Marketing a virtual conference and getting it right

By Nicky Rudd
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Conferences have always been a part of the business landscape – an opportunity to showcase, chat to leaders in your field and network with new contacts.

It is not unusual for businesses to invest hundreds of thousands of pounds running conferences, sometimes even millions, all over the world – creating stands, experiences and marketing materials that provide a slick brand presence. But in 2020, the conference rule book went out of the window and left plenty of businesses with a hole to fill.

Virtual conferences quickly appeared on the scene – but how good are they? And if you’re running one, how can you make sure that you create the same impact as an in-person conference?

Face-to-face and online events are two different things,” says Jan Carlyle, Director of Autumn Live, an events management specialist. “People expect to simply pick up the physical event and carry that experience over into the online world. But we shouldn’t be trying to replicate physical events. We need to be treating online events as unique and adjusting how we approach them.”

So, if you can’t replicate the same experience how do you go about marketing for a virtual conference? A lot of preparation and a lot of new learning will go a long way to making your virtual conference a success.  

Perfecting your digital stand

If you are a sponsor of a conference, or you have signed up to a virtual expo, then you will still have a stand presence, albeit a digital one. In the past, your stand was your opportunity to create an eye-catching and impressive wow-factor. It is not quite so in the digital arena.

Stand space in the digital conference is a tight squeeze, with one-dimensional graphics, sometimes very small graphics that need to somehow say it all. It requires a re-think of how you would normally approach your stand.

Instead of focussing on the big brand detail, this is an opportunity to refine your messaging so that people are intrigued enough to visit your virtual stand. Think about your key value proposition for the people you are hoping to attract and keep it short and snappy. Sometimes, several elements of the stand can be clickable, so ensure you use these to either share more information or collect data.

You will need to invest in good design so that it is clear and visible to people – blurry, pixelated images won’t cut it, nor will badly cropped or squashed images.

Think about your key value proposition for the people you are hoping to attract and keep it short and snappy.

The good news is that there are still opportunities for you to connect one-to-one or in group scenarios when people are visiting your virtual stand. Make sure you have downloadable resources available for them when they visit and links to relevant content (videos, white papers, websites and so on) so that their experience is rich.

Finally, scheduling who is going to man your stand becomes a little easier once you get your head around how it works. Nobody needs to sign up for a whole day anymore, so your staff can be allocated time slots where they can log in and out and then hand over to other people with ease. This can be great for working around your staff’s needs and working patterns, meaning everyone gets included.

No more exhibition feet and you can forget the pedometer. Now, the health issue is ‘fingers on fire’ as your hands feel the burn! Although there are ways of doing calls and video throughout the event, a lot of people are happier typing conversations to really get to know what you have to offer. Doing prep work with links and ready-made answers to frequently asked questions that can be pasted in helps.

Re-think your goodie bags

The demise of in-person conferences doesn’t have to mean doing away with your goodie bags. It simply means having to plan things a little further in advance than you normally would and re-thinking your approach.

Unless you are the event organiser, you won’t have access to the entire delegate list, or even any of the delegate list if people have opted out of sharing their details.

This doesn’t mean that all is lost. On some virtual event platforms like hopin, delegates are also asked at the point of visiting your stand whether or not they want to share their details with you. This gives you a chance to connect with your visitors after they have visited.

Consider how you can give them something digital to show your appreciation for their visit. Meet Cambridge has some great ideas for alternatives to the traditional goodie bag that are sustainable and thoughtful.

Without the data you are used to, you have the opportunity to be much more targeted in your approach. Instead of giving anyone who walks past your stand a goodie bag, you will be gifting to people who showed a genuine interest in what you are offering, which will save you a lot of time and, potentially, money.

Digitise your programme and assets

Buzzabo found that 80% of event marketers said that they were able to reach a much wider audience with virtual events.

This is great news, but once people are in, how do you capitalise on that? The same survey also found that 67% of marketers said it was much harder to keep their attendees engaged at virtual events.

By putting time and effort into a virtual programme, you will generate more interest and engagement.

“Refine the purpose of your programme,” advises Jan. “Not only do you need to refine your own content but you need to understand the attention levels of your audience. People are probably attending the conference while also still at work. They will be checking emails and possibly tuning out for large periods of time. Consider all of this when you are creating your programme.”

Unlike an in-person conference, people won’t be taking whole days out to absorb your content or what you have to offer. Think about how you might create videos that people can access at any point during the day, or host short, frequent opportunities to have one-to-ones or product demos.

The wonderful thing about all of this hard work is that with a virtual conference you can collect more useful data. Data about how many downloads you had of documents, views of your videos, length of time people engaged and so much more. This gives you invaluable insight moving forward. Future conferences you attend or sponsor can be influenced by your most popular content. Not only that, but you are not limited by room size anymore. So if one part of your programme is more popular than others then no one’s disappointed.

The global virtual events market is set to grow almost ten times in the next decade from $78 billion to $774 billion. If you need help navigating this new world, we can help you with your next virtual conference project. Give Nicky a ring on 020 3282 7570 or email us at [email protected]

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