With virtual and hybrid events changing the landscape of the industry, it’s time to look at lead generation through a new lens. Over the past year, the technology that makes these events possible has become more sophisticated. This presents new opportunities to access more detailed analytics than ever before in real time. And you can leverage these to drive leads and boost remote engagement.
Let’s face it- audiences are changing. Virtual and hybrid options open events to broader audiences than ever before. And we’re not just talking about geographically distant audiences, although this greater reach has been a game changer for many companies who weren’t sure how they were going to survive the pandemic. But virtual and hybrid participation also opens up events for locals who would have been too busy or otherwise unavailable to attend. People struggling to balance home and work responsibilities have been able to attend events remotely. That’s not just an entertainment perk; it’s a boon for those looking to further their professional development and stay competitive in a rapidly shifting economy.
It’s a Small Hybrid World
Actually, it’s an enormous hybrid world. But strengthening connections with remote audiences can make it feel smaller and easier to navigate. As the industry struggled to keep its head above water, investors forged ahead to integrate new technologies. The result is that the average person now has access to more conferences and events than they did before the pandemic. In fact, attending remotely is generally less expensive. (It’s not nearly as cheap for event creators, which is why we’ll continue to talk budgeting as the industry reboots itself. And we’ll always be proponents of industry hacks that help you get the most done on even the smallest budget).
All of this sounds positive so far, right? In many ways it is, but with change comes new responsibilities. Let’s take a moment to really think about remote audiences. As they tend to be partially engaged, broader audiences are not always an asset to brand building. Now event creators are tasked with the additional challenge of keeping remote audiences engaged. Some of this comes down to using technology and creativity to create immersive, interactive online experiences. That means being choosier than ever when it comes to hiring speakers. Your speakers’ energy and enthusiasm has to essentially reach out from behind a screen and grab the attention of online viewers. And your technology should facilitate true-to-life experiences, such as video chats or virtual product demos, that make participants feel like they are really there.
Collaboration is Key
It’s essential to connect speakers with your production crew. This way, they can work together to provide the best possible quality lighting, sound, and operations on whatever platform(s) you are using. Different platforms require different actions, so it’s best if everyone is on the same page prior to your event. If you leave it all to the tech team, the rest of your speakers and staff might not be able to work as a team if you encounter a glitch. And not to be the bearer of bad news, but you probably will at some point.
Another huge part of forging ahead in an increasingly hybrid world involves data-driven lead generation. This is about more than your methods of collecting information; it’s also about how you use it once it’s in your hands. Again, this brings us back to relationships. The only way to choose the best possible speakers and sponsors for your events is to know your audience inside out. In the recent past, we talked about building buyer personas. Essentially, a buyer persona (or attendee persona) is your target audience. You may be trying to reach more than one buyer persona or target audience. An ideal buyer persona does not just include demographic information like age, marital status, income and education levels, ect. It is also informed by psychographic information, which describes consumer behaviors, interests, attitudes, and personality traits.
This information allows you to engage with your target audience on a much more personal level, thereby strengthening relationships. And as we know, customer loyalty is cultivated by long-term, meaningful relationships. With virtual and hybrid as well as in person events, your goal should be to meet your audience’s needs in a unique way. You’ve got to give them something they can’t get somewhere else- only now you have to do this with remote audiences, too.
It can seem like a steep challenge to please both attendees and sponsors. But in today’s experiential market, it really comes down to personalization and forging strong relationships. It’s simple: What do you know about your target audience? What have you learned about their consumer behaviors through live polling, Q & A, and integration with social media apps? During registration, you can learn attendees’ primary reasons for attending your event. For example, if the majority of your target audience is attending for educational purposes, you can tailor future events to that need.
In addition, event tech software is more sophisticated- and affordable- than ever. Evolving event technology allows you to collect real time data about session selections, purchases, registrations, revenue, and more. Furthermore, mobile event apps yield more than the information gleaned from live polling and Q & A. They can also allow you to see who showed interest in specific speakers, sessions, and vendors. All of this information helps inform your choices of sponsors, speakers, and exhibitors to work with in the future. When your sponsors resonate with your audience, they achieve better ROI, and are more likely to collab with you again.
Keep in mind that your sponsors know their audience best. They know who they can engage and how. That said, most are looking to expand their own audiences by connecting with your attendees. One way to maximize lead generation for both of you is to promote each other before, during, and after the event.
Some great promotional tools: Hubspot, Google Analytics, and Canva, to name just a few. Chatboxes can be excellent promotional products, too. They allow attendees to communicate with you and sponsors in fun, interactive ways. Instead of waiting for assistance at events or email responses before and after, your attendees can get their questions answered in seconds.
Before and After
Before your event, there are several ways you can use your promotional strategy to drive leads. One-click actions make it easy for web page visitors to register for your event, try a product demo, communicate with you, or get a fast answer to a question. Although these interactions are quick, they allow potential customers to interact with your brand. Consider it a kind of introduction for new customers. To further engagement, give people the opportunity to schedule a one-on-one video or audio meeting with you. This way, when you capture interest, you won’t lose it just as quickly. Keep it simple by allowing potential customers to connect with you with just a click on a tab. Your sales representatives will need to have a solid understanding of how to use the platforms on which they are to connect with customers.
After your event, ask yourself: What sessions did your target audience seem to like best? What did those sessions have in common? As for the sessions that garnered the least engagement, what were they missing that the popular sessions had? This is probably the most important information you can gather because it tells you what your attendees want and need. As you well know, no two audiences are alike. There is much diversity among similar demographics and psychographics; that’s why personalized interactions and examining behaviors is so telling. When you’re looking at the bigger picture and neglecting the details, it’s easy to miss an important piece of information that could boost your brand. Remember, it’s not just what content your audience wants- it’s how they want to consume it. How do they learn best? What are their behaviors when making purchases? What sessions do they attend? All of these questions and more are key, but you also shouldn’t be afraid to get it “straight from the horse’s mouth”. Include open-ended questions in your surveys. For example, ask what attendees loved about your event as well as what could be improved.
Wondering whether your exclusive virtual content should be free? It depends on your goal. If it’s simply to expand your reach and gain new customers, it’s fine to make virtual events free. But if you’re targeting a specific audience or looking to generate leads, exclusive experiences are the way to go. Charge a fee for entry, and then another small feel for VIP or special experiences. Of course, you can also do this at free events- we’re just keeping revenue in mind. Never before has it been so vital to boost revenue, especially for small businesses that lost a lot during the lockdown.
We’ll talk more about the 365 engagement model in upcoming posts. But basically, this model provides a framework in which event creators can engage with customers beyond a single event. In virtual trade shows, 95 percent of lead generation happens in the days prior to the actual event. 365 engagement involves a variety of niche networking experiences that keep a community connected. This is important because it creates spaces to hold in-depth conversations about niche experiences. The goal is to boost engagement all around by curating personalized, event-based communities on social media and within other networks.
You may be thinking to yourself, “But I’m already connecting with my target audience on social media”. That’s true, but this model hopes to create smaller groups in which people can go to discuss specific topics related to events they’ve attended. How will this be facilitated? An in-depth answer to that remains to be revealed; the model is just now being introduced to the industry. Its exact parameters have not yet been defined, but what we know is this: Influencers are the real pros at creating niche-based spaces.
Many influencers have become multi-millionaires simply by sharing what they deem authentic, true-to-life content. It appears that the key is to be relatable, but not genetic and watered-down, which is a hard balance to strike. But you know what your audience cares about the most. You know what their passions and hobbies are, what their wants and needs are, and what they want to learn. Enter buyer personas again. Once you have a more in-depth understanding of who your customers are, you can create content that addresses their pain points. You can look for long-term solutions to community-wide problems. You can connect with niche audiences about things that actually matter to them.
As the market becomes ever more experiential, technology is adapting to create immersive virtual and hybrid experiences. The more sophisticated event tech becomes, the more personalization customers will demand- and it’s up to event creators to give it to them. Admittedly, it’s a lot of work. It involves putting real thought and effort into getting to know niche audiences. But more or less, all of these strategies are based on data analysis and personalization. Once you have those two skills down, the rest flows naturally: You’ve just got to engage your audience about things they care about. Yes, we know we’re oversimplifying it to make a point. So much hard work, strategizing, and organizing goes into event planning! But generally, you get what you give. These lead generation strategies are paving the way to bigger niche audiences, which grow your business- and your budget.