Audience Acquisition

Marketing a Virtual Event

by Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes

While there’s no replacing the face-to-face networking, spontaneous exchange of ideas, commerce potential and overall sensory experience associated with a live event, a virtual event can help corporations, associations, and other organizations achieve valuable business objectives. Virtual events can keep brands top of mind, audiences engaged and can help generate new leads. To create an audience for your next virtual event, consider these best practices.

Start with Your Virtual Event Strategy. 
Ensure your organization is aligned around the overall objectives of your virtual event. Write down, in priority order, everything you want to accomplish, e.g. audience engagement, revenue generation, lead generation, brand building, exposure for industry suppliers, establishment of thought-leadership, etc. Refer back to this list as you face decisions not just about marketing, but also about budget, content, delivery/technology, sponsorships, etc.

Define Your Audience.
Who will be the most likely to participate in a virtual event? Look within and outside of your database to identify engaged and/or intellectually curious segments of your prospective audience. If applicable, consider geographies or industry segments under travel restrictions, industries or professions that have seen the cancellation of live events that serve them, and any other audiences who may be hungry for advice in today’s new reality.

Create an Event Marketing Tool Kit.
There are 5 essential tools that should be used to build an integrated campaign for a virtual event – a strategic brief, creative concept, messaging platform, tactical plan, and a resource allocation plan. By aligning on the creative, messaging and tactical plan from the start, your team can more efficiently market your virtual event. When developing your tactical plan, keep the following considerations in mind. First, the customer journey timeline for a virtual event is greatly condensed compared to one for a live event. Second, because attrition rates of 50 percent (and higher) are common for virtual events, do not stop marketing to registrants. Ensure you funnel registrants into a separate campaign and convince them to show up.

Build a Killer Event Website/ Landing Page.
After you’ve identified your goals, defined your audience, and built your event marketing tool kit, now it’s time to work on the focal point of your campaign – your website. Because your site will serve each key segment within your audience, make it flexible and comprehensive, but don’t lose site of the fact that visitors want to get in and get out with minimal fuss. Consider using forms to provide a quick way for cold leads to stay informed, setting cookies to remember user choices on return visits, and personalizing content blocks based on acquisition source or, even better, past behavior data pulled from your automation platform or CRM.

Use a Performance Model to Guide Your Approach.
Start by estimating how many website visits it will take to generate the registration numbers you desire and then work backward from there to determine where the traffic will come from. By estimating how much traffic will be driven organically by email, digital ads, etc., you can set goals for impressions, engagement and click-throughs.

Leverage Your Partners in Promotion. 
If applicable, partner with your sponsors, speakers and other ambassadors to promote the event as a way of elevating their exposure (and helping you extend your reach!). Create a suite of easily customizable tools and messages they can use to invite their networks to participate.

Leverage Your Content.
Don’t wait until your event to share valuable information. Tease out compelling content through guest blogs, speaker videos and social media posts, to give your audiences a taste of what’s to come.

Know When to Ask for Help.
If you’re new to the virtual event space, don’t go it alone. Lean on your event technology partner, agency resources, and firms that specialize in event marketing to fill in the gaps.

*A version of this content is also appearing online for PCMA Convene and will appear in the May print edition.