As interactivity has become an increasingly important element of marketing campaigns, virtual events have offered marketers a way to engage prospects and customers in a cost-efficient manner while upping the ante for lead generation opportunities. A growing trend among BtoB marketers is to leverage online environments for a “365” approach to lead generation.
With technologies evolving to support enhanced engagement, virtual events platforms are becoming a perpetual lead generation and engagement tool. “We are experiencing strong demand from corporations, which seems to outpace the adoption of industry event organizers,” said Joerg Rathenberg, Senior Director of Marketing at Unisfair. “Companies typically are faster to jump on the bandwagon of new technologies. They see clear advantages of being able to reach much larger audiences directly, with the same or less effort it would take them when going through another organization. Customer engagement is one of the key metrics of our time and customers want to interact directly with brands where possible.”
Rules of Engagement
The Trade Show News Network (TSNN) said the virtual event industry is poised to surpass $18 billion in the next five years, and it’s clearly an area gaining momentum that marketers can’t ignore. One of the many appeals of virtual events is the ability to offer multiple points to engage with prospects. This, industry insiders say, is where virtual events have a leg up on physical events.
“You can attend a presentation, ask live questions that you submit during the session and later have a one on one chat with the speakers,” noted Rathenberg. “This is much harder to achieve in a physical setting. Chat currently is the dominant method of communication, but [the Unisfair platform is designed to enable] live video calls via Skype, forum discussions, blogs and other methods of communication.”
Rathenberg said attendees place more emphasis on peer education, which is why networking is an integral aspect of virtual events. Enhanced tools enable attendees to search for peers within the environment and match profiles and interests to initiate conversation and sharing. “That kind of experience has a significant effect on the perceived value of an event for attendees,” he said.
Although lead generation is generally top of mind, there are other aspects to consider to optimize the effectiveness of virtual events. “ The key strength of virtual events is not the lead generation element but more importantly lead qualification — the ability to gather, aggregate and analyze user activity and convert it into a lead ranking report with priorities,” said Tom Wieser, VP of VirtualEvents365 at CGS. Given the fact that virtual events are offered today as a self-service model in addition to the traditional full-service model, it provides marketers with an even more cost-effective solution that increases the ROI.”
CGS’ VirtualEvents365 solution and annual licenses are designed to allow the utilization of the platform across the entire lifecycle of the buying process, as well as the nurturing period, according to Wieser. “The key is to launch multiple events (some very small but effective),” he said. “For example: virtual event as a buzz creator before the physical event, standalone virtual events for lead/demand gen, follow up events such as ‘meet the expert’, ‘loyalty building’ events, user conferences, periodic webcasts within the community environment etc.”
Generating Results Via Gaming
“We’re seeing a lot of engagement in the creation and integration of social games into virtual event platforms,” said Dennis Shiao, Director of Product Marketing at INXPO. “In a BtoB setting, some content can be dry, but that same content is placed inside a gaming environment, users tend to get excited about playing, competing and (of course) bragging about their accomplishments.”
In May INXPO launched its Social Suite, designed to combine the power of social media with online gaming to deliver an engaging virtual experience. The suite is designed to enable marketing organizations to build vibrant interactions by connecting existing communities on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, with the peer-to-peer engagement of games on a virtual platform.
Shiao said using games as a distribution vehicle can enhance the buying process by placing the “right” content into the hands of prospects. In addition, game mechanics can be created that incent prospects to interact with exhibitors. “So we see a win-win scenario, one in which attendees increase their engagement and enjoyment level, while exhibitors receive more interactions and interest from the attendees,” he said.