Despite the expanded influence of digital marketing in buying behavior and a proliferation of digital channels, B2B marketers point to a resurgence of in-person events as one of the top drivers of opportunities and pipeline conversions.
In addition, as marketing organizations focus more on ROI and gathering intent data from buyers, B2B brands are seeing first-hand insights gathered from in-person events as a significant value driver. Given all of those trends, industry experts point to increased investments in physical events in 2020, as well as deeper integration of technology and data collection to integrate insights from events into the key stages of their sales funnel.
And the expansion of events is extending beyond booths at trade shows, with companies seeing strategic value in integrating data from smaller, intimate events — such as roundtables and executive dinners — to provide personalized customer experiences that drive results later in the funnel.
“Technology as itself has evolved from the center of the conversation and has cooled down a bit,” said Nick Borelli, President of Borelli Strategies and event marketing specialist. “More often, people understand the value of a martech stack and tech involved in events. We’re now getting into the deeper conversations like ‘why’ they need the tech.”
Event marketing experts suggest that new tools and tactics are providing a deeper understanding of attendees and their interests, as well as more efficient ways to communicate content.
“A thoughtful and integrated technology strategy will create a 360-degree view of the attendee and helps organizers to design and customize the experience based on the unique needs of every attendee,” said Issa Jouaneh, Founder of Jouaneh Ventures Incorporated and an in-person meetings and events expert.
Breaking Down Data Silos To Fuel Full-Funnel Strategies
Experts agreed that being able to make decisions based on a mix of data sources from physical and digital events positions marketing teams to better understand their audience and engage them appropriately. This requires teams to break down their data silos and learn how data obtained through in-person events can have an impact on the entire customer journey.
Borelli, for example, highlighted the notable value of in-person engagement over some digital engagements that can ultimately send mixed signals — such as ad click-throughs or website page views. Paired together, marketing teams can gain a deeper understanding of prospect needs and interests.
“The event itself serves as the ultimate buffet when you’re looking at the digital data and the live data,” Borelli said. “I can tell you that convincing people to spend an hour-and-a-half of their time doing something is much more difficult than convincing someone to click on something. When you weigh it accordingly, it allows you to make more educated decisions with the content or other touchpoints you have down the line.”
Jouaneh agreed that today’s B2B organizations are seeing a much more modern view of engagement within in-person meetings and events. This is especially true when it comes to where those events sit in the customer journey.
“There is certainly a more expansive view of engagement within meetings and events today, as organizers understand the value of pre- and post-event design, planning and execution,” Jouaneh said. “In a similar way that organizers focus and plan for the event, a significant level of effort needs to be put forward to deliver an exceptional experience pre-event, with opportunities to continue the communication and relationship with attendees post-event.”
Taking this mindset ultimately positions marketing teams to fuel each stage of the buying cycle with the right messaging, offers and answers that their target audience needs to make a purchase decision.
“Opportunities for companies to broaden their audience and repurpose content from meetings and events has also emerged, as technology has evolved and become a critical component in the delivery of meetings and events,” Jouaneh said.
‘Attendee Signals’ Leading To Real-Time Customization Of In-Person Experiences
Experts also agreed that modern marketing teams are beginning to find value in leveraging in-person event data to customize events in real-time. This leads to a more personalized experience for attendees on the show floor or in the meeting room, as well as gives brands an upper hand in meeting buyer needs.
“With more information, another emerging trend is around customization of experiences,” Jouaneh said. “While attendee experience has long been a pillar of event marketing and strategy, the understanding of attendees and, by extension, the ability to customize experiences based on that understanding has become an expectation of attendees.”
Experts agreed that the value of “attendee signals” comes from the effort they must make to provide that insight. Therefore, modern B2B brands should be able to use this information in real-time to make events more valuable to their audiences.
“Now that they know the type of content that appeals to [their audience], that can help to augment the audience’s experience even more,” Borelli said. “They can now go back to their stakeholders with better insights because attendees voted with their feet, which is a little bit more significant than voting with a click-through or page view.”
Borelli reiterated that some best-in-class brands are beginning to experiment more with real-time customization of events now that they have a much better understanding of the target audience’s behavior.
“Marketing teams can now put individuals into their CRM and say this person stayed for [an entire] presentation,” Borelli said. “Do we have four (or more) pieces of content I can deliver to that person throughout the year? Can I ask sales to follow up right away about this product or service based on their interest in the area? Those kinds of conversations are happening much more regularly.”
Aptos To Grow Event Budget 2X To Acquire, Nurture Audiences With Best-In-Class Experiences
One fast-growing B2B brand upping the ante on events is Aptos, a leading digital commerce and enterprise order management company. So much so that the company plans to double its budget towards in-person events to continue experimenting with tactics outside of pure acquisition strategies.
“[Events] are still a very important part of our acquisition strategy,” said David Bruno, Marketing Director at Aptos, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “But we have added and realized that they're also a great nurturing opportunity. Without question, there's a great opportunity to nurture through events.”
The company has been experimenting with smaller events and roundtables alongside its bigger expo and tradeshow strategies. For example, Aptos recently hosted a six-part global series of events spanning Brooklyn, Santiago, London, Verona and China. The goal was to drive value for their target audience in more intimate settings.
“It’s a lot of trial-and-error and balancing investments in mid-size events — 30 to 60 people — versus roundtables that are very small,” Bruno said. “We measure the success of the events equally on acquisition and nurture for prospective clients, as well as nurture our relationship with existing clients.”
Bruno highlighted how roundtables, in particular, are fueling nurture initiatives with prospective customers. Insights gathered from these meetings are being leveraged in future content production — for in-person events and digital content.
“Customer roundtables are definitely more of a relationship nurture, versus a lead nurture,” Bruno said. “We’re targeting 10 people, not 100. From a marketing standpoint, we get a pulse on the customers that attend and find case study candidates. We also use events for future content ideas.”
Bruno broke down six specific phases — in no particular order — that help him formulate events to bring maximum value to both Aptos and their prospects:
- Frequency: How often will these events be hosted?
- Location: Identifying the right regions based on target audiences and where they are based;
- Venue: Ensuring the venue offers unique experiences for the audience;
- Target audience: Identifying exactly who should be attending, which helps fuel content production;
- Content: Identifying the topics of interest that are most important to the attendees; and
- Experience: Ensuring that attendees gain value from the event and have a memorable experience.
“We are placing greater and greater emphasis, even for a small roundtable, on unique experiences,” Bruno said. “We want to attach the conversation to something meaningful to the human being and to their business. I feel like that's a winning formula.”
Ultimately, Aptos has found a way to leverage in-person events to stay top-of-mind with their target audience and fuel other digital initiatives.
“It’s hard to get eyeballs on content nowadays,” Bruno said. “So, events are a great way to differentiate in the market. It’s going back to basics, if you will.”
Combining Physical & Digital Data To Extend Engagement, Customer Value
Experts concluded that taking a more strategic approach to in-person meetings and events will lead to deeper returns on investment. Alongside that, it will also provide better customer experiences that accelerate deals and build meaningful relationships.
“Going forward, while we continue to see growth in the value generated by meetings and events, there is significant value in having a broad and strategic view of meetings and events as a portfolio,” Jouaneh said. “A broad view allows for best practices, lessons learned and innovative technology applications to be leveraged across an event portfolio.”
A more strategic approach can have a positive impact on how insights gained from attendee engagement can be leveraged throughout the organization. This includes refining personas and messaging to meet specific individual needs.
“I'm seeing a lot more buyer persona refinement,” Borelli said. “They just know their clients so much better based on the heightened value of voting with your feet.”
With the right technology and processes in place, B2B companies can better position themselves to break down data silos between their physical and digital tactics to gain a deeper understanding of customer needs.
“The ones that are doing it smartly are gaining the insights to make the experience with the brand positive down the line,” Borelli said. “When I design digital campaigns, the idea is to keep those funnels going down forever. That happens in digital and it can happen in live events — hopefully more so in the coming years.”