It’s no secret that 2020 threw everyone for a loop. As companies scrambled to solidify their business continuity plans last March, there was one group of individuals in the B2B space whose professional lives were particularly upended: event marketers.
As the Director of Global Field Marketing & Events at Fuze, I live and breathe all things event and revenue marketing. Event marketers are a special breed of marketer - they are typically hyper-organized but can manage getting thrown a curveball and pivoting at the last minute. In fact, I think the adrenaline rush is something many event marketers thrive on. However, no one could have been fully prepared for the curveball of COVID-19. Like others, our 2020 calendar was packed full of events, including our own FLEX summit (focusing on the future of flexible work) that we were planning for the summer. After Fuze made the call to go completely virtual I was left wondering what all event marketers were thinking — now what?
One of the great things about working at Fuze is that when the transition to full-time remote work happened, we were ready as a company. We already had the platform, and we knew that we could use Fuze to host virtual events for prospects, customers, and thought leaders without issue.
Still, I remember sitting at my kitchen table racking my brain for what to do next. How were we going to recoup leads? How were we going to engage with prospects? What was even appropriate to say or do? The question my team kept coming back to was: Why do people even go to events? The answer, I believe, is to either: a) gain access to people they don’t normally have access to or b) to enjoy a unique experience. With that in mind, our scrappy team went to work.
Below are some of the things we’ve learned along the way:
1. It’s all about the experience.
There’s a saying that “people always remember how you made them feel.” We’re all in a once in a lifetime position, where everyone in the world is going through the same experience. For probably the first time ever, marketers intimately understand and know exactly what customers are going through and what business challenges are keeping executives up at night. This creates a unique position for event marketing teams to find ways to connect with their customers and provide them with unique experiences they may no longer have access to.
Some of my favorite virtual events that we’ve produced were: wine tasting with master sommelier George Milliotes (there are only 260 in the world!), cooking classes with Douglass Williams, the chef and owner of MIDA, Boston’s only Black-owned fine dining restaurant, and a regional executive AMA session called CxO Uncorked. I’ve never in my event career seen such overwhelming feedback from event attendees. Our event satisfaction scores were through the roof and our repeat registrants have never been higher. It goes to show that finding ways to create meaningful connections with people will allow people to have a positive experience with your brand, and ultimately create goodwill for the future.
2. Events don’t need to be heavily produced.
This might seem counterintuitive to some event professionals, and even to my first point, and I understand that. When you can’t meet in person at a show or event, I think the natural instinct is to overcompensate with direct mail or highly produced performances. But with the thing to remember is to just be authentic with your virtual event production. Especially in the early days of the pandemic, people were searching more for personal connection than tchotchkes or gimmicks. Personally, I still think that is still the case. As more and more articles are published about video fatigue, event marketers need to ensure that their presenters are meeting people where they are — and that’s most likely still their in home office. Your prospects are tired of boring corporate presentations, but if you can strip it down to foster authentic and real conversation, that’s where the magic happens.
3. Take advantage of company resources you might not otherwise have access to.
If hiring an outside production company is out of your budget, or your team doesn’t have the resources to manage a virtual event, that is perfectly fine. Looking back on the original question of why people attend events, I also believe that people go to an event for access to people they wouldn’t normally have access to. Since March, we’ve all been staying home, and that includes our executive teams. While in the past their calendars have been booked with offsites, travel, and other commitments, there is definitely an opportunity now to take advantage of their insight in your event calendar.
To that end, we’ve been hosting a series of executive briefings and cocktail hours where our executive team can (virtually) sit down with our customers and prospects to discuss their unique situation and current business challenges. This is a perfect example of another way for organizations (and their executive teams) to do something that they wouldn’t normally do at scale, all while providing valuable business insights.
It’s been a challenging year full of unforeseen and unprecedented circumstances. But event marketers have an innate superpower to tackle all types of challenges that are thrown at them. Instead of being defeated that events are “canceled”, challenge your team and yourself to try something completely new by hosting virtual events — you may surprise yourself. The key here is to try new things, fail fast, and continue to improve.