Digital Events Are the New Black

Agile marketers are pivoting quickly to embrace digital events to stand in for physical events to help drive leads and build relationships with clients, prospects, vendors and peers. Done well, these digital experiences can do more than just replace those events — they actually offer opportunities that in-person events can’t match.

On Tuesday, we participated in #Repost: How to Make Events Evergreen Digital Experiences, a panel discussion in ON24’s Insight50 Series. The session was packed with smart tips, insights and strategies to consider when you’re planning, promoting and executing digital events designed to deliver lasting value long after the event itself. Here, I recap just some of the content we covered.

Set the Stage for Impactful Events

Whether physical or digital, events are frequently planned as “the climax of the story,” appearing at a culminating point in the buyer’s journey. That story doesn’t end with the event; it brings the story together and requires strategic follow-up to share the content and move prospects forward in closing a sale.

But it really depends on the type of event you’re hosting.

 “Sometimes the event is the kickoff,” said Eliot Freed, Digital Marketing Specialist at Ericsson. He described a landmark event that Ericsson uses to continue “harvesting” content for the rest of the year. Other smaller events have shorter lifespans and may be planned at different points in that buying cycle.

View your event in the context of user experience and buyer’s journey to make sure you’re telling the right stories at the right times. And then extend that storyline beyond the event itself with additional content as well as pieces that drive viewers back to the event for more.

The Insight50 series itself is a great model that transforms online events into the evergreen digital experiences we’re discussing. Following the live presentations, viewers can access the sessions on demand. ON24 and its partners isolate useful sections and modularize them into additional evergreen touchpoints to continue reaching new audiences in the form of blog posts, social media quotes and even derivative webinars.

David Fortino, SVP of Audience and Product for NetLine, likened these serialized events to road shows that feature different panelists and different attendees at each stop of the tour — a concept marketers can riff on further by creating sessions that appeal to different markets or industries or to audiences with varied interests or even in specific regions.

Plan & Measure Success

The discussion of metrics is one that can’t wait until launch day. It needs to be baked into the plan from the start. You can’t measure the success of an event without first defining the goals and laying out the tools to measure KPIs tied back to those goals. That’s true whether you’ll focus primarily on site traffic and social shares or specific engagement responses.

Define in advance what a viewer’s response means to you. What action on their part should earn a hand-off to sales? What actions should trigger you to follow up with other targeted content that’s relevant in that moment? Get your tech stack ready to handle the responses you’re hoping to elicit.

Show Your True Colors

Stay attuned to the value you bring to any given topic. Often, there are at least half a dozen competitors who could present the same topic you’re covering. What do you bring to the table that’s unique? Make it a point to deliver an exclusive take that’s tailored to your audience and that they can’t get from anyone else.

Efforts to broaden your appeal can backfire if you shave off all the rough edges until the content becomes generic. You’re much better off focusing on excellent content for a small group than trying to make everyone happy.

Keeping in mind that digital viewers can have notoriously limited attention spans, make your points quickly and concisely. Consider including bite-sized segments and quick tutorials, and make everything as easy as possible for viewers to access.

Be Present in Your Presentation

Planning is crucial, but overplanning can be the kiss of death.

“Relish in the spontaneity,” Fortino urged.

The best events typically work from a thoughtful outline but leave room to embrace surprises. Presenters who cling to a deck for dear life are tedious to watch, lack the authenticity viewers crave and miss out on exciting opportunities to listen to audience cues and explore new territory.

This is where digital events really have the advantage. Presenters in a large auditorium don’t have the same opportunities to pivot in the moment. And while filled seats may seem to provide a captive audience, there are fewer opportunities to really hold their attention while attendees zone out and start checking their phones.

In a digital environment, you can design an experience that offers alternatives for those whose attention is waning. Include links to click into demos; offer downloadable assets and resources. Include on-screen surveys and chats that encourage users to ask questions and engage with your topic in real time.

Users can take a variety of paths within a digital experience that allow them to engage the way they want to. Deliver the experience they really want.

Extend the Storyline

Respect the resources your team has poured into an event by extending its value as long as possible. Do everything you can to promote the event before, during and after the webcast. Invite sales to the party. Empower field marketing with everything they need to understand and amplify your event campaign from the outset.

Content4Demand mines the physical events we sponsor and attend for repurposing opportunities. We harvest the low-hanging fruit by identifying insights and moments that lend themselves to quick hits in the top of the funnel — “This would make a great checklist!” or “I can expand this into a valuable blog post!”

Digital events offer the same opportunities, but often with easier access to the content we need to write those follow-up assets. And with a little planning, we can also create content that draws attention to themes and trends that emerged before our eyes to develop content that’s useful deeper in the funnel.

B2BMX 2020 Takeaways: Creativity in the Digital World serves as a great example. In advance of the B2B Marketing Exchange in February, our strategy team planned to monitor the trends and take note of the most valuable insights as the event unfolded. Afterward, they shared notes and quickly compiled their top takeaways in an eye-catching asset that B2BMX attendees can continue to tap long after the actual event came to a close.


Repurpose with Purpose

The opportunities to repurpose event content are virtually endless. Did a speaker excel at putting large-scale trends into a useful context? That sounds like an excellent e-book. Did another do a really focused talk on a niche topic? Consider turning it into a checklist, a Q&A or a blog post — or all three.

Don’t neglect the audience insights as you scan for repurposing potential. Compile all the questions viewers asked into a Q&A or another asset that goes straight to the heart of what your buyers are interested in learning more about. Consider new assets that address topics your audience demonstrated interest in.

Your audience is an important factor in your content choices. Some like video when others prefer a short text-based asset. If you have the resources, consider producing the same great asset in a variety of formats. One great video session might become an e-book, a podcast, a blog post series and a webinar that you can then measure to learn your audience’s preferences. These kinds of experiments are the only way to get real answers about what your audience wants.

Of course, we don’t all have the resources to create an endless stream of content. But tools like NetLine’s Audience Explorer can help you make those careful content decisions. Audience Explorer is a real-time interactive tool for understanding content consumption patterns for specific B2B buyer groups, so you use it to determine which content formats are most likely to resonate with any particular audience.

Access the full session on demand here to get the whole story from the expert panel.

Is your organization ready with solid event strategies for the coming year? Check out Event Strategy & Content Support for Digital & In-Person Events.

Digital Event Experts

Holly Celeste Fisk is an accomplished marketing pro with 20+ years of experience in B2B and B2C. She’s responsible for Content4Demand’s internal marketing efforts, managing everything from content creation and email marketing to events and sponsorships, blog publishing, website management and social media presence. When she’s not working, you’ll find her sliding into third at softball, buried in a book or practicing her Italian. 

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