2020 made webinars and virtual events a key tool in the marketers toolbox – but which is better?

Personally, I used to consider webinars and virtual events to be an inferior substitute to the ‘real’ thing of conferences and events. After all, the pay off for attending an event in real life is the ability to networks and create a potential relationship with customers ‘face-to-face’. It took 2020 and a global pandemic to make me see them for what they have become and how they are being embraced more than ever. The reason: the move of industry events from physical presences to online presence that include not only trade show booths and chat rooms, but fully fledged conferences featuring individual keynotes and multi-person panels.

However, if webinar and online virtual events are to become a normal feature within the marketing toolbox, a specific question needs to asked: Should your marketing budget be allocated on your company’s own webinar series to a targeted audience of prospects or should you invest in the virtual offerings of physical events? The answer, of course, is probably both, but you budget ratio should be based on how you plan to meet both your marketing and business goals.

Webinars and Virtual Events are kind of the same but different

A webinar is a smaller event, generally involving one of your subject-matter experts and possibly one or more outside experts. It is promoted to your own audience, including your list of potential and current customers. Any additional speakers may also promote to their audiences. Webinars are generally an hour or so in length, which can limit their scope and your ability to provide a complete message to your audience beyond the one focused topic of the webinar.

Webinars are more intimate settings and generally have one-click access. Today’s webinars are different from those of early days – many have chat rooms and other ways for speakers and attendees to connect, and most have the ability to show more than just scrolling slides. They can include streaming video of speakers and white boarding, among other features.

Benefits of webinars:

  • The message is controlled by you, beginning to end
  • They are highly focused, allowing you to put the best content on the topic together with your own chosen speakers
  • There is typically higher engagement amongst your attendees given the focus of the topic —attendees are there for the right reasons, not for the tchotchkes!

A virtual event is more all-encompassing and much less personal. They now include complete conferences, networking events, tutorials, and other types of interactive activities. Virtual events can also take place over multiple days.

With virtual events you have less control of the overall event. Your booth design and content are all yours, but any speaking slots you gain – unless it is a keynote – may not let your full message come across. Depending on how the virtual trade show is set up, it might be harder to find your complete “presence” at the show amongst the hundreds of exhibitors and speakers.

Benefits of virtual events:

  • There is more access to a new audience, and this allows further reach of your messages
  • Like with physical events, virtual events are all about presenting “experiences” – there are lots of options for sharing your message, including networking events, conference programs, chat rooms and others. Attendees are free to roam as they like depending on their objectives
  • Exhibitor booths have come a long way, and it’s easier than ever to create a complete presence of your trade show booth that mimics what you might do in a live event, but at a much cheaper cost

Anyone looking to allocate any marketing budget in this area should first ask themselves the following questions:

  • What am I trying to accomplish with my webinar and events program? How does each help my company reach its goals?
  • What does my budget support? How many of each can I be doing (vs. do I want to be doing)?
  • If I choose to do events, will my budget better be spent on larger industry shows or vertical events, or smaller, more intimate settings?
  • With webinars, should I focus my efforts on internal ones, or participate with a third party, such as an analyst firm?
  • What announcements do I have, and have they been well-received by in-person events (i.e., was my internal PR or agency team able to book appointments with media and analysts?) Will I likely see the same results from virtual events? Would a webinar work better to reach my audience directly?

There are more factors that can help you decide where your focus in 2021 will be, but the questions above should give you a good start. Just a reminder: Keeping a firm focus on your marketing and business goals is key to achieving concrete results. Whatever happens in the future for virtual events and webinars, one thing is for sure; they are going to thrive once more in 2021!

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