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Marketers Likely Return Users of Virtual Events

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 09:45
Virtual Events Marketers

Leads are the lifeblood of any company and the end goal of most marketing efforts. Marketers are constantly looking for new ways to drive the most leads within their budget. One traditional way to interact with potential clients is through event marketing. By either attending trade shows or hosting company-sponsored events, marketers have been able to raise brand awareness, network among peers and meet new lead contacts.

But we all know the pains of in-person events. Travel expenses add up, schedules are hard to coordinate and other work gets ignored. Because of this, more marketers are turning to virtual events.

By interacting with others through a virtual environment, marketing pros can track important metrics that physical events cannot while lowering costs and traveling less. The online environment can recognize attendee behavior and interaction, leading to a deeper understanding of the user and ultimately, a lower cost and higher quality lead.

But while virtual events certainly offer many advantages, they are still fairly new in the marketing world. So in order to learn more about this growing trend, we surveyed over 340 marketing professionals on their experiences, thoughts and perceptions of virtual events.

Virtual Events Haven’t Caught On Yet

What we found was that those who have tried virtual events are recognizing the benefits, but they are hardly mainstream…yet. Despite the majority of respondents working with tight annual marketing budgets, just 50 percent of marketers have attended a virtual or even hybrid (both virtual and in-person components) event.

In fact, 85 percent said they preferred in-person events and 92 percent believed they would receive more leads at a physical conference. The same lack of awareness trend occurred in terms of hosting virtual meetings rather than just attending. Only 33 percent of marketers surveyed say their company has hosted a virtual event.

Virtual Events Catching On

Marketers Who Have Tried a Virtual Event, Like Them

So what is keeping more marketers from using virtual events? The hesitation appears to occur simply because most marketers haven’t tried one yet. Among those who already had experience with virtual or online events, it was clear they realize the advantages. This suggests an opportunity to present something new that generates leads, instead of falling back on stale activities.

Virtual Events Marketers Trying

Marketers who attended a virtual event last year, for example, were 51 percent more likely to attend a greater number in 2015 as compared to those marketers who had not attended one.

Similarly, those who had previously experienced an online or virtual event were also 29 percent more likely to prefer them over in-person events. Finally, those who’ve attended a virtual event in the past were 39 percent more likely than non-attendees to believe virtual events led to more leads than in-person events.

Virtual Events vs. In-Person Events

So how can you let your company executives know its time to join the trend? There are certainly many reasons but here are just a few:

Benefits of Hosting a Virtual Event:

  • You want to lower your cost per lead
  • The sales team needs more and better qualified leads
  • Your in-person event budget was cut
  • You want to add more events without growing the budget
  • You need to branch out and attract a broader audience
  • You want to connect with a national or global audience, not just local
  • Your key marketers and salespeople can’t travel to all the necessary events

Just as many marketers have yet to attend virtual events, most companies have not hosted their own. Just 30 percent of these respondents said their company plans to host more virtual events than last year. Once again, however, companies with virtual event experience have a positive view. Seventy (70) percent of marketers who had already hosted virtual events said they plan to host more.

Virtual Events Host More

Perhaps the phrase “Try it! You’ll like it” is good advice for marketers who haven’t dipped their toe into the water yet. Not only did marketers who had hosted events plan to schedule more of them, they also were more likely to recognize the benefits. These marketers experienced increased lead generation and attendee engagement when they hosted virtual events.

Virtual Events Benefits

In fact, when asked whether virtual events or in-person events resulted in better-quality leads, those who had hosted online events were more than twice as likely to prefer the virtual option as compared to the marketers who had not tried an online event. Similarly, those marketers were more than twice as likely to report more engagement in a virtual setting than in person.

Virtual Events: Gather Better Data, Increase Leads, and Lower Costs

Saving time and money on travel is important, but the real advantage of virtual events for many companies is the ability to gather better leads at a lower cost per lead. The platform captures every aspect of the attendee’s visit: registration and contact information, what elements the attendee viewed and for how long, what materials they downloaded and any questions they asked.

Savvy marketers use the lead scoring mechanism to know when, and how, to most effectively follow up. Does the prospect go into a nurturing campaign? Are they ready for a phone call? Should they get a free trial?

According to the study, many marketers who use virtual events aren’t taking advantage of the ability to collect metrics; they treat virtual events as though they have the limitations of in-person events. Surprisingly, just 53 percent of respondents said they track only the number of attendees, the most basic metric.

Marketers Aren't Tracking These Metrics During Virtual Events

  • Number of leads (44 percent)
  • Attendee engagement (41 percent)
  • Number of registrants (32 percent)
  • Attendee satisfaction (27 percent)
  • Attendee behavior (20 percent)

Not Tracking Metrics Virtual Events

Another vexing problem for marketers—one that’s not limited to virtual events—is failure to follow up properly, thereby wasting valuable leads and destroying the program’s ROI. Even tracking the right metrics won’t be helpful if you don’t use them.

On a positive note, 73 percent of marketers who hosted virtual events say they follow up with attendees via email, 10 percent follow with a phone call and 6 percent via social media. Only 3 percent offered a question and answer session, missing the opportunity to interact one-on-one with potential buyers.

Virtual Events Follow Up

One of the main benefits of a virtual event is that it does not simply end on a certain day like a physical event. It can be recorded so users are able to continue to interact with it for many weeks or months on demand, providing an ongoing source of leads. This makes continuous follow-up essential.

Despite Benefits, Adoption of Virtual Events Still Slow

Overall it was surprising to see the low rate of virtual event adoption because the same marketing professionals who state they realize the benefits of a virtual event over an in-person one still are not integrating them as part of their marketing plans.

Respondents listed the ability to stay home and not travel as the most likely reason they would attend a virtual event. Another 17 percent cited their ability to multitask during a virtual event and 14 percent added that it would cost less than attending an in-person event.

Those who had already attended virtual events made note of the flexibility advantages. While 62 percent said they logged in from their office, another 14 percent said they attended from bed, 9 percent from their car and 5 percent from the beach or swimming pool.

Benefits of Attending Virtual Event

The same held true for those hosting virtual events as marketers acknowledged the benefits. Thirty two (32) percent cited the ability to reach a larger audience for less money as the top reason to host. Twenty three (23) percent believe they can get the same or better results as a physical event for less money, while another 7 percent noted the ability to receive the same results with less effort.

Benefits of Hosting Virtual Events

Overall, virtual events are growing as a marketing tool but as our respondents illustrated, they are still an untapped resource for many. And even those who are hosting online events may still be treating them as they would in-person events, failing to uncover the full tracking advantages and capabilities virtual environments provide. As more marketers give online and virtual events a try, it’s likely they will appreciate the benefits and incorporate them into plans for 2015 and beyond.

Learn More About Virtual Events from West Unified Communications

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Virtual Events: Try it You'll Like It

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