What platform do you use to support your virtual event center?
It’s actually based on the Unisfair platform. That’s a company that we’ve been working with quite a bit over the 7 years. We work with some others as well, but the majority of all of our events have been based on the Unisfair platforms. We find them to be an excellent provider and we’ve always had industry leading capabilities by working with them.
What kind of events run in your event center?
What we have is our own sort of schedule of events that we plan and execute throughout the year, almost on a monthly basis. We generally have at least one thing happening, and that could be a daylong virtual conference or it perhaps could be a shorter, let’s say roundtable kind of event. And then, in addition, we produce our webcasts in the virtual event center as well, and those are going on, on sort of an ad hoc basis, roughly four to six or seven a month, depending on what’s on the month. So, there always seems to be something happening in virtual event center.
How has the economy affected lead generation?
Programs that don’t have a strong lead gen and even a more qualified lead gen aspect to them are not getting funded, in our experience right now. And this was similarly the case in the ’01, ’02 period. In fact, in the ’01, ’02 period when we launched this, that was the time when we really reengineered all our programs, even on the website, not only in the events, to be focused on lead gen.
As far as the other idea of moving the sale along, getting people that are more qualified, yeah, that’s really important in today’s day, because what’s happening now is in this kind of an economy, there’s a lot of risk adverse buyers out there. So, they spend a lot more time researching potential purchases. So, if they’re looking to purchase software or a software product, an enterprise software product, they’re going to spend a lot more time researching it. So, you really need to set up kind of an ongoing lead nurturing program in order to be able to move them along the pipeline.
What are some solutions to the disconnect between sales and marketing?
I think what you need to try and do is get some agreement from both sales and marketing as to what constitutes a sales-ready lead, what constitutes a lead that we’re going to turn over to sales? When are we going to turn over a lead to sales to inside sales? Let’s say that’s a B lead, outside sales for an A lead, and everything else we’re going to leave in an e-nurturing program where we’re going to continue to move those along and hopefully kick them out in the future. So, that’s what we’re working with our clients now on that idea, of setting up this kind of e-nurturing program.
Describe the current environment for the event industry.
The issue in general, right now, is that there’s a lot of fear out there. Publishers are very hungry, so there’s a lot of price erosion going on at the moment in the market. So, the interest is very high in the virtual event center concept and in terms of delivering on it, but the amount of dollars that are really being spent at the moment are rather lower than usual, and the price points are lower. So, it’s a little turbulent from that point of view. But, for sure, the interest is high and for sure, with all the benefits in terms of more qualified leads, in terms of trackability, in terms of ROI. We’re trying to reduce the sales cycle, everything we’ve been talking about, for sure, the interest is extremely high.
What are your strategies for building your marketing database?
We’ve been doing this for a long time, so we’re very strong in the search engines. We have a lot of investment in SEO marketing, and then we have a lot of partners. That’s another thing, when you have a virtual event center or you have virtual events, those are bigger deals, and you can have more of a partner strategy just like you can in a physical event. You have all your media partners so you can audiences and then you’ll convert a percentage of those people to become part of your lists.
And then, just regular advertising, and buying lists of our own and buying search words and things like that. So, it’s the normal way to go and then also just placing the content on your site in a way that some of it’s “free” where you don’t have to sign up, and some of it you have to convert to be a member in order to view. You’re taking the search traffic now and trying to convert it. So, we have a lot of strategies around that.
Do you charge for content?
We do not. We’ve toyed with that a number of times over the years, but it’s a difficult slope to navigate. There’s so much free content on the internet, and one expects to get unlimited instantaneous content. I don’t know many people that have had a successful paid-for-content model of any scale or any size out there. We also toyed around with some training, which is an extension of that [paid programming]. So, we actually opened up a training center where we were selling training services. We sort of pre-canned training programs and we just found that also to be difficult for the same reasons.
What do you mean by “cannibalizing your product?”
It’s a little similar to the way in the earlier days publishers thought that their websites were going to cannibalize their print magazine. What I like to say is you may as well cannibalize your product before somebody else does. That’s the first thing to say, and then the second thing is that over time things change. So, how many magazines do we know that are no longer printed now? Now those companies are making their websites to be number one. But, why weren’t they doing that five years ago?
So, it might be the same scenario here, although physical events tend to go up and down depending upon the economy and the travel. I mean, there are obviously some things in physical events that you can’t replace with virtual events. That’s for sure, and they never will at least in our lives, unless they can have the aroma, smell-o-rama. Until you’re able to go to the cocktail lounge and get a beer and drink a beer with a friend over the internet, I guess that’s what internet café, people thought that might have meant.
What are some ways for virtual and physical events to work together?
It’s interesting that there’s a model here, and we’ve done this to help companies with physical events, to use the virtual environment, the virtual conferences and events to complement their physical events and even drive more demand for the physical events in terms of how you artfully spread the content and what happens on the virtual event and what happens on the physical event. The physical event can either precede or the virtual event could precede the physical event. There’s a preview. Or, it could be after, as a kind of follow up and to continue the discussion. So, there are many ways to kind of elegantly use the two models in a way to really build on each other, and we’re starting to do more of that.
Distinguish between a vendor-driven event and an editorial project.
Those [vendor-driven events] are the kind of events that a vendor or sponsor comes to us and says, “Hey, I have product X and I want to market it and I’m looking to get some visibility and some awareness and some leads, and I’m looking to develop compelling content around the product.” In that way we’ll work with them, our analysts and experts will work with them on everything from the initial development of the event through the marketing plan, and we’ll both execute marketing, they will and we will.
That’s vendor/sponsor driven, meaning that all the content is going to support their single sponsor’s objectives. That’s differentiated from more of what we would call an editorial or objective driven program where we would plan, let’s say, a virtual conference or a webcast on a topic or a roundtable and then we’ll go out and find some sponsors to help fund it. It’s not going to support any one sponsor’s marketing objectives directly, but it will be a compelling program for the audience, and then sponsors will have products or messaging that aligns with the topic being covered.