With the cancellation of in-person events, we’d be shocked if you haven’t participated in at least one virtual event over the past year. And I am sure by now you are wondering how to plan your own virtual event.
How would you rate online engagement? Has it lived up to your expectations? Did it fall flat? If you’ve been wondering how to make virtual events a successful part of your marketing strategy? If so, we have some tips!
The most important thing to do first, and often the most difficult, is changing your mindset. If you are expecting the same outcomes of your in-person exhibitor experience from a virtual conference—it’s time to realign your expectations. If you can do that, and approach virtual events as a new opportunity, you will be ahead of the game. Don’t get caught up thinking that virtual events are a temporary fix; they are not going away.
That said, on to some virtual event ideas, tips, and best practices!
Benefits of Planning a Virtual Event
It’s no secret event organizers were caught off guard with the overnight transition to online formats. Early events were haphazardly put together; platform functionality was limited, and nobody knew what to expect. If you participated in one of these, odds are you got frustrated, and the experience might be keeping you from seeing the value of either creating a virtual event for your company, or investing in attending or sponsoring other virtual events.
The most significant benefit of virtual events is a larger, global audience. Travel budgets or location constraints don’t limit attendees. Additional factors include:
- Attendees may be uncomfortable returning to in-person events for quite sometime
- International attendees may not be allowed to enter the U.S. or Canada
- Increased data and metrics to measure attendee interactions and engagement
Planning Your Virtual Event Strategy
How to plan a virtual event, using strategy as your main directive.
You wouldn’t invest in a booth or sponsorship at an in-person event without a clear strategy or goals, and virtual events shouldn’t be different. Start by asking some internal questions:
Do the exhibiting and sponsorship opportunities offered align with your company and marketing goals?
Are the attendees the right audience for your product? Do they fit your target demographic?
If you feel confident this event supports your goals, take time to meet with show management. Many organizers are entering their second, or possibly third, round of online events. They should have solid answers to these questions:
- What metrics can you provide on past events? For example, registration vs. actual attendance figures.
- What are you going to do to drive attendees to virtual booths? How heavy was past exhibit traffic?
- What post-event marketing opportunities are provided? When will those be available?
- Are platform demos available?
These are just a starting point for questions. You may have questions surrounding virtual event pricing or other specific considerations for your company. Do not be afraid to ask hard questions, and make sure you feel confident with their answers.
Revising your event strategy may seem like a lot. Compare it to what you would have spent buying booth space, purchasing swag, sending staff to the physical event, and entertaining clients. You may find the time and money required for online events is considerably less, enabling you to do more events within your marketing budget.
How to Stand Out at a Virtual Event
The greatest difficulty when planning a virtual event that exhibitors face is giving their online presence enough character to stand out and engage attendees you typically can’t even see. Consider these options:
- Make your virtual event branding and “booth” as visually appealing as possible. Use bold colors to draw the eye and put your logo in a prominent spot.
- Design with virtual in mind. Don’t try and shoehorn in-person messaging into an online booth.
- Upgrade your booth or sponsorship package if possible. Many organizers offer the option to include videos, weblinks, or collateral uploads for an additional fee.
- Offer a giveaway! Even if the organizer uses gamification, including your own prize will draw more traffic. Ensure what you’re giving away is exciting and enticing (gift cards, Surface, iPad, etc.) because this is where there is no difference between an in-person event or a virtual event—everyone loves a creative giveaway or freebie!
Marketing a Virtual Event
Another aspect of planning a virtual event that hasn’t changed, whether it’s a trade show or webinar, is the importance of marketing your event.
Your strategy should include pre-event, during the event, and post-event marketing. Send email campaigns to engage your customers early. Push out social media posts advertising your involvement and highlight your giveaway or any sessions you’re presenting or sponsoring. For larger events, schedule social posts during the event to draw prospects to your booth if applicable. And don’t forget to include any hashtags associated with the event in your social posts.
Focus on Post-Event Communications
You’ve made it through another event. Congratulations, you now know how to plan a virtual event! Now you’ve got to keep the momentum going.
Begin by quickly collecting metrics from the show manager. Pour over the data to see how long attendees were in your booth; dwell time is a good indicator of interest and likelihood to purchase.
Create a list of targets you want to keep talking to. Include people on the bubble of your target dwell time and personalize your communications to them. You might think about using the following tactics:
- Personalize Emails – include personal details from your conversations.
- Customize Collateral – tweak language if needed so it speaks to their needs and interests based on their interactions.
- Mail Some Swag – though not always possible while we are all mostly working remotely, small gifts in the mail always make people feel special.
Ask for Help
Planning virtual events are new for many of our clients in the technology channel. If you need an extra hand and additional expertise to create a successful online, hybrid, or in-person event strategy, contact The Partner Marketing Group team. We can help you develop your event plans, create engaging content and messaging, build out integrated marketing campaigns, design powerful visuals, and so much more.
Curious how other technology marketers adapted from in-person to virtual events? Download our 2021 Technology Marketing Benchmarks & Trends Report for more insight and ideas.