The Value of Online Events in Marketing Programs (part 2 of a two-part series)

Editor's note: Part 1 appears in Viewpoint in July. CLICK HERE to view part 1. Once upon a time the idea of holding events over the Internet would draw blank stares. Yet in the past several years, holding Web events has become quite commonplace and has taken a core place in the marketing mix. This has as much to do with the intrinsic benefits of the medium as it does the large-scale adoption of technology as a part of everyday life. Online events are increasingly becoming a vital part of how companies are taking advantage of technology to increase revenue growth and decrease cost of operations. A couple of the immediate advantages of hosting events online are cost and scalability. Whether you have 50 people or 500 people online--listening, chatting, and receiving information--the expense is about the same. For an in-person event, however, the difference of 450 people attending is staggering. The beauty of holding your events online is that you put in the effort once, and it scales to meet demand. Also, online events have a more extensive reach than traditional tradeshows and other marketing tools. By the virtue of being Web-based, online events can address many more participants from all over the world. Moreover, with Web events, businesses can use their internal resources more successfully in terms of presenters as well. As the speakers do not have to travel at all, industry thought leaders and other influencers are likely to present online, thus making the event more valuable to its participants. But what about the customer? Why would they prefer an online event to a more traditional in-person tradeshow? One of the biggest factors influencing customers is flexibility. Studies find that marketers that record their events and present them in an on-demand format--that is, offer recordings that capture all facets of the event, including audio, video, and slide show--see that around 30 percent of downloads occur after work hours during nights and weekends. Yet convenience is just one part of it. There is the larger psychological issue that online events alleviate. The low pressure environment of the online medium is much more pleasant for customers conducting their initial research. Attending an online event is a less intrusive way for customers to learn about a company's products, as it lessens the expectations of a face-to-face demo or product pitch. And for the company, these events provide an easy, less labor-intensive way to conduct initial lead qualification. Using registration for online events, marketers can capture each attendee's contact information, ask specific qualifying questions as part of the event registration, and download a complete report of those who viewed the event for timely follow-up on promising leads. This approach towards lead generation and initial qualification saves the time of subject matter experts and sales personnel who are no longer misdirected towards the wrong opportunities. So what are the drawbacks to online events? For one, the opportunity for personal interaction with presenters can be limited. To make this less of an issue, Web seminar presenters should reserve the past 15 to 20 minutes of their session for audience Q&A. For online events that are available only on-demand, including speaker contact information is recommended. Another challenge--immediate feedback from those in attendance--is more difficult to gauge when you're not able to see facial expressions and body language of your attendees. Marketers hosting online events should encourage audience feedback through the use of chat and polling tools, so that they can adjust their presentation accordingly. And lastly, industries that tend to be technology laggards are less inclined to prefer an online event over an in-person presentation or product demonstration. This will change over time as the adoption of Web seminars becomes more mainstream for all industries. Online events have improved the way in which sales and marketing professionals can reach their customers generate leads, while providing customers with a new, less-invasive way to learn about a company's products. Companies wanting to generate more leads, increase their lead-to-pipeline conversion, and more effectively allocate their personnel can leverage Web seminars to conduct highly scalable and cost-effective lead generation or customer education campaigns. For customers looking for a convenient and low-pressure means in which to conduct product research, online events provide that medium. We've just scratched the surface for tapping into how online events can be used, and there are undoubtedly more innovative uses just around the corner.
Felix Litman is senior director of product management and marketing at WebEx. He oversees WebEx Event Center and Sales Center products; he joined WebEx in the fall of 2004. Felix holds an MBA from the Wharton School, and a BS in engineering from Columbia University.
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