The show must go on!… or must it? What B2B marketing leaders think about the future of face-to-face events
Before coronavirus, physical events were a critical part of B2B marketing, but the current crisis has potentially caused a profound shift
You don’t have to be a B2B marketing industry genius to know which aspect of the industry is being impacted most by coronavirus – quite obviously, it’s events. In this supposedly digital era, the extent to which we continued to rely (or increasingly relied) on face-to-face activities prior to this crisis was extraordinary, but coronavirus has effectively made this channel off-limits almost overnight. This in turn has had a dramatic impact on B2B brands, marketing teams and sales teams and has resulted in significant amounts of headscratching, navel gazing and downright panic being deployed in the struggle to determine how we fill this yawning void in our customer engagement strategies.
So it was only natural that event strategies would be one of the priorities in our B2B Marketing Leaders programme virtual roundtables, aimed at helping senior B2B marketers share experiences, compare notes, ask questions and generally help each other understand the emerging landscape.
As ever it was a great meeting, with lots of great insights offered and points raised. Here are some of the standout ones from my perspective.
1. This isn’t an interlude – it’s a sea-change.
None of those attending believed that the use of events as a B2B marketing tool or channel was going to revert to the pre-coronavirus world after a few months – they all believed this was a permanent shift in how events are run, and how we can use them. As one attending B2B marketer, who coincidentally had a background as a virologist (what are the chances of that!) put it: this is going to impact on our world for years to come.
2. It’s a chance to push the ‘reset’ button on events.
Most B2B marketers are using this crisis as an opportunity to review their existing events strategy. Many expressed surprise at the sheer number of events that they were doing. Some expect to consolidate lots of smaller events into a bigger summit; others are trying to fragment something bigger and disrupt expectations. There is no silver bullet.
3. The future of physical events is two-stream.
Even when physical events do become possible, it’s likely that high risk people will still need to exclude themselves for years to come. So all events in the future will need some kind of strategy to accommodate both types of delegate.
4. ‘Hybrid’ events are great in theory…
…but no-one knows what they look like in reality. Lots more work needs to be done to establish what a mixed face-to-face and digital event actually looks like and how it works (without breaking the bank). Case studies are thin on the ground, and experience of putting them on, even thinner.
5. The autumn is far from a safe time for a return to face to face.
Even if the virus is contained during the summer, it’s likely that we’ll see event overload in Q4 – marketers need to ask themselves if they want to invest in an event in what is likely to be such a busy period.
6. Surprisingly, there’s no rush to invest in new digital event platforms.
Of those marketers attending, only one had actually invested in a specific new piece of tech. Most were making better use of tech they had already deployed, accelerating its adoption or increasing their number of licences. Pragmatism is the operative word.
7. Coronavirus has accelerated digitisation across the marketing team.
It is breaking down resistance to use of marketing automation and other digital platforms, and its blurring the boundaries between event marketers and other marketers within the team.
8. Digital events aren’t necessarily any easier to put on than physical ones.
And they’re not any less resource intensive either. If you’re thinking these are short cut or easy win, think again.
9. Don’t forget about the data.
However you use new tech, or existing tech in new ways, don’t forget about GDPR, or the need to make the data work for you. Too many marketers are treating the crisis as an opportunity to return to the bad old days – or the Wild West, as one marketer put it.
10. Team mindset, and willingness to adapt and innovate are the critical success factors.
Whatever your precise circumstances, this situation requires pragmatism, flexibility and open-mindedness to enable the team to take the necessary steps. Individuals not willing or able to function in this way may not be right for your team right now.
This article is written by Joel Harrison and originally published here