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.

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.

Blog: Direct Marketing School Still in Session

The virtual show. Anyone been to one yet? I have to admit, my first real attendance to any such show was to our very own, Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk, which I helped organize. And I was sold, especially after seeing the numbers.

The virtual show. Anyone been to one yet? I have to admit, my first real attendance to any such show was to our very own, Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk, which I helped organize (check out the agenda and, if interested, attend the on-demand version). And I was sold, especially after seeing the numbers (sponsorship dollars, yes, but mostly noticing how many people registered … nearly 3,000).

The reason is simple: A virtual show is just so convenient. You can pick and choose your sessions, attend only the ones that are truly relevant for you (or view on-demand later on), chat with select others in the networking lounge (or break off into a private chat), browse the exhibit hall … all with great ease, without leaving your office. No travel, no hotel (okay, that part I kind of miss), no great local restaurants (wait, not sure if I like this suddenly), no business cards from people I’ll never see again (that’s the spirit) and, biggest thing of all, no giant wrench getting thrown into your work schedule.

In other words, it can be a highly productive day, or half-day, or even hour if you only go to one session. Meanwhile, you’re still in your own office, so you can still get your own work done.

While the need for in-person events remains (I just spoke at the DMA’s Circulation Day in New York City and made a connection with people that transcends the vitual connect, significantly), the level of learning and networking is only going to increase in future virtual conferences.

Outlook for Online Retailers: Sunny, With a Chance of Rain

On the surface, a walk through the show floor at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Boston, which ran June 15-18, would make even the dourest economist smile.

On the surface, a walk through the show floor at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Boston, which ran June 15-18, would make even the dourest economist smile.

With a reported 5,000 attendees and more than 350 exhibitors, the show was the first one I attended this year that felt like a “real” trade show. I saw lots of online and offline retailers and catalogers walking around, discussing Web design, social networking, site navigation, the mobile Web and other online-related matters. I also saw many packed sessions and many smiling, busy vendors. Was this 2009 or 1999?

But beneath all of this good feeling was the fact that the gloomy economy was still top-of-mind for most attendees. Many said that while they were there learning about the latest trends, they were still struggling, hoping to break even at year’s end. Others were more hopeful, stating that while their sales were down, their profits were holding steady and they were positive and upbeat about the year ahead.

During a presentation on June 16, Gian Fulgoni, chairman and co-founder of comScore, added a bit to the doom and gloom. He noted that while online retail sales were up 2 percent between both January 2009 and January 2008 and February 2009 and February 2008, they were down 1 percent in March, flat in April and down 4 percent in May. Overall numbers are flat.

But Fulgoni had some good news. E-commerce, for example, clearly continues to outperform brick-and-mortar stores in disposable income-driven product categories, such as sporting goods and fitness merchandise; books and magazines; and music, movies and videos.

What’s more, he said, 74 percent of consumers say they’re likely to shop online before making an offline purchase.

So the weather forecast is mixed. But there’s no denying the real energy on the trade show floor. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

HULU.COM: An Intriguing Advertising Opportunity

Hulu is a fascinating Web site. Not only can its content be riveting to the viewer, but also represents a highly efficient medium for advertisers, enabling them to close the loop and measure actual ROI.

When I read that Hulu is drawing huge audiences, I went to the Web site and clicked on a movie—”Abel Raises Cain.” It is a 82-minute documentary about professional hoaxer Alan Abel, who was famous in the late 1950s for dreaming up and publicizing the “Society of Indecency to Naked Animals” with the mission of clothing naked animals. Over the years he has duped the media and made talk show hosts look like chumps and generally made a hilarious nuisance of himself with a slew of nutsy-fagen schemes, many of which are chronicled in this film.

This unique Web site offers full-length television shows and motion pictures; viewers remain on the site for a long time, sometimes a couple of hours—a boon for advertisers.

I sat through the entire film, which was presented with “limited commercial interruptions.” The TV-type commercial advertisements ranged in length from 10 to 30 seconds. Among the advertisers:
“Angels and Demons” (upcoming Tom Hanks film)
Nestea Green Tea
Honda Insight
Healthful Cat Food, Purina
Sprint Now Network
Swiffer Cleaner
Coldwell Banker

Returning to “Abel Raising Cain” on another day, I found additional advertisers:
American Chemistry Council
BMW Z4 Roadster
Toyota Prius
Panasonic Viera
Plan B Levenorgestra
Citi

At the end of this blog is a screenshot snapped during the BMW commercial. As you will see, the moving picture area takes up about half the computer screen, leaving a blank area above. At upper left is the film title, running time and the number of stars by reviewers. At upper right is a small response box that shows the car, the BMW logo and the headline:
The all-new Z4 Roadster
An Expression of Joy.

In light gray mousetype are two words: “Explore now”—the hyperlink to more information.

Once the commercial is finished and the film resumes, this little box remains on screen until the next commercial interruption. Then the next commercial’s response box stays on the screen. For the advertiser, this represents his presence onscreen for far longer than the 10-30 seconds allotted in the commercial.

Further, Hulu combines the razzle-dazzle of action-packed TV commercials with the advantage of direct marketing. The prospect clicks on the box, the advertiser has a record of the response to that commercial and that venue. This closes the loop: ad — response to ad — further info requested — and (hopefully) sale. The advertiser can do the arithmetic, measure the sales and determine whether the ad more than paid for itself or whether it was a financial loser.

This is far more valuable than running an ad on old-fashioned TV and hoping that people (1) have not left the room for a potty break and (2) will remember the thing when they are at the car dealer or supermarket.

What a direct marketer would do differently:
1. The response box at upper right is tiny compared to everything else going on. If Hulu wants happy advertisers, it should at least double its size, so that it is immediately obvious what to do.

2. The advertisers must make a terrific offer—something Free, for example—so the movie watcher is impelled to leave the film and go for the freebie. Or download a $500 certificate. With the tiny box and mousetype, these advertisers seem almost ashamed to ask you interrupt your movie to see what they have to offer. “Learn more” or “Explore now” in teeny-tiny light gray mousetype is not a compelling call to action.

3. My sense is that Hulu may be a tremendously efficient and relatively low-cost medium for testing TV commercials. Run an A-B split where one viewer gets the A commercial and the next viewer gets B and so on. The commercial that wins—gets the most responses—becomes control and is rolled out on TV, in movie theaters and anywhere else … until it is displaced by new commercial that tests better on Hulu.

With the Hulu model, razzle-dazzle TV-type commercials are combined with an immediate direct response mechanism. Trouble is that it is obvious the advertisers are allowing the general agencies that created the great commercials to handle the direct marketing element, which they know nothing about.

Old rule: never use a general agency for direct marketing.

But do spend some time at Hulu and think through how you might use it—either for sales or for testing.