Friday, September 12, 2008

Performance Insider: Virtually Better Events

Virtually Better Events

GIVEN LIMITED BUDGETS AND A universal desire to be more green, virtual events are getting a lot of buzz as of late. But, do they offer the same lead generation potential as in-person events? The answer is yes and no. Yes, they can generate significant leads and no, they don't deliver the same marketing potential as in-person events - they deliver MORE.

For example, Quest Software reports its first virtual event generated $23 per lead in return on investment (ROI), which is significantly less than its previous in-person events. As a professional marketer, you know that $23 per lead is a pretty impressive return on investment. And while generating demand was an objective for Quest Software, they had two other goals that all of us marketers try to achieve: to establish thought leadership in their field and to build awareness.

We all know quantifying thought leadership and awareness is more difficult than determining the cost per lead; but Quest Software feels strongly that the virtual event venue has helped them immensely. With attendance counted in the thousands, rather than the hundreds that other marketing vehicles generate, they are able to deliver their message more efficiently. But most important was the positive feedback they received from prospects, customers and partners about the virtual event as way to share knowledge.

Why are virtual events able to deliver this kind of marketing power? Virtual Event technology essentially replicates all aspects of a physical event-presentations (keynotes, panel sessions, product demonstrations, etc.) with live Q&A, exhibition booths staffed live with booth reps and collateral, and networking opportunities - all at 50-80% of the cost of a physical event.

What really gets sales and marketing people excited about virtual events is the data. In the physical world, you are lucky if you grab a business card and scribble some notes on it or use a badge scanner to capture the name, title and company of a booth visitor.

Marketing intelligence is a better descriptor than data for virtual events because there is web-based reporting that tells you everything an attendee did. You know which conference sessions they attended, how long they attended and questions they asked. You know what booths they visited, the collateral they downloaded and demos or other assets they viewed. You even have transcripts of conversations the attendee had with your reps. It is incredibly rich marketing data.

Unlike other marketing vehicles where you might just capture registration information, virtual events deliver actionable intelligence that can fill the pipeline quickly. All of this data can be automatically ranked based on criteria you set, so you know who your hottest leads are and can assign them to your sales reps immediately.

For example, an attendee that watched two presentations and downloaded three pieces of collateral on a certain product could rise to the top of your lead qualification ranking and be contacted by a sales rep immediately.

While some companies have eliminated physical events to reduce costs and carbon footprint, the end of all physical events is not near. And while virtual events can replace-- but more often "augment" physical events--it isn't the comparison to physical events that you as a marketer need to consider. It is the twenty-something per dollar lead figure that this particular marketing tool delivers.

Brent Arslaner is vice president of marketing at Unisfair.

Performance Insider for Friday, September 12, 2008:

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