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The Next Marketing Frontier: Virtual Events and Environments

by Joerg Rathenberg

In light of the current economic landscape, it’s now more critical than ever for marketers to attract the right prospects and help reduce the time it takes to close deals. One major effect of an economic lull is that buying decisions are delayed. As a result, marketing executives are faced with dwindling pipelines that actually need to be even bigger than in good times.

With a limited ability to allocate money to lead generation, the emphasis is now on marketing tactics that can deliver high-quality leads cost-effectively. Savvy marketers understand that lead generation is not limited to the initial creation of interest. Rather, it refers to the full slate of nurturing activities necessary to grow a “suspect” into a prospect.

But in order for marketers to efficiently track and drive leads through the customer lifecycle, they must leverage the right tools. Virtual events and environments are rapidly becoming more mainstream thanks to their ability to help marketers arm their sales counterparts with better-qualified and intrinsically higher-value “sales-ready” leads.

One major advantage of a virtual environment, compared to traditional physical events (e.g. trade shows), is that every interaction of each attendee can be recorded and evaluated. For example, demographic information combined with detailed insight into an attendee’s virtual booth visits, chats with booth staff, collateral downloaded and presentations viewed, provide a level of lead qualification that is far superior to most other marketing initiatives.

The best virtual environments allow marketers to measure the engagement level of their participants and rank all of their leads, so that immediate attention will be given to “hot” leads. Companies can evaluate their prospects and customers on three dimensions: demographics, activities and interest. A simple point system helps organizers to customize the lead scoring mechanism for their needs. By defining lead ranking criteria upfront, they don’t waste time trying to make sense of their leads after the event is over.

For example, a company’s marketing team could target CFOs from New England who attended a specific product session, downloaded a white paperand stated in a poll that they plan to make a purchasing decision in the next 90 days. It is also possible to compare engagement levels across events — whether they are awareness activities, or customer retention events — enabling marketers to make better decisions about how to optimize their marketing efforts.

In addition to the ability to “track everything,” following are a few other things to consider when integrating a virtual environment into your marketing mix.

1. Focus on the big picture. Leverage a virtual environment during every stage of the customer lifecycle — from awareness to retention. This gives the customer an opportunity to not only learn more about your offerings, but also to discuss their experiences with each other and build a community, which in turn fosters customer loyalty.

2. Engage with attendees in a creative way. Hold surveys, polls, group chats and networking sessions to allow the exchange of ideas among attendees. This provides the ability to better assess their interest level in specific products, ideas or themes. Some organizers will send their attendees kits with t-shirts, coffee mugs and other trade show giveaways to recreate the feeling of a physical event, or even offer on-site catered lunches.

3. Follow up. The beauty of a good virtual event is that your registrants can visit it any time they like. Still, a number of registrants will forget that fact and may never log on to see the on-demand version. Use email and social networking tools to follow up with non-attendees, share some of the excitement and encourage them to join the on-demand environment.

4. Measure success. There are many different ways to measure the success of your event, which is ultimately determined by your goals. In July 2008, Brian Haven at Forrester Research established a framework of four metrics that include: involvement, interaction, intimacy and influence to measure the level of customer engagement.

Be sure that you chose a virtual platform that allows you to report on customer engagement and other key metrics. Doing so can serve as a highly effective lead ranking mechanism for prospecting events and allows your sales team to directly assess the level of interest of its prospects.

In short, virtual events and environments are a new and cost effective way to market, and generate sales-ready leads. It’s no wonder more and more marketers are beginning to embrace this technology and are happily reaping the many measurable benefits.


Franchises Can Use Latest Technology to Increase System Growth & Decrease Costs with Virtual Events

Virtual events combine various configurations of the latest technologies in webcasting, online chats, video streaming, webinars, social media and avatar graphics to provide elements such as speeches, Q&A, seminars, distribution of literature, interactive social ‘gatherings’ and/or exhibitor booths – all without ever leaving your desk or home to participate in an event that could be worldwide in scope.

This technology is now being made available to the franchise industry via a FREE webinar entitled, An Introduction to Virtual Franchise Events, scheduled to take place on Thursday, January 28th at 2:00 p.m. EST, where the franchise community will have an opportunity to learn the many ways that virtual franchise events can aid their bottom line. Click HERE to learn more about this webinar and virtual events, and HERE to register for the webinar.  This event is a production of Virtual Franchise Events, Inc., a joint venture of franchisEssentials and Strategic Growth Concepts.