Rethinking B2B marketing

This article is part of a series of articles from the WARC Guide to rethinking B2B marketing.

Like most of you, we can’t wait for the day – hopefully soon – when we can all gather together again. There’s nothing quite like the power of in-person collaboration, serendipitous meetings, or the ideas generated from attending a great conference or keynote. And yes, while Zoom has done its best to keep us connected, the fatigue is real. 

And yet, you might be surprised to hear that we’ve also never been more bullish on the future of virtual connectivity – even after the pandemic subsides.

Our excitement is really based on an accumulation of learnings over the past year, culminating in MediaLink’s “C Space” presence at the first-ever all-digital CES – Consumer Electronics Show.

For better or worse, we had a lot of practice over the past year working on a unique pandemic challenge: “how to put on a virtual event that doesn’t send people to the kitchen, or worse – their email inboxes.” The fact that we got over 300,000 viewers to our CES keynote bears that out.

Creating a virtual club

The creative bar was just a bit higher translating the feel of “at the show” when most of us would kill just to go to an indoor restaurant, let alone a few days in Vegas. Yet amazingly, thanks to our long-time partners, CTA and iHeartMedia, along with Beneville Studios and SpatialWeb, we also created a virtual club to stand in for our annual VIP networking event, which attracted 800 senior executives in the form of webcam-based avatars.

While CES proved to be a success, the expectations continue to rise. We learned so much that can be applied to future industry gatherings – virtual or – dare to dream – IRL.

Here are a few top tips we picked up along our journey that can help you up-level your content, engagement and networking at your future virtual gatherings.

1. Interactivity trumps perfection. And live sizzles.

It’s not enough to just show up with a webinar login anymore. If you are asking people to take time out of their professional lives – you need to show up as well. And while pre-recorded content makes life easier from a scheduling and production standpoint, there is nothing as compelling as a live session. The good news for all of us perfectionists out there is that virtual event attendees are willing to forgive a few tech glitches in favor of raw, real-life moments – warts and all.

Photo credit: Photo credit Rachel Kaplan for iHeartMedia

2. Prepare for the unexpected.

If we’ve learned anything about virtual events this year, it’s that things will change, come up at the last minute, or go in unplanned directions. This era of event programming and production may require a very specific set of plan B’s and C’s. What do you do if the streaming tech fails you? What’s your backup topic of discussion if a tech demo goes south? How will you cater to speakers with ever-shifting life circumstances? This is a time to be flexible, accommodating and uber-prepared.

3. It comes down to the conversations.

Nothing happens naturally at a virtual event but that doesn't mean networking can't be natural. Yes, we all want to hear amazing speeches and hear from smart engaging panelists. But, the best parts of industry gatherings are still the new connections you make and networking conversations they spark. In fact, there has been a flood of investment in startups building tools designed specifically to facilitate these types of “virtual networking” engagements. A virtual event without a networking element is a party fail. So choose wisely, my friend, this element can make or break your gathering.

4. Build in positive distractions to keep engagement levels high.

Every virtual event faces the reality that people are one click away from a distraction. That means you need to program with distractions in mind, or as we like to say, program with your distractions built in.

Instead of four panels in a row, you might try starting with a keynote, then cutting to a live news desk or workshop. Keep them guessing. Create small, intimate virtual breakout rooms. Make sure you open things up to moderated live Q&A frequently – not just the last five minutes. It might get awkward – that’s ok! Embrace the awkward and jump in anyway.

And overall, resist going too long. The average attention span has shortened in the virtual world.

5. Lean in to surprise and delight – and experiment, experiment and experiment some more

Your audience has never been more forgiving of mistakes, but what they will not tolerate is boring. Of course, big names still drive attendance, but given that we’re all remote, there’s an opportunity to find an awesome speaker from our industry who hasn’t had a chance to shine.

Beyond the “on stage” talent, we need to wow people, and wow them again – whether through visuals, unexpected formats, humor, gamification, audience participation, provocative subjects, etc. Tweak your content so it tugs at people’s emotions more deeply and provokes more unusual thinking. Test out when to reach people, and don’t fear unconventional timing when schedules are about as irregular as ever.

Given these lessons, and the expanding realm of formats, partners and possibilities, we couldn’t be more excited about what happens next.

Not that we wouldn’t take an invite to a real cocktail party right about now.