Coming To A Physical Event Web Site Near You: Video, Blogs, Social Networks

July 23, 2009

Source: BtoB Media Business

Source: BtoB Media Business

In the current issue of BtoB Media Business, Charlotte Woodward published a cleverly named article, “Face to Facebook“, that highlights the incorporation (by physical event organizers) of digital technologies into the once-static event web site.  The inclusion of these technologies is helping show hosts extend the life of their events and support a 365 day/year experience – with a (hopefully) engaged online community to go along with it.

The article references the latest CEIR / GPJ research report:

Digital sponsorships contribute only about 7% of an event’s marketing budget, according to a recent report from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research and George P. Johnson. The study, “Digital+Exhibiting Marketing Insights 2009,” conducted online in April and May, surveyed 287 event managers and corporate brand exhibitors about the use of digital media.

As a result of the trends noted in the article, my belief is that in next year’s report, the percent of event marketing budget allocated  to digital will climb to 15-20%.  Why?  Because online/virtual will become a standard component of physical events.  The “new” event web sites of today – that include video, blogs, social networking, trackability, additional “impressions” for exhibitors, additional revenue for event organizers, etc. – could stand to benefit by leveraging a virtual event platform.  So rather than building your own event web site from scratch, you leverage virtual event/tradeshow technology to power the next generation “site”.

For the event organizer, the business model seems rather straightforward:

  1. Bundle sponsorship of the online community with the physical event sponsorship – upsell those low/mid-level sponsorship packages into a premium package, which includes a presence in the virtual component (e.g. full-blown virtual booth, signage within the environment, etc.).  You can create a “presence” for all of your physical event sponsors, but only those who have signed on for the full bundle will have real content behind the virtual booth storefront.  Those who opt not to purchase the bundle will have only their logo in the environment – a great way to incent the non-believers to enter the fray.
  2. Create value to attract online attendees – the online venue cannot solely be an area to appease exhibitors/sponsors.  In the same way you attract attendees to your physical event, you need to make it valuable for online attendees to visit your virtual community.  For me, this means a combination of compelling content (e.g. videos, articles, external links, etc.) and effective social/sharing tools (e.g. blogs, message boards, chat, etc.).

The incorporation (blending) of physical and virtual events creates very exciting possibilities.  Let’s consider what b-to-b publisher Hanley Wood is doing:

Additional improvements also integrate all the customer data Hanley Wood has collected, demonstrating to exhibitors and attendees who register that Hanley Wood remembers them and allowing the company to make recommendations based on a customer’s profile and history of participation at its events.

“We can put together some cross-show marketing, as well as up-sell the events that these people participate in,” Buraglio said.

The aggregation of attendee data from physical + virtual creates value:

  1. Attendees – by better understanding all of the touch points by an attendee (across physical + virtual), event organizers can more effectively package and target content that’s uniquely tailored to that attendee.  Give attendees precisely what they want (or need) and you create a more satisfied user, who will be more likely to stay engaged and return to the site frequently.
  2. Exhibitors/Advertisers – by building a complete picture of physical + virtual engagement from attendees, you can more intelligently plan and execute your lead follow-up paths.  If a user had her badge scanned at your physical booth, then entered your virtual booth to download 3 separate documents, she’s probably an advanced lead / “A” lead.

Related links

  1. Blog posting: The ABC’s Of Lead Follow-Up For Virtual Events
  2. Blog posting: The Convergence Of Physical Events And Virtual Events

Virtual Event Adoption By The C-Suite (CIO, CMO, etc.)

May 8, 2009

In my former role as a b-to-b media industry product manager, I developed product packages that utilized audio podcasts for delivering IT-specific content to IT practitioners and IT managers.  The conventional wisdom at the time  (early on, at least) was, “CIO’s will not download and listen to podcasts”.  I wasn’t so sure about that – after all, podcasts made it easier for busy executives to consume content they wanted – when and where they wanted to consume it.  So why wouldn’t a busy executive leverage technology to make her day more efficient?

Lo and behold, a CIO speaker at an event I attended was asked about the different content types he leveraged to get his job done.  He mentioned that he takes a 30 minute ferry boat ride to and from work each day.  While most boat passengers are reading the daily newspaper, this CIO would listen to IT-specific podcasts on each ride – and, he insisted that each downloaded podcast be 30 minutes long (or less), so that he could listen its entirety on the ride.

With virtul events, I’ve heard from event organizers and event sponsors who wonder whether the CIO (and her companions in the C-Suite) will adopt virtual events and virtual tradeshows.  I think the answer is “yes”.  First, let’s characterize some of the C-Suite occupants:

  1. CEO – may be too busy to attend virtual events – but, will occasionally make the keynote appearance to kick off a virtual event.  Many CEO’s do not use a computer, but most carry PDAs.  This means that the path to CEO participation in virtual events may be via the PDA.
  2. CMO – they see the value of virtual events as a marketing and lead generation vehicle, so one of their key roles today is in funding and approving budget.  As for attendance, my feeling is that they’re interested in doing so.
  3. CIO – like with podcasts, virtual events enable and empower an executive.  The CIO can attend a virtual event to peer network with like-minded CIO’s and not miss a day in the office to do so.
  4. CTO – intimate with technology, the CTO is virtually a slam dunk to participate (pun intended).
  5. CFO – not so sure about CFO’s, but I will note that IBM Cognos produced a virtual event called Virtual Finance Forum 2009 that targeted finance executives.  Cognos produced the same event in 2008 as well.

B-to-B publishers have caught on to the notion that CIO’s will attend virtual events, as past virtual events have specifically targeted the CIO.  Two upcoming events are taking a similar approach:

  1. CIO Virtual Forum: Navigating Through Dynamic Times (May 19, 2009 – and Cisco)
  2. CIO Summit:  Driving Business Value and Customer Value in the Global Economy (June 10, 2009 – InformationWeek)

In my experience with technology focused virtual events, I found that of all registrants, 7-9% had senior IT titles (CIO, CTO, VP of Technology, etc.).  So an event with 1,000 registrants would have 70-90 of them be CIO’s or CTO’s.  Why would the C-Suite attend a virtual event?  I think there are a few primary benefits:

  1. Conveniently network with like-minded peers – one of the draws of attending an event is the ability to network with other attendees.  With a virtual event, a busy executive can do so without losing a day outside the office.
  2. Efficiently connect with partners and customers – an online experience can’t re-create the dyamics of an in-person interaction, but it does allow a busy executive to connect with many more partners and customers than could have occurred in-person.
  3. Extend your social graph and social presence – some C-Suite execs have enthusiastically adopted Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.  Industry-specific virtual events allow the executive to further expand the social graph.  And of course, they’ll be tweeting about the event as soon as they login.

What has your experience been – has the C-Suite at your own company attended a virtual event?

Product Comparison Guides 2.0

February 20, 2009

In the world of Enterprise IT, sales cycles for IT products and services tend to be long and complex.  Decisions are made by committee (vs. by an individual) and the process follows an extended cycle that begins with problem definition, progresses to vendor selection and arrives at a final destination of price negotiation and purchase.  Once the problem has been defined, the committee identifies the set of vendors who provide applicable solutions.

It’s at this stage where technology publishers can often help, with the publication of product reviews and comparison guides.  Here’s an example of a product comparison guide for Hosted CRM, published by

Source: (partial view of comparison guide)

Source: (partial view of comparison guide)

So this is Product Comparison Guide 1.0.  For version 1.5, you might host this guide on a web site (rather than a PDF) and allow readers to click over to the vendor’s web site — perhaps the vendor’s product page for their Hosted CRM offering.  Maybe you host a registration page and drive sales leads to the Hosted CRM providers.

Now, let’s take it to the next step.  Product Comparison Guide 2.0 is an interactive community site that’s powered by a virtual event platform.  Let’s imagine the same Hosted CRM guide – published as an SEO-friendly HTML page.  Perhaps you leave the high level product information on this page – just enough to entice the reader to continue.  The purpose of this page, then, is to drive traffic into your interactive comparison guide.

Once a user enters the interactive site, you collect some basic demographic information – enough to uniquely identify the user (and contact her), but not too much that the user abandons and leaves your site (e.g. first name, last name, title, email address).  And now, the full product details behind each solution is provided not by you – but, by the vendors themselves – in their product showcase virtual booth!

Within the booth, a vendor might provide:

  1. Detailed specifications about the product
  2. White Papers that describe how the product solves a given technology challenge
  3. Case Studies that describe how customers have used the product
  4. On-Demand Video and Webinars related to the product
  5. Sales and Marketing staff who staff the booth during business hours
  6. Group chat to allow visitors to interact with the vendor – and with each other

Especially in this economic environment, decisions on IT purchases are not taken lightly, even if the offering is a SaaS solution like Hosted CRM.  And what better way to connect with qualified sales prospects than engaging with them while they’re reviewing the solution space?  Having a user enter your staffed booth (to engage with you)  is a much stronger proposition than sending them to your corporate web site to peruse your content.

So vendors “win” in this scenario.  The publisher also wins!  The publisher can sell sponsorships of Product Comparison Guide 2.0, allowing vendors an assortment of features in the environment (e.g. vendor booth, advertising placements, speaking opportunities, etc.).  I’m sure that most vendors listed in your Product Comparison Guide 1.0 (that SEO-friendly web page) will feel pressured to have a virtual booth in the interactive environment – after all, what happens when users click into the environment and interact with your competitors?  Your absence results in a lost opportunity.

With Product Comparison Guide 2.0, the jobs of buyers and sellers now become much easier.

Marketers as Event Organizers

January 2, 2009

Rebecca Lieb of ClickZ penned an interesting article titled “Marketers as Publishers”. Rebecca discusses the trend of marketers as full-blown content creators, especially in this age of digital media.  Examples cited by Rebecca include:

  1. Low cost video content creation and distribution (e.g. with a digital video camera to record and YouTube for distribution)
  2. Big brands creating original content (e.g., along with Johnson and Johnson’s
  3. Creation and propagation of consumer generated media

I agree with Rebecca – spending the past few years in tech media, I’ve watched the transition of technology vendors into prodigious publishers, with their mix of White Papers, Webinars, Podcasts, Case Studies, Videocasts and Product Collateral.  Some technology vendors are producing hundreds or thousands of pieces of content a year, giving their technology media partners a run for their money (on volume).

Adding to Rebecca’s list, I think we’ll see an increasing number of marketers turn to virtual events – whereby marketers can easily morph into event organizers (in addition to publishers).  Perhaps you’re an up and coming vendor in an IT market – you see the benefits of doing a customer conference, but the business case isn’t quite there yet.

With costs for virtual events coming down, you now have the opportunity to launch that customer event in 2009.  You do it online, making it efficient and convenient – and bringing its availability to a global audience of customers and prospects.  Take Quest Software as an example.   This maker of products and services for Enterprise IT has run virtual conferences the past two years.  Last year’s event was titled Quest Connect 2008 and included presentations (webcasts) on just about every technology produced by Quest.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Quest produce the same event (or events) in 2009 – so as you can see, they’re morphing into an event producer and event organizer (where the ongoing events occur online).

With regard to consumer generated media (CGM), I’ve found that virtual events are a natural venue for fostering CGM.  Engaged attendees who participate in your event are not shy about expressing their thoughts and opinions.  You’re bound to see a lot of CGM around your products and services – and I’d argue that good or bad, the discussion and interaction  is valuable to your company.  In some cases, I’ve seen questions posed by attendees that are directly answered by other attendees.  How efficient!  Customer support (and prospect management) via CGM.

So publishers (I mean, marketers), as you plan your activities for 2009, consider the virtual customer conference.  And, consider extending your (physical) customer conference into the virtual world.

The Effect of “Online” on the Event Industry

December 18, 2008

Newspapers and other print-focused publications have been hit hard by the migration of readers to the Internet.  Is the event industry facing a similar challenge?  It seems so, especially in today’s economic climate, when travel costs are receiving heightened scrutiny from the CFO.  In a previous blog post, I predicted that 2009 would be the Year We Go Virtual, as we witness a very sharp decline in the number of face-to-face events.

In a blog post titled “Are bloggers & social networks killing the big shows?“, Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) presents a similar view.  To quote Robert:

My sponsor, Seagate, told me they are reducing their spend this year at CES. AMD and Delphi are doing the same thing and I’m hearing about many other companies who will either stop going, or reduce the size of their booths, either this year, if they could, or in 2010 (contracts make it tough to shrink booths as fast as companies might want).

And here’s one reason why:

What’s killing them? The Internet. You can launch a product live now from a living room. Thanks to Stickam, Ustream, Qik, Kyte, YouTube, Flixwagon, Viddler, Vimeo, SmugMug, etc and blogs.

I agree with Robert, though I’d add that in the B-to-B space, you might want to launch a product from a studio (vs. your living room) and extend the reach of social networks by partnering with B-to-B publishers in your space.  The fact remains, though, that there are low-cost means for capturing, publishing and distributing video and related multimedia for launching and evagenlizing your products and services.

And, with active social nets like Facebook and Twitter, you have a cost effective publishing system for quickly spreading the word, assuming you’re spreading the right message to the right people and not spamming the universe.  I’ve seen Virtual Tradeshows as a great vehicle for handling product launches – they include the live keynote video from an executive, the follow-on presentations (Webcasts/Videocasts) and the discussions/networking (online) that you’d typically see at a physical launch event.

Of course, when you’re online, everything can be tracked and reported on.  And, you extend the reach of the content/event beyond geographical boundaries.  As Robert said, I can pitch my product from my living room.  And an IT Pro in Hong Kong can be on the receiving end of my pitch!  Another benefit of online is passalong, which can make a video, podcast or virtual event go viral.  With physical events, that’s just not possible.

While the newspaper industry is still seeking a magic potion to shift their revenues from print to online, I think the event industry should consider 2009 as the year where complementary versions of their events get launched online.  After all, that’s where we all are.

Online Marketers: How to Sell Virtual Tradeshows to the Boss

December 15, 2008

Has Bruce Springsteen (The Boss) ever participated in a Virtual Tradeshow (VTS)?  I’m not sure, but if I were an online marketer, here’s how I’d convince my Boss on them.  The first thing I’d do is look for B-to-B publishers who are “flooring” industry virtual events that align with my product marketing initiatives.  Go find out (from the publishers) who’s already committed to sponsor the VTS.  If you’re picking the right events, you’ll notice that your competitors are already on the list.  If they’re not there, then perhaps you need to seek out alternative events.  But wait – you could also be “first in” with the right event – so just be sure the event’s theme aligns with your marketing plans.

So the first point to make to your boss is that your competitors are already on board.  So, NOT participating in the same event is a lost opportunity to have a place at the table alongside your competitors.  I do see attendees at virtual events ask, “Why isn’t <COMPANY> here?”.  If it’s a prominent industry VTS, your absence can speak volumes.  Next, develop an explicit goal for your boss  that clearly demonstrates the ROI.  For instance, how about a goal of 5 late-stage sales engagements – where you’d have to come up with a clear definition (for your boss) of “late-stage”.

Now that you have your boss’ ear, go with the lower tier sponsorship available.  These sponsorships are priced less because rather than receiving all leads (including no-shows), you only generate leads from attendees who directly interact with you (e.g. visit your sponsor booth or download your content).

This puts the onus on you, because you become directly responsible for the success of the campaign – the more visitors you can drive to your booth, the more leads you generate.  The upside, though, is that you can influence the cost per lead (CPL) that you achieve.  And there’s a possible win-win scenario: low CPL’s and a better qualified lead.  Your boss might like to hear about the low CPL, but make sure to emphasize the qualified leads – they’ve had direct interaction with you and their actions with your people or your content tells a lot about them.

Now, to get you to those 5 late-stage sales engagements, you have more work to do.  Remember that these are shared leads, not exclusive leads.  If a VTS had 10 exhibitors, a given attendee might have visited 7 of the 10 booths.  This means that they become leads for 6 other companies, some of whom are your direct competitors.  You’ll need to convert these leads more effectively than your competition.  And often times, this comes down to the simple determinant of, “who acts first”.  Don’t let those hot VTS leads sit in limbo in a spreadsheet or CRM system queue.  Get those leads over to telesales (or direct sales) and call them tomorrow.  If you don’t, you can be sure that your competition is.  And that hot lead suddenly becomes your competitor’s customer.  A shame!

So in summary, here’s an approach that leverages VTS to fuel the sales pipeline at a reasonable cost (making you and The Boss look good):

  1. Convince the boss
  2. Go with the lower tier VTS sponsorship (costs less – but places onus on you)
  3. Be an All-Star performer at the VTS (see related article)
  4. Close the loop by having Sales follow up with the hottest leads
  5. Reap the benefits
  6. Lather, rinse and repeat!

If you’ve never exhibited at a VTS before, enjoy the ride.  I think you’ll find it to be fun.

Leverage Twitter for Virtual Tradeshow Outreach

December 15, 2008

When Sarah Lacy interviewed Mark Zuckerberg on-stage at South by Southwest Interactive this past March, rumblings spread throughout the audience regarding Lacy’s interview style.  A few in the audience extended the rumblings online via Twitter – and from there, Twitter’s network effect quickly spread the commentary across the globe.  The power of Twitter (and related social networks) can be a real boon to B-to-B events, precisely because of the network effect:

So let’s imagine I’m logged in to a Live Virtual Tradeshow (VTS).  I’m visiting exhibitor booths, viewing Live Webcasts and interacting with peers.  All in all, I’m enjoying myself.  I want to spread the word to friends and colleagues.  One quick (and efficient) way to do that is to post a message to Twitter.

Twitter home page

Twitter home page

I can “tweet” about the Virtual Tradeshow and pass along a URL to my 141 followers.  If any of those followers likes the recommendation, they can “retweet” my message to their followers.  If 5 of my followers spread the word and they each have an average of 100 followers, then my message had a potential audience of 141 + (5 * 100) = 641.  And that doesn’t even count any downstream distribution via my followers’ followers.  If my tweet happens to be picked up by a Twitter power user, my message could be seen by her 10,000 followers!

You can see how quickly and efficiently information is published.  And that’s the beauty of the network effect.  As I amass more followers – and, as more users sign up with Twitter – the potential audience of my “tweets” grows exponentially.  The result is a powerful tool for B-to-B marketers and publishers, if used right.  Publishers need to grow their audience in order to grow their revenue – new audience results in more page views, more ad impressions delivered, more online sales leads.  Where can you find that audience?  On social networks like Twitter.

VTS platform providers may want to consider:

  1. A “post to Twitter” utility within the VTS – make it convenient for VTS attendees to post a message to Twitter, including an auto-shortened URL (so their followers can access the event)
  2. A “Twitter reflector” that takes selected chat messages from the VTS and posts them to Twitter.  Imagine a user engaged in a “group chat” area who wants to share her insight simultaneously to the VTS attendees and her Twitter followers.  Allow her an easy way to do that.  Again, include a shortened URL that points back to the event

Of course, Twitter is not the only social network out there (I haven’t even mentioned Facebook and its 130MM users).  So while I’ve outlined a few ideas that are specific to Twitter, the bigger picture concept is about integrating the VTS platform with an assortment of networks.  The trick will be to pick the right ones.

You can follow me on Twitter here:

Breakdown: Exhibitors of Virtual Tradeshows

December 13, 2008

I’ve had the privilege of working with dozens of Virtual Tradeshow (VTS) exhibitors, ranging from scrappy start-up technology vendors to Fortune 100 giants.  I’ve found that each exhibitor, independent of the type of company represented, approaches VTS differently, with a wide range of knowledge, experience and plain old know-how.  Here is my breakdown of VTS exhibitors:

  1. The savvy elite (1%) – they know how to best leverage the VTS experience – they understand that a Live VTS embodies characteristics of social media, conventional online lead generation and face-to-face events.  They’re active and proactive.  They utilize tactics to drive interest to their brand and traffic to their booth.  They leverage tricks of the trade from physical events and translate them well to the online world.  Some gain this status from experience at past virtual events – others “get it” during their very first VTS.  The savvy elite excel not only on the front end, but also on the back end – in their ability to extract the valuable engagements they’ve generated and place that data in their CRM system.  By perfecting the back-end, the savvy elite hand their salesforce focused and prequalified leads.  Here, the VTS accomplishes the two-step process of lead generation and lead qualification.  The savvy elite can re-use their telesales staff on other programs, where more rigorous qualification is necessary.
  2. The group with good intentions (15%).  This group understands the potential of a virtual event.  For the most part, they do an effective job at interacting with attendees/prospects.  Some could use a little fine-tuning in their approach.  Where this group ultimately falls short is on the back-end.   They are sending Sales a mix of hot and cold leads, leaving Sales to pursue nine or ten  (or more) leads before they find one that’s worthy.
  3. Needs significant assistance (79%).  Here’s your bulk of VTS exhibitors today.  They need help on the front end and the back end.  On the front end, they tend to sit back and wait for attendees to contact them.  Imagine doing that at a physical tradeshow – you’d end up speaking to very few people.  This group requires a little more handholding on what works and what doesn’t – things that the savvy elite know instinctually.  On the back end, this group tends to throw all generated leads “over the wall” to telesales.  And the result is phone calls or emails to leads with no explicit association with the virtual event (quite a shame).  So here’s the opportunity to B-toB publishers and VTS platform providers: provide the necessary tools, utilities and reports (to this oversized constituency) to highlight the “best” leads to the exhibitors, based on automated analysis of the attendee engagement data.  If I had 57 private chat sessions with prospects, tell me which ones I should care about.  By doing this, all parties will derive more ROI from these events – you take a pre-existing set of leads – and instantly make them better.
  4. List buyers (5%).  They sponsor VTS’s in order to buy themselves a list of sales prospects.  They tend not to staff their booth.  They place little to no content in their booth.  They send the entire list of leads over to telesales and hope for the best.  On the back-end, this group sees significantly lower sales conversions compared to the savvy elite.

With 2009 being the year of virtual events, I’m hoping that the savvy elite grow from 1% to 10% share.  That growth won’t happen magically – the publishers and the platform providers will need to do their part.  If they do, it only serves to make virtual event marketing all the more compelling.

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