Digital Developments in B-to-B Event Marketing
Event marketing has long been a staple in B-to-B, where the face-to-face conversation enabled by a trade show or corporate event plays a valuable role in launching or deepening a business relationship. But these days, business events are taking off in new directions, empowered by advancements in digital technology. I've been keeping an eye on some of the new developments, and happily share a few here.
Harnessing attendee word of mouth. Event organizers can help registered attendees spread the word about upcoming shows with tools like Plancast, where members share news of their plans-both consumer and business-with friends and fellow social network members.
A private social network for attendees. Both Pathable and CrowdVine offer tools to help show organizers create a private social network, where event attendees can post their photos and profiles, search for connections and make appointments with people they'd like to meet at the event. This takes a lot of the randomness out of networking and lets attendees use their time more efficiently. A boon for exhibitors, who can interact with attendees in advance and follow up with them later, in a dynamic virtual environment.
Events designed for both virtual and live audiences. Some companies are moving in the exciting direction of "hybrid meetings," where live content is concurrently streamed online, engaging both attendees on site and people at their desks. To pull this off, considerable advance planning is essential, says Pat Ahaesy, of P&V Enterprises, a NY-based event agency. "The hybrid event needs to be rehearsed and staged, with high definition video cameras. Speakers must be trained on how to engage with both audiences. And the content has to be terrific." But the benefit is huge. You get double the audience, plus an archive of content that can be repurposed for years of additional value.
"Smart card" badges for richer data capture. Show badges built with "near field communication" (NFC) technology are gaining attention from organizers and exhibitors alike. Instead of scanning, exhibitors tap visitor badges using a mobile device, and the data uploads to the cloud in real time. So the post-visit message stream can begin right away. The attendee badges can even be loaded with money (remember, this is the technology behind Google Wallet) and followed up with a message like, "Thanks for coming to our booth. Have a macchiato on us!"
Bob James, head of marketing at ITN International, shares another interesting application of the technology: The satellite manufacturer Harris Corporation knew they'd have a busy booth at a recent show, and they were concerned that they might miss connecting with some important prospects. So they set up 22 self-serve kiosks around the booth, where visitors could tap their badges, request a case study or video, and indicate what kind of follow-up they'd like. A neat way to expand the reach of the booth staff.
Program book on your smartphone. I am always vexed at being handed a heavy conference guide to lug around, so I really appreciate the ShowGuide technology from RiverMatrix, which moves the entire show program off my shoulder and onto my phone. That's including sessions, speaker bios, maps, the works.
Virtual events. After years of experimentation, virtual events still struggle to enter the mainstream. A study by the Event Marketing Institute says 93 percent of senior executives polled find value in virtual events. But Exhibitor Magazine's survey suggests that 60 percent of businesses have yet to try a virtual event, even a webinar. Making the trade-off between the value of face-to-face contact and the cost savings of online interactions remains a challenge for B-to-B marketers.
Digital is making events faster, cheaper, better. What new digital developments are you seeing as part of the business event marketing mix?
A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.
Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools around the world. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain's BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.