B2B Marketers Look To Modernize Webinar Experiences By Promoting Two-Way Engagement

Published: May 1, 2019

Webinars continue to be a staple in many B2B demand gen strategies, with studies show that webinars are one of the most useful content formats for generating positive engagement with prospective customers. Findings from Demand Gen Report’s annual Content Preferences Survey show that close to half (47%) of respondents find webinars valuable at the early and mid-stage of their buying process. Also, close to two-thirds (64%) of B2B buyers are willing to spend 20 to 60 minutes watching a webinar — more than any other content format.

“Webinars are an opportunity to create much deeper engagement with your audience,” said Tina Dietz, Founder of StartSomething Creative Business Solutions, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “You often have people there live and when you’re watching the recording of course, you want to keep people’s attention. Attention is not the easiest thing to keep in the distracted world that we live in so the more highly engaging and the more interesting, the more fun quite honestly that you can make a webinar, the better off you’re going to be.”

B2B marketing teams are investing in webinars because of their utility throughout the customer journey.

But since B2B buyers are flooded with different offers and options for content, many progressive B2B organizations are looking to modernize their webinar content to promote deeper engagement while catering to buyer needs. This includes giving attendees more control over the discussions taking place on webinars and enabling them to be more of a two-way conversation, versus the traditional slideshow presentation with a single speaker on a set topic.

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“It’s vital to prioritize engagement,” said Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing, during a recent Campaign Optimization Series webcast. “Think about some of the content you’ve seen in the past — it has been very one sided. Figure out a way to get people more engaged as part of your content and make them part of the experience.” Research from ON24 noted that more than half (53%) of marketers say it’s “extremely important” to have access to engagement insights from webinars, while 41% say it’s “moderately important.”

Lauren Mead, CMO of TimeTrade, agreed that her company is focused more on how webinar content is engaging target audiences, beyond simply driving registrations. “With webinars, it’s a different format when you’re presenting live to someone,” Mead said in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “So, I think one of the things that we must always try and keep in mind is how does content relate over this format and will it be engaging? Not all presentations are created equal; you need to think about the medium and the best way to engage digitally — even if it’s a little harder to do so with the audience.”

Leading B2B brands such as TimeTrade and PathFactory have turned to new, modern engagement tactics and strategies within webinars, such as formats that promote more conversational dialogue with attendees and presenters, as well as incorporating video content to reinvigorate the traditional slideshow webcast format. This also includes new strategies for pre-webinar engagement with prospects, as well as tactics to utilize webinar participant engagement to fuel content calendars for future campaigns.

Resetting The Traditional Webinar Format With Panel Discussions, Two-Way Audience Dialogue

While webinars have traditionally been used as a top of funnel offering, more B2B marketing teams are expanding their strategies to use webinars at different stages of the buying cycle. For example, TimeTrade utilizes webinars throughout its sales funnel — primarily for new business generation. Mead pointed out that her team does a combination of webinars both for prospects as well as current customers. While most of the webinars are a more traditional format, Mead added that they have experimented with panel Q&As and live video streaming.

“We once had four different panelists and it was all Q&A-based,” Mead said. “With that one, actually, we got really good feedback from different thought leaders to talk about different challenges they face around customer engagement.”

Mead added that, while it’s not always possible, “adding video into the webinar and being able to show the faces of the presenter makes a big difference.”

Industry experts also noted that incorporating more voices into webinars is having a positive impact on promoting deeper discussions with attendees on their topics of interest. PathFactory, for example, ran successful top-of-funnel panel webinars in which they brought experts together to discuss varying topics of interest to their target audience.

“It played more as an organic discussion — no slides required,” said Elle Woulfe, VP of Marketing at PathFactory, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “The most successful one we ran was ‘The Great Gate Debate.’ The format was simple: get a bunch of great marketers and experts together discussing a hot topic around the use of gates and forms in B2B marketing.”

Woulfe noted that this panel format promoted more involvement from the webinar attendees to contribute to the discussion by asking questions and sharing their experience. This can ultimately lead to more insights on prospective customers’ pain points that enable B2B companies to create more relevant, personalized engagement throughout the rest of the sales cycle.

“Having the audience contribute their questions via live chat helped them feel like they were part of the [conversation],” Woulfe said.

Industry data shows that there is still room for deeper adoption in easily integrated engagement tactics for webinar content. When it comes to engagement tools utilized in webinar platforms, ON24’s benchmark research shows that there is still room for growth in strategies such as:

  • Surveys (36%);
  • Social (25%);
  • Live polling (22%); and
  • Group chat (10%).

“Anytime you give someone on the webinar an opportunity to lean in, it increases their engagement, it makes them stay on longer, makes them more attentive and receptive to what you’re talking about,” said Daniel Waas, Director of Marketing at GoToWebinar, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “We try to encourage simple things like hand-raising. I’ll ask people to just put a quick yay or nay into the Q&A. I will start polls and just either try and understand where they’re at, such as, ‘are you a beginner or intermediate?’ So that I can tailor the content to it. That helps both in terms of segmenting who they are, and then also helps me in the delivery.”

Promoting Pre-Show Engagement Helps Keep Content On Point

Industry experts also noted that marketing teams are not limited to engagement with webinar attendees to just the roughly 45 minutes a webinar runs live. Pre-show engagement with webinar attendees provides another opportunity to dig into buyer pain points, understand their needs and cater the content to be relevant to them.

Dietz noted that one approach to creating additional engagement is to prime your audience beforehand.

“Send out an opportunity for people to submit questions ahead of time,” said Dietz. “That way, you know what pain points or curiosity questions there are, or so on and so forth. To help spark those questions, you want to send people prompts because there’s nothing more annoying for somebody or intimidating than what I call the tyranny of the blank page.”

PathFactory’s Woulfe also said that her team leverages pre-event promotion to encourage more engagement by taking audience questions right after they register for the session.

“We do this by incorporating a question from behind the registration form,” Woulfe said. “This way, audience members can submit their questions before the panel even begins. The benefits to this were three-fold: it gives us a better idea of why people want to attend the webinar, it gives the speakers time to prepare thoughtful answers and it increases the likelihood of the audience member showing up to the webinar to find out the answer to their question.”

Experts added that incorporating more panelists into webinars also enables producers to expand their reach — ultimately enabling panelists to promote deeper engagement prior to the live air date and encourage meaningful dialogue. Woulfe noted that PathFactory coordinates a promotion plan for webinar panelists to promote engagement.

“For the co-marketing panel webinars, the promotion is even more elaborate since we can leverage an even larger potential audience,” Woulfe said. “We enable our partners by making it as easy as possible to promote and share. We build comprehensive promo kits for our partners, including custom URLs, branded graphics, social copy and email copy. We recently got creative and asked panelists to post videos on their LinkedIn page to help promote a panel — we’ve found lots of success with this tactic in the past.”

Webcasts Fuel Ideas For Future Content Offerings

Experts added that webinar engagement can be a valuable resource for future content production, whether it be from curating the actual webinar or utilizing conversations with attendees to lay out a targeted, relevant content calendar.

“My favorite insights from webinars aren’t metrics — it’s the questions attendees ask during the Q&A session at the end,” said Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist at Marketing Interactions, during an interview with Demand Gen Report. “This gives me more knowledge about where they are in relation to the topic or buying journey and also fuels ideas for additional content or even follow-up sessions driven by what your audience wants to hear rather than what you want to talk about.”

Albee suggested writing answers to submitted questions during the webinar as post-show content and sharing that content with attendees. This shows that brands are listening to their audience’s questions and needs, leading to more meaningful conversations later down the sales funnel.

“Give them something more to keep the conversation going,” Albee said. “You could even develop a nurture program around the topic to extend engagement and provide even more ideas and insights to those interested.”

An area that experts noted marketers often overlook is engagement and attendee participation with on-demand recordings. ON24 research shows that 36% of webinars attendees only watch always-on — i.e. on-demand — webinars. Of these always-on attendees, the majority register a week after a live event. This engagement can also fuel future content efforts. TimeTrade’s Mead noted that, while they always promote their on-demand sessions, there are opportunities for curation into other content formats.

“Very often, we’ll also take that [webinar] and turn it into an additional format like an E-book, just because we tend to find different people like different formats of content and not everybody wants to listen to the recording,” Mead said. “Some people prefer to read it themselves and be able to highlight and take down comments pretty easily. We try to make it as easy to digest the content as we can.”

Woulfe added that PathFactory also ensures that its webinar content is repurposed extensively to continue engaging prospective customers.

“We use them in our nurture programs and for live event follow-ups, and produce round-up ‘highlights’ blog posts,” Woulfe said. “Regardless of where we use the webinar, we always package it into a PathFactory Content Track with more related content.”

Another place to repurpose webinars is in chopping up the video itself and creating shorter videos that might just be little snippets. This aligns positively with buyer expectations and needs in terms of content, as research shows that the majority (93%) of buyers prefer shorter content formats.

“The most watched videos on YouTube are under two minutes, so if you can ‘pull a commercial’ off of your webinar that is under two minutes and an introduction to the larger webinar, then you can use that short video in your social media,” Dietz said. “You can embed it on your website as a snippet or a preview to a larger webinar — that’s a really great way to repurpose, as well.”

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