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Digital Events Failing? Add Content Marketing

September 27, 2020 - Content Marketing - ,
By: Chris Tozzi

Like most marketing teams these days, you’ve probably pivoted to a digital event strategy in response to the pandemic. Digital events fail though, if they don’t generate engagement. In this post we look at how content marketing can maximize the impact and extend the life of those events.

Chances are, your digital event costs less to run. It attracts higher registration rates and can be easily posted online. This enables continuous on-demand access to people who miss the live show.

That’s all good and well if the point is just to get people to sign up for your event. But don’t be lulled into complacency by the numbers that are visible on the surface. And don’t lose site of your business objectives: nurturing highly qualified leads or spreading brand messaging, for example.

Here’s why your digital event strategy probably isn’t doing what you think it is. Here’s how to use a content marketing strategy to make it better.

Digital Events: The theory

Since the pandemic took hold, about two-thirds of organizations have switched from live to digital events. What’s more, 93 percent of event professionals say they will invest in digital events in the future. This suggests that even after the pandemic ends, we will likely be seeing more digital events than we did in the past. We can’t allow our digital events to fail!

It’s easy to appreciate why there is so much interest in digital events right now. We’re in a time when travel and large gatherings are difficult to swing. So digital events have become a necessity. They also offer some real benefits:

  • Cost: Digital events cost much less to host. That saves organizers money. Many major events have proven that this year. Plus, they found it easier to lower or eliminate admissions costs for attendees.
  • Attendance and reach: Attending an online event costs little or nothing. It is as easy as turning on Zoom. Consequently, you tend to get much higher registration and attendance rates than you would in-person.
  • Persistence: With born-digital events, sessions are easy to record. You can then make them available online for as long as you desire. You can even gate them and get some email registrations out of it, if you want.
  • Metrics: Digital events make it easier to track attendees’ behavior. You can systematically measure which sessions generate the highest attendance. You can know how many hours users spend signed in. That’s a metric that is much trickier to capture with a live, in-person event.

In these respects, at least, digital events may seem like a marketer’s dream. Whether your company organizes an entire event, or participates in one organized by someone else, events in the era of COVID-19 may appear to be a relatively low-effort, low-cost way to reach a broader audience than ever.

Digital Events: The Reality

So yes, there are benefits, but only if you conveniently ignore a harsh reality, and some of the reasons digital events fail.

Just as it’s much easier for marketers or brand evangelists to run a digital event, it’s also much easier for attendees to sign up. The investment is dramatically smaller when they can attend AWS re:Invent, Google Cloud Next and Microsoft Ignite from the comfort of their kitchen – and totally for free! Not to mention they don’t have to get on a plane. Nor do they have to devote four or five days of their lives to each show.

Don’t forget, too, that your target audience is probably attending more digital events than ever. In the present age of COVID, everyone is stuck at home indefinitely. That’s another factor that makes it difficult for your event to make a lasting impression. You’re competing with similar messages from other online events.

Webinars vs. Digital Events

Webinars – which are also free and easily accessible – have attendance rates of around 44 percent. That statistic makes the record-breaking registration numbers that digital events have achieved in 2020 seem less impressive.

By extension, the actual level of engagement you can expect from people who sign up for your digital events is likely to be low. Although well-done webinars drive conversion rates of around 20 percent, digital events are different from webinars. Webinars are designed from the beginning to be presented online, at a specific time. Digital events, however, typically include a range of presentations spread over a long period.

And of the people who do manage to show up for your digital event, how many will actually digest your message? The chances that attendees will pay attention to and retain the specific messaging you are trying to convey are low. A digital event fails if it isn’t perceived as interesting and meaningful.

Live Presentations vs. Digital Presentations

Live-event presentations are designed to build brand awareness and educate leads already engaged with your company. Shoehorned into a digital event platform, those presentations will result in lower engagement and conversion rates. That is because the number of people who sign up for your digital event does not necessarily correlate with how many are actually engaged with your brand and message.

Digital Events Enhanced with Content Marketing

I’m not pointing out these shortcomings because I think you should cancel your digital events altogether – You can do things in online events that you can’t through other channels, such as make live announcements of new products.

Nor do I think you should switch back to in-person events before the market is ready for them; that would be a disaster. But, to prevent your digital event from failing, rethink the place of these events within the context of your broader marketing strategy.

An Additional Form of Content

Recognize that digital events are just another form of digital content. Structure them as such, within your content marketing campaigns.

For many organizations, this can be a hard pill to swallow. Although you may have loosely aligned content marketing operations with your events in the past, these two marketing arms were siloed at most organizations. Different people drove and designed them to serve different goals. As mentioned above, traditional events were good for building brand awareness and educating leads already engaged with your company. Online events skew more toward lead-gen and other top-of-funnel efforts.

It’s very hard to generate deep, sustained engagement with your audience through digital events. And, you can’t expect online events to serve the same role within your marketing strategy as in-person events.

Diversify and Coordinate Content

Instead, think of online events as a way to diversify and enhance your existing content strategy. Coordinate all of your content closely with your events – more than in the past. Blog posts, white papers, webinars, etc., should all carry consistent messaging across all of your content channels.

With this approach, you can increase the impact of events. Use other types of content to generate interest before the event takes place. Reinforce messaging and link back to recorded sessions after the event has ended. This strategy allows you to get much more play out of your online event that is a standalone marketing initiative. Rather, it is one piece of a broader content strategy.

Rethinking events in this vein will take some work. To do it most effectively, you need to step back and evaluate your overall content strategy. Then determine which types of other content can best complement your online events.

You may even want to restructure your online event entirely. That’s what Google did in turning Next 2020 into a months-long series of presentations instead of a single event. The move makes Next more akin to a series of blog posts. It increases the potential to reach a broader audience over a longer period than would a one-time event.

Conclusion

Whatever you do, continuing to use digital events in the same way you used in-person events won’t work. Your registration numbers and operating costs for online events may seem good. But your actual engagement will be less impressive unless you use other forms of content to reinforce and support your online events.

Still unsure where to start as you rethink your online event strategy? Still wondering how to integrate it more closely into your content strategy? Fixate would love to assist. We’ve helped companies large and small plan and execute their content strategies for years. We know what it takes to craft content that rises above the noise and makes a real impact. Even in today’s uncertain, fast-changing environment. Contact us to set up a chat.


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Chris Tozzi has worked as a journalist and Linux systems administrator. He has particular interests in open source, agile infrastructure and networking. He is Senior Editor of content and a DevOps Analyst at Fixate IO.

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