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The Future of Virtual Events & How It’s Shaping B2B Event Marketing

By: Andrea Panno

With fluctuating COVID outbreaks, lockdowns, and health mandates, countless B2B industry events have adapted their experiences from in-person to virtual. Despite these challenges, brands and marketers are showing incredible creativity, flexibility, and innovation in response to the limitations of a work-from-home lifestyle and a lack of in-person events. To prepare for the future of virtual event marketing, it’s important to take a step back and look at where we are. So, what are the biggest brands doing, why are they doing it, and is it working?

Let’s take a quick look at the state of virtual events and some of the key trends that are shaping B2B event marketing.

What Are the Benefits of Virtual Events?

Why hold virtual events at all? Why not just double down on content creation and social? The main reasons businesses and marketers continue to push virtual events is simple: people DO actually attend and participate! Virtual events have shown to be highly effective at attracting and engaging target audiences, building communities, and improving brand awareness. These top-of-funnel benefits of virtual events are enormous, but there are other benefits as well. Let’s look at some of the statistics.

In a recent Amazon AWS survey1 of one hundred companies managing approximately 20,000 annual virtual events collectively, 13.7% of respondents cited the importance of generating indirect revenue through product sales, and 7.9% stated a key goal of generating direct revenue. 51% ran their very first virtual experiences in 2020, and 91% of all respondents consider virtual events a success.

“We are doing more to provide ideas, inspiration, and instruction that encourage creativity and connect the making community to our brand. A significant offering of virtual classes and other interactive content is an important element in extending the impact of our branding.”
-Ashley Buchanan, CEO, Michaels, Q2 2020 Earnings Call

What Technology Platforms Are Used Most?

With the opening of the virtual event floodgates came a massive push from multiple technology platforms to compete for market share in video conferencing and hosting solutions. Here are the top five most used so far:

Zoom is an easy-to-use web conferencing platform that’s been around since 2011 but exploded in popularity when COVID hit. Zoom includes a full range of features like private meeting rooms, event and webinar hosting, whiteboard functionality, chat, and more.

Microsoft Teams is Microsoft’s proprietary business communications and collaboration platform that’s seen rapid updates with a broad range of capabilities to meet our new virtual demands. Microsoft Teams offers many very similar features as Zoom and more, with the added benefits of complete integration with the entire Microsoft Office suite and 3rd party applications.

Facebook Live lets users livestream events, performances, and gatherings on Facebook. Viewers can watch from a phone, computer, or connected TV and respond with reactions, shares, comments, and other engaging features.

Instagram Live is a feature that works within Instagram Stories to broadcast live videos to users on the platform. When live, the broadcaster is automatically bumped to the top of the Instagram Stories list for all followers, offering a huge opportunity to impact the right audience.

YouTube Live is a streaming platform integrated into the YouTube ecosystem to host all types of virtual events, town halls, press conferences, and more. Creators can stream on YouTube Live via webcam, mobile, or encoder streaming, to provide incredible flexibility in the level of production that can be achieved, from spur-of-the-moment broadcasts to highly structured, multi-camera stage shows and presentations.

The fight for digital communication platform market share will likely continue to grow as the idea of consistent live events still seems like a distant reality. As demands for services, features, and better user experiences expand, new vendors will continue to introduce new ideas. Users will continue to explore new options, offering opportunities for additional competitors to emerge.

Take the Time to Do it Right

The shift to virtual events has been somewhat frantic for marketers and not without a bunch of roadblocks and difficulties in the planning and executing phases. Virtual events can be a significant challenge to run effectively and consistently achieve a return on your investment. One easy tactic for production teams and presenters to minimize mistakes and technical difficulties is to do live rehearsals before any scheduled event. Rehearsals are an excellent opportunity to review and refine everything you’re going to do and say and ensure all technology solutions are in place and ready when needed.

The fast, relatively easy setup and execution of virtual events (compared to in-person) have prompted many brands to step up their game by hosting at least once a week. As online experiences continue to grow in popularity and audiences continue to look for new resources and connections, we could easily see businesses running multiple online webinars, talks, Q&As, video podcasts, and more every week. Making all these events go smoothly doesn’t just come from trial-and-error experience. Marketers are developing clear and concise guides and manuals for executing consistently high-quality events “their way,” with optimizations and refinements to hyper-focus every part of a presentation on engaging a highly targeted audience.

Analyzing Your Performance

So, how do you think it went? It’s a question that follows every event, but it’s often difficult to get an immediate sense of turnout and reactions without a live audience. Some key metrics you can track to measure the performance of virtual events are:

  • Clickthrough Rates
  • Attendee Engagement (polls, chats, quizzes, etc.)
  • Leads Generation
  • Ratio of Registrations to Attendees
  • On-Demand Views
  • Social Engagement

With how quickly virtual events took over the corporate landscape, many organizations are still looking for clear guidance on planning, technology, and best practices for running successful online experiences. As the space matures, brands will likely leverage experts with a proven set of virtual event best practices to be applied holistically.

Key Challenges of Virtual Events

In the previously mentioned Amazon AWS survey, half of all respondents described hosting virtual events as moderately or very challenging. Those challenges range from attendance tracking to content creation to technical and production demands, but the largest by far is demonstrating the impact of a given event. Even with a lot of registrations, participation, and engagement, it’s tough to show how the event as a touchpoint is valued among each individual audience member. The best way to ensure that you’re delivering clear value to your audience is with interesting and engaging content. Creating the most impactful content for virtual events is a blog for another day, but if you’re looking for help, check out this Tip Sheet: Content Marketing that Drives the Sales Cycle.

Another challenge discussed in the space is that many people are simply exhausted from attending so many online events. When live attendance and engagement start to drop, it could be a sign that your audience is fatigued. Consider a different approach or format for your presentations or even a revised schedule that allows for more breathing room between each event.

What Types of Virtual Events Will We See in 2022?

2020 was wholly unpredictable but energized a new way to connect with audiences regularly from anywhere in the world. In 2021, we’ve seen budgets for online experiences increase significantly and commitments to continue hosting these virtual gatherings well into the future. As companies like Apple, Dell, and Samsung pave the way with some of the most innovative and well-produced virtual events around, we’re taking notes and working on new and unique opportunities to interact with virtual attendees, connect with partnerships and sponsorships that are valuable to audiences, and offer more effective methods of communication between hosts and participants.

Virtual Events Are Here to Stay

Virtual events offer tremendous opportunities to grow your audience and generate new leads, but they demand careful planning, expert execution, and post-event data collection that helps refine your methods, enhance your messaging, and drive leads and sales. Want help putting it all together?

Sagefrog helps clients plan and execute successful virtual webinars, talks, and other events that truly engage audiences and drive sales. Talk with one of our experts today to start planning your next online event.

  1. The State of Virtual Events 2021

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