Dance on the Volcano – Virtually

These days, we are experiencing a period of extraordinary growth in the Virtual Events space. Let’s face it, air travel isn’t getting any easier as long security lines, service reductions and flight delays take their toll on traveling executives. Recent pandemics from bird to swine flu prompted companies to implement stricter travel policies. When Eyjafjallajökull erupted in southeastern Iceland on April 14, it led to the cancellation of 78% of flights between Europe and the US in the following week. And when everyone thought that chances of this happening again were like winning the lottery twice in a row, nature seemed determined to prove us wrong.

There is another way to meet

Extreme circumstances have exposed global corporations–as well as the meeting industry–to unprecedented tension. Already strained by the global recession, meeting, conference and trade show organizers have suddenly realized how dependent they are on a functioning global travel infrastructure. Many of them are looking at technology to help them mitigate this risk going forward. They are increasingly leveraging virtual event platforms to deliver anything from company-wide training, executive presentations, user conferences, job fairs, product launches, trade shows and more. In doing so, companies can not only cut down on the need for corporate travel, but also build a stronger sense of shared vision and community with employees, prospects, customers and partners.

What’s In it for You?

Virtual events offer many advantages. First, they dramatically increase your reach. Since participants can simply attend from the comfort of their desks, you will be able to draw participants from distant geographies, that would not be able to attend in person. You will also attract busy executives, who can rarely take a day out of their busy schedules, but are happy to spend an hour to view the on-demand session they are interested in, when it is convenient for them.

As opposed to a physical tradeshow or conference, you get the benefit of gathering in-depth information on the activities, preferences and behavior of each individual participant. You will know which locations they visited and how long they stayed. You can see which sessions they attended, what questions they asked, what collateral they took and whom they networked with. Best of all, you can measure the individual level of engagement with your brand, based on the behavior of attendees over time. Without ever having to ‘touch’ attendees with more emails, you can observe when and how often they are coming back.

Let’s face it, the typical result of a marketing effort is a list of names with phone numbers, email addresses and ratings like ‘Hot Lead.’ When the sales team makes those follow-up calls, 95% of the conversations, interaction and customer intelligence have been lost,  due the difficulty of capturing this information during a busy trade show.

Imagine the value of a lead that includes information like: Director of IT from Boston, Engagement Index: 89 (of 100), viewed the new router presentation for 20 minutes, Asked about integration of Model 246, downloaded Model 246 Datasheet, and Networking White Paper, chatted with support rep for 4 minutes, networked with 3 other IT Execs, came back to the environment 3 times, downloaded datasheet Model 678 and inquired about pricing.

This is the “new normal” with virtual events.

Virtual Engagement – Here to Stay

Large multinational corporations like Cisco, IBM, The Red Cross, Oracle, Glaxo Smith Kline and many others have significantly stepped up their virtual activities. Instead of organizing episodic events that exist only for a number of days, they are moving to Virtual Engagement Centers, where they can connect with their audiences anytime and anywhere. Just like in the physical world, virtual engagement centers are like campuses with many different venues that are run by different departments within the organization. This way, a corporate training event has a completely different look and feel, and does not interfere with the new product launch taking place in another venue with a different audience.

Just like they plan for advertising or PR, leading marketing executives are now incorporating a virtual engagement strategy into their marketing mix. The benefit for organizers is that they reach much larger audiences, even when air travel is not impacted by the environment. A senior executive told me about the advantage the new technology held for him personally: “Our recent virtual event was great because I did not have to travel to 57 different countries to launch our new product.”

Customers are starting to expect a virtual option for industry trade shows and conferences. They don’t have to ask for travel budget to attend the event of their choice. And adding up the time they would spend in the air, waiting rooms, security lines, and taxi queues, it’s no wonder virtual events are showing record attendance numbers. Virtual events are a real win-win for everyone involved and are quickly on their way to becoming an indispensable marketing tool in the business world….even when we’re not at the mercy of a volcano.