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virtual events strategy

How To Approach Virtual Events As A Long-Term Marketing Strategy

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com. Please find it here.

Well, 2020 hasn’t been going the way you planned, has it? That seamless marketing plan you spent countless hours perfecting, which probably included a calendar of events along with a sizable budget for them, is now out the window. Instead of canceling, you want to lean into online platforms and pivot to virtual events, but how can you ensure that you’re maximizing your planning efforts and your event dollars? What kind of mindset should you adopt when approaching virtual events?

Virtual events are likely here to stay, so it’s critical that you build a long-term strategy rather than considering them as a short-term solution. Here are some tips on how to approach virtual events and make them part of your ongoing marketing efforts.

Lean Into The Opportunities

While virtual events are uncharted territory for many, those who are making the shift are finding that many aspects of a digital format are advantageous compared to traditional live events. In other words, contrary to what you might think, some things make virtual events preferable to in-person ones.

• Attendee flexibility: Since your event isn’t confined to a physical location, attendees can join from anywhere without the hassle of travel logistics, meaning you can seize the occasion to reach a wider audience than ever before. Take the opportunity to promote your event in new markets, and watch your attendee numbers soar.

• Cost savings: Eliminating or greatly reducing spending for line items like venue rental, staffing, catering and travel can translate to a successful event at a decreased dollar figure.

• More data: Measuring engagement and capturing attendee information before, during and after an in-person event can be a quagmire, but with virtual events, it’s a cinch. Want to know, for example, which sessions were most popular with specific attendee numbers and demographics? It’s easy as pie. Want to know which questions were asked, and by whom? No problem. Leverage an event platform that integrates with your customer relationship management platform or automated marketing software, and you’ve got a built-in, post-event game plan.

Realize The Similarities

Despite the differences, pivoting to a virtual event strategy does not require a total change in approach. The format might be different, but you’ll still need to coordinate and deliver many of the same features as an in-person event. You’ll still need to plan, launch, promote, manage and wrap up your event with the same level of intention, care and attention you had with your in-person events.

Take comfort in the fact that many of the best practices for event hosting remain unchanged. You’ll still need content that attendees find valuable. You’ll still need targeted, effective promotion and outreach. You’ll still need branding, a website (or landing page), registration, attendee communication and feedback. If you sit down and assess your typical event plan and messaging techniques to determine which elements should be different, you’ll realize that you can still leverage prior experience, knowledge of your target audience and industry relationships to produce a virtual event that’s just as valuable to your attendees as an in-person one.

Determine Your Organizational Goals

Perhaps the most important aspect of planning virtual events is setting clear goals. If you are changing an in-person event (or series of events) to a digital format, avoid falling into the temptation to change what you originally set out to achieve. With a well-planned virtual event, the value to your organization can be the same as an in-person event, so your aims — the reasons you wanted to have an event in the first place — should remain constant.

In fact, this is a key aspect of assembling a successful virtual event: Don’t get stuck thinking about the format first. Laser-focus your goals and let them lead your planning direction by developing a solution to meet your goals virtually instead of in person. What are you trying to do for your company? Qualify leads? Retain customers? Increase awareness of a certain service or product? From a straightforward slide presentation for a dozen people all the way to a dedicated microsite with details on keynote speakers, networking opportunities and sponsored branding, the potential surrounding your virtual event is boundless. Embracing the shift to digital works best if you build a virtual event centered on your company’s chief ambition.

Clarify Your Tone Goals

Directly beside your organizational goals sit your tone goals — the desired event atmosphere. How do you want your virtual event to look and feel? For instance, if your attendees typically wear jeans and a T-shirt, the tone you’re probably looking for is personal and comfortable. As with your organizational goals, work with your team to pinpoint your tone goals and then construct your event using that as a driving factor.

Looking to make your event loose and fun? Feature informal activities, like a cocktail-making lesson, a celebrity cameo, online games or a virtual concert. Want to create an event that is interactive? Seek out a virtual event platform that offers breakout discussion rooms, Q&A functionality, live polling, two-way video chats, social media integration or virtual tables (maybe even with AI-assisted matchmaking). Aiming for a more formal and informative tone? Go with a panel, a roundtable, a town hall or fireside chat format. Focusing on your goals before deciding on your format helps ensure an effective event-planning process.

Your Virtual Event Outlook

Altering your long-term marketing strategy to include virtual events can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. With proper planning and some creative marketing, maybe 2020 will be your best event year yet.

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