed. Twenty-six percent of survey respondents said event marketing is the discipline that drives the greatest return-on-investment.

By combining social media and face-to-face strategies and measuring the relationship between the two, we can understand how engagement marketing moves the ROI needle. Monetize portfolios and campaigns, not just individual tactics, and we’ll get closer to finding the end of that rainbow.

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The views and opinions on this blog are solely those of the contributors and do NOT necessarily reflect the official opinions of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association.