For B2B marketers across all industries, physical, face-to-face events have always been a cornerstone of how they do business.
Suddenly, long-standing events of all shapes and sizes are off the cards, certainly for the next few months, and maybe for longer. Now, events that would have been a golden opportunity to attract new customers, launch a new brand, nurture customer relationships or convert your prospects have instead morphed into a slightly daunting challenge.
It’s time to embrace virtual events and the new immersive customer engagement opportunities they bring. They are here to stay and, even if physical events do return, virtual events will have a big role to play in marketing comms plans in the future.
So, what can you do? Here are some ideas for how to run online events and suggestions for solving some of the challenges you might meet along the way.
Create a virtual tour.
For some of our clients, tours of their factories, sites and facilities are key conversion points in building partnerships with new customers. If your equipment or facilities are a key part of your offering, it’s worth finding ways to show them off – virtually. An interactive 360° video tour is a great way to do this when physical visits to your site aren’t possible. Here’s a virtual tour we created for Autodesk’s UK Technology Centre.
The end result is a virtual tour your customers can experience online, clicking and dragging to look around, or on mobile, moving their device around to explore. For high-value prospects, why not create a virtual reality version and send it to them as a direct mailer along with a VR headset?
Creating this kind of immersive experience is easier than you might think. Filming multiple angles using a 360° camera with multiple lenses gives the impression that the viewer is right there in the room. Because the camera sees everything, it has to be moved by remote control, with the crew staying out of sight: viewing and directing via a tablet. When it comes to creating the final ‘tour’, you can script and record a voiceover to guide visitors around your site, or create a virtual experience that the customer can navigate through at their own pace. Highlight key details with explanatory labels and information hotspots edited into the video.
Build a virtual product ‘showroom’.
If what you’re really missing is the chance to let people explore your products in physical space, then an augmented reality or virtual reality product ‘showroom’ could be for you. They allow your customers to explore your products at actual size and from all angles, either overlaid on their current surroundings (with augmented reality) or in a completely virtual space.
Let customers try out what your products would look like in their home offices with an augmented reality, life-size 3D model. For larger products like vehicles, machinery or even building structures, you could use geolocation to create a virtual gallery in an outside space that’s easy for your customers to visit. Or you could build your own virtual reality gallery for customers to explore with a VR headset.
Whichever approach you take, you’ll need to start with high-quality 3D models of your products. Once your 3D models have been created, the opportunities are endless. You can use the 3D renders to create realistic product shots, give customers the chance to explore products in 3D on your website, or create 3D animations which explore the inner workings of your latest products.
Host a virtual summit or conference.
When there’s no way your physical conference can go ahead, what do you do? At Torpedo, our clients have been finding ways to take their conferences online. While there are clearly limitations to online events, there are opportunities too.
Because nobody has to travel or find accommodation, your event is open to a global audience of customers, many of whom would never have been able to attend a physical event because of logistical challenges. The potential to reach new customers is pretty exciting. You’ve got a chance to bag better speakers too – persuading big names to travel halfway around the world is a big (and expensive) ask. But ask them for a couple of hours from their living room and you’ll have a better chance of convincing them.
Technically, there are lots of things to consider. For a start, will you run your sessions live or prerecord them? Many of our clients are opting for pre-recorded sessions which are streamed as if they were live with the option to follow with a live Q&A session. You’ll avoid the risk of technical issues on the day and pre-recording your talks will give more professional polish to your event. You’ll need to think about how to integrate various technical platforms for things like registration, hosting supporting content and streaming your talks, and breakout video conferencing for roundtable discussions. And then there’s the branding and promotion of your online event. Luckily, agencies are rapidly finding their feet with virtual conferences, so even if your first event is a steep learning curve, you’ll have an experienced team to guide you.
Invite customers to an immersive 3D online exhibition.
Give your customers a different reason to engage by creating an interactive 3D environment where they can explore and discover your product or service in a way that’s tailored to their interests. With dynamic personalisation which allows the content and experience to adapt to each customer, this could form part of a broader ABM programme. Adding online chat and built-in video call capability means your customers can instantly take the conversation further with one of your team.
We’ve created an online exhibition experience for BAE Systems which was originally designed to support their physical events for customers who couldn’t attend in person: users could navigate around the exhibition stand and interact with the booth displays to view products, read content and watch videos.
If you’re working alongside other partners, why not come together to create a joint update for the customers and prospects you share? A mini virtual exhibition space like this can be tailored to the audience and their needs – and updated with new content every year.
Don’t forget freebies and food.
How are you supposed to do giveaways at a virtual event? And do you even need to? You might think they’re just ‘extras’ but when freebies and giveaways are done well, customers really value them. When we ran our first virtual workshop, it was clear that our client was disappointed to miss out on the famous Torpedo buffet lunch!
If you’d still like to offer a physical item to enhance the event experience or a promotional giveaway, you could send it through the post. Make this part of your registration process, so you have the right address details. Or consider whether there’s a gift your attendees can redeem virtually with a voucher or code on sign up. Finally, think about whether you can still ‘cater’ your event or deliver edible goodies by partnering up with local food vendors.
Add breakout spaces and informal networking to your virtual event.
The chance to meet and mingle with like-minded people is a big draw for people attending events and conferences. And if you’re hosting a workshop or talk, the chance to have discussions in small groups is invaluable too. Zoom’s breakout rooms function is a great way to do this for small, structured discussions or events where most people already know each other.
But for casual networking of the kind that usually happens at the coffee stand or in the bar, video calls can feel a little too intrusive, especially when it comes to talking to strangers. Think about whether you can create a message board or chat room where attendees can spend time talking to each other instead.
Recreate physical space.
There’s no getting away from the fact that a lot of the buzz and excitement of events comes from being in the same physical space as other people. When your event is hosted online, this sense of being together is much harder to achieve. Streaming your talks as if they were live helps in a small way, as people are watching together at the same time. You could also try using quizzes or gamification to encourage visitors to interact with your content and with each other.
Start thinking about your avatar…
But even a beautifully-designed website isn’t the same as a bustling venue. For us, the next step is beginning to explore ways of recreating physical space, taking our cue from video games and VR technology. You could think about having a virtual lobby to bring all the elements of your event together. Or take it a step further and turn your event into an absorbing virtual world where guests have avatars which can explore and interact with each other, as if your event were a role-playing video game. This approach would make your customers feel like they’re in the room: attendees would be able to see who else was attending the sessions and casual networking would be possible again. Who knows, maybe it’s time to start designing your next virtual event stand?