Posted by: Dennis Shiao | January 27, 2011

Counterpoint: Why I’m There on Pure Virtual Events


Introduction

Over at the Midcourse Corrections blog, Dave Lutz (@VelChain) authored a posting titled “Virtual Event Strategies for 2011“. Dave’s piece appeared in his “People & Processes” column in PCMA’s January edition of Convene.  I’d like to provide counterpoints to a paragraph of Dave’s piece that he titled “Why I Am Not There On Pure Virtual Events Yet”.

Before I go further, let me be clear that I’m a big believer in hybrid events.  In fact, we’ve been talking up hybrid events since late 2009, when we predicted (perhaps a tad early) the coming year of the hybrid.  That being said, many of our clients do host “pure” virtual events – and I believe in their value as well. That’s what I seek to illustrate with this posting – the value of pure virtual events.

Point #1: Attendees value the content not the commerce.

This ought to be the case in physical events as well – but perhaps Dave is making the point that physical events are better suited to shaking hands, meeting for dinner and getting down to the business of signing a purchase order.  While that may be true, the goal of the virtual event exhibitor is to attract interest with your content, and then facilitate commerce.

I believe the value placed on content is a good thing, as it allows exhibitors to start a dialog (around content) and move the prospect down the sales funnel.  Of course, “content” must “look and feel” like the event’s editorial content, rather than a product “commercial”. If done right, content that educates and informs leads the prospect towards commerce.

Point #2: They tend to attract an entry- or mid-level professional that lacks enough buying authority or influence to deliver ROI to exhibitors and sponsors.

I saw 10-15% senior level titles when I produced virtual events in the Information Technology (IT) sector.  “Senior level” meant Director, VP and CXO titles.  To me, this made a lot of sense, since busy executives could attend pure virtual events from their office (or home), without having to schedule travel and out-of-office time.  In a similar vein, it’s also the reason we saw adoption of IT audio podcasts by senior level executives – because they could take the content to the gym or on their commute (i.e. convenience).

At the same time, I question the notion that mid-level professionals are not able to influence or deliver ROI to exhibitors and sponsors.  In many B2B markets, purchasing decisions are done by a team of influencers, who each have a role in determining which solution gets selected.  The senior level executive exerts a high degree of influence, but usually comes into the picture to validate a recommendation or provide a final signature on a purchase form. So while it’s great to interact with senior level prospects at an event, a number of quality interactions with mid-level influencers may move you closer to a sale.

Point #3: Networking feels limited if it occurs at all.

Sure, there will be some virtual events where activity levels are low – just like there are physical events with the same characteristics.  While physical interactions have unique “features”, online interactions have unique benefits as well.  Have you ever attended a virtual event with an intensely passionate audience?  Visit the Networking Lounge and you may see 50 people simultaneously chatting (via text).  The activity can be so intense that you easily “fall behind” the dialog.

I once attended a virtual event on social media and saw 30-40 attendees chatting about Twitter and listing their Twitter ID’s, so everyone else could follow them.  An INXPO client once hosted a virtual event on scrapbooking and no one left, even after the “virtual lights” were turned off.  Like a good tweetchat, virtual event chats can sustain global collaboration that’s just not as practical (or even possible) in a physical setting.

Point #4: It’s difficult to build trust that leads to purchase through a virtual booth.

I agree with Dave’s point, partly – I’d re-word it to say trust is much easier to accomplish via a face-to-face meeting.  And there’s a challenge inherent to building trust via virtual events – but if done well, it doesn’t have to be difficult. For one, events are increasingly turning to video to better simulate in-person meetings.  If you can see and hear the party on the other end, then trust can develop quicker.

On the flip side, people often find that interacting virtually leads to less inhibition, which means that they reveal more details and become more vocal.  A virtual exhibitor may come to learn more insights on a prospect’s purchasing decision compared to meeting face-to-face at a physical booth.  And while this is not so much “building trust”, it can be valuable to the exhibitor, nonetheless.

Point #5: When education is offered for free and archived, it’s easy to find something more pressing to do. Archived views are less valuable than live ones.

Good points – what it means, however, is that the event host needs a strategy to encourage activity and engagement.  We’ve found games and game mechanics to be effective, especially when coupled with a leaderboard and prizes.

As far as archived views vs. live views, that’s a valid point, but let’s not forget that archived views are a unique feature in the first place.  Exhibitors can leave their virtual booth “up” as an ongoing showcase – and savvy exhibitors refresh the content in their booth as they produce updated content.  The ongoing showcase also means that exhibitors can receive 10-20% additional leads that register and visit their booth after the live event date(s).

Point #6: And finally, most webinars stink. I can count the good ones I’ve experienced on one hand.

Agreed, but it’s the format of most webinars and not the technology itself.  Sixty minute webinars of PowerPoint with synchronized audio (and no video of the presenter) no longer fit the bill.  Meanwhile, webinar technology has evolved quite a bit in just the past 1-2 years.  For instance, webinar presenters can share their desktop, seamlessly pass control to another presenter, push a live web page out to each viewer and render a live, functioning booth in the webinar slide area. With new capabilities available in “Webinar 2.0”, my belief is that webinars are about to become much more engaging.

Conclusion

The question need not be “either or”, virtual or physical.  The complete package is a hybrid event.  That being said, when looking at the virtual component of a hybrid event – or, the concept of a pure virtual event, it’s important to consider the unique features that the virtual platform provides to you and your exhibitors.


Responses

  1. […] on the INXPO blog, I wrote a posting on Why I’m There on Pure Virtual Events.  The posting was a counterpoint to an article written by Dave Lutz (@VelChain) of Velvet Chainsaw […]

  2. Dennis, love the fact that you took the time to write such a thought provoking Icounterpoint post! I’m always up for a good discussion!

    It’s important that your readers read the whole article that I initially wrote. After I made the points that you countered, I also gave a number of recommendations for getting improved results from pure virtual events. We’re probably not as far off the mark when it comes to recommendations.

    This article was originally penned after doing a bunch of research on Virtual Tradeshow business models for the large show world. Many organizers in that space are trying to take the live show model and force it into platforms like yours. Most of the attempts to date, have not met expectations of the organizers, exhibitors or attendees.

    We both agree that things can and will get better as we move closer to the business models that make sense. In my opinion, the main things that organizers need to do are:

    1) View virtual tradeshows as campaigns, not products.

    2) Design content and sponsors around a very specific vertical audience so that you can zero in on their needs and benefits vs. offering a buffet. Virtual shouldn’t be a numbers game. If you go for the niche, you have a much better shot at getting the networking and interaction that we all strive for. There’s a greater chance of matchmaking like-minded folks.

    3) The content needs to be much better – Shorter, better visuals, integrated chat, video.

    4) Exhibitor expectations need to be lowered. One thing I would add about influencers…they can’t say YES, but they can say NO. Also, virtual tradeshow leads are more likely to be funnel filling (needing qualification) than a lead at a live tradeshow where they can be fast tracked through the funnel.

    I love your point about archived views. No question that the long-tail benefit is better than no views from most offerings.

    Hope we get others to chime in! Thanks for playing!

  3. Dave – thanks for the reply. And yes, readers should review your entire piece to get the full picture (http://jeffhurtblog.com/2011/01/12/virtual-event-strategies-for-2011/). I agree that we’re not far off the mark – that’s what a great dialog can do, bring people together. Thanks again.


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