Just a few weeks ago, it looked like the country was going to reopen and our fall event calendar might go on. Since then, things have changed dramatically—again. No one can say when in-person meetings will revive. Any company that hasn’t accepted that reality is setting itself up for poor decisions, wasted work and lost revenue.
While some organizers are looking at converting physical events to virtual, others are still waiting to make the call. Exhibitors need to make their own decisions, sooner rather than later.
Accepting that your physical events won’t happen this year is difficult. Physical events are one of the best ways to engage prospects and drive pipeline. They are also a great opportunity to deepen relationships with customers and partners, deflect churn and grow loyalty. It seems foolish to drop them from your 2020 schedule completely. But given the unpredictability of the spread of COVID-19, it would be even more foolish to not have solid backup plans in place for your postponed events.
Don’t wait any longer to talk to your prospects; create awareness and relationships now.
Think about it: even if these events go on, will they drive the same results as they would in a “normal” year? (Not likely.) And if events that were normally spread out through the year are suddenly packed into a few months, will your event team be able to support them? (Definitely not.)
Here are five tips to ensure you don’t just recoup your losses, but rock the new normal.
1. Determine at least one alternative virtual engagement path.
If you were planning to conduct a session at the postponed event, converting it into a live or simulive webinar is an obvious choice. But anyone who was counting on acquiring leads through a booth should consider some kind of virtual engagement to fill that gap. If you have or can cultivate relationships with experts in your industry (see below), a virtual roundtable—or roundtable series—can be a good choice. Virtual office hours, on the other hand, provide a way for prospects or customers to engage with your organization without the formality of a planned meeting—similar to the ad-hoc conversations that can be so fruitful on the exhibit hall floor (or at the bar).
2. Put your content marketing on overdrive.
If you’ve been putting all your content eggs into your event basket, this is the time to expand into other formats. Any session presentation that is turned into a webinar can also be reconfigured as an ebook or report. The most compelling topics from your roundtable would make an excellent blog series as interviews or guest posts. The questions that come up most at your virtual office hours make great fodder for guides and tutorials. This is also an excellent time to review your SEO and marketing automation strategies to make sure you are driving traffic to your new content.
3. Develop relationships with speakers and influencers to define win-win situations.
As businesses scramble to figure out how to bring in leads, conference speakers—from professional keynotes to representatives of small companies hoping to get their ideas into the mix—have all had their calendars wiped. This is a great opportunity for you to offer unique insight to your prospects and customers. Go back to the conference websites to research speakers and topics. Look for sessions that best align with your brand and reach out to the speakers and invite them to be interviewed on your blog or participate in a virtual roundtable. It’s a great time to forge deeper connections and be a bigger part of the conversation in your industry’s community.
4. Divert a healthy portion of your budget to digital demand gen activities.
Event budgets are huge—typically 20-30% of the marketing budget. That’s a lot to reallocate in a hurry. Without careful planning, you risk driving less value per dollar than you’re accustomed to —or having your budget reduced or co-opted. It’s vital to not simply shift event marketing dollars (such as your now unneeded travel budget) elsewhere, but to rethink your digital ad plan with your new mix of assets, and the unique situation presented by COVID-19, in mind. For instance, this might be the right time to target an expanded audience. If you’ve created new, high-impact content, you’ll want to think about how to prioritize exposure to that as well.
5. Keep your demand gen goals high
Yes, you need to be realistic. Yes, that means resetting some of your expectations for demand gen this year. But don’t give in to the idea that 2020 is a wash. Whatever format you shift your physical event presence into, make sure to employ all the best practices of a solid integrated marketing campaign.
The Iron Horse insight.
With physical events on pause and buying decisions slowed until further notice, many marketing organizations have severely curtailed their demand generation and awareness activities. This is a mistake. While others wait and see, use this time to outmaneuver your competition by growing mindshare and building relationships.