Why Blogging Works: Influence and Reciprocity

January 8, 2016

Once more, with feeling.  Blogging is just about the best way to influence buyers and build loyalty.  Here’s why.

Why blogging works - highfive for reciprocityIn re-reading the book “Webs of Influence” by Nathalie Nahai lately, just to refresh on some principles of User Experience, I am once again appreciating the depth to which she lays out the basic human principles behind online influence. Side note: I really like that Ms. Nahai highlights a “Make This Work for You” segment in each book section (multiples in each chapter) where she outlines a real world use case, bringing her writings beyond the realm of theory and science and into the world of practical use for you and me.

Triggering Social Obligations

In her book, Ms. Nahai quotes social psychologist Robert Cialdini’s statement “There is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay” in human society,  explaining that the easiest way to initiate reciprocity is to begin by offering a gift.  At any dance party, are you waiting for someone else to make that first move?   Be that first mover.  Your gift can of course be a blog article, where you offer free advice to your audience.  Importantly, Ms. Nahai mentions that the gift you offer must actually be something of value. Upshot: skip the listicle theme and the pleas to “like” your content, and just offer authoritative, helpful content.

Gift Ideas that Build Reciprocity

If you’re not yet an active blogger, other gift ideas might include a free Skype session or Webinar, a free eBook or PDF, a special Subscriber benefit such as access to exclusive premium-value content, or a concession or compromise such as a discount on published prices in exchange for deeper insight or other value.

Online Presence Establishes Credibility

By now you probably know that diligent people check out your online presence (LinkedIn, website, social media accounts) before they decide to offer you the gig. By offering a free Resources page on this blog, as well as making blog articles searchable by topic, we establish credibility and facilitate the reference check process, building confidence in the client that s/he has made a wise selection in selecting us.

All of this may sound obvious, but bear in mind that closing the loop of reciprocity begins and ends with you.  It begins with acknowledging when a prospect or customer has visited your blog, downloaded free content or some such action.  It continues when you thank them personally (not just auto-reply) and continue the dialogue toward helping them solve their challenge, whether or not they buy.  If they buy, good; if they don’t, they still may become a referral source, a colleague, and perhaps even a friend.

Case in Point: Closing the Sale

We recently were hired by a financial services firm to help with a combined website content refresh, social channel buildout, and CRM transformation project. Closing the sale was easier because they acknowledged they had received substantial value just from our blog articles and from a handful of conversations where we discussed the practical application of our knowledge to their set of challenges. In essence, the Discovery phase of the engagement, for which we typically charge a fee, had already been substantially accomplished through that preliminary dialogue and resource exchange.  When we pointed out this concession, the Prospect agreed about the value they had already received, as well as their comfort with the progress of that dialogue and their assurance that we present a wise choice. Reference check done. Confidence assured. Deal done. Bam.

Accelerating Sales through Reciprocity

In preparing for the coming year, our team reviewed our own CRM reports, looking at the Sources of client revenue, analyzing the specific events that helped advance dealflow to successful sales.  We found a high correspondence between deal closure and the Reciprocity loop that involved prospects accessing our online content, combined with our follow-through in highlighting value already delivered before asking for the sale.  In situations where the reciprocity relationship was rather more tenuous, the client interactions seemed marked by more tentative, hard negotiations.  In deals where the Reciprocity was high, we also saw a greater incidence of multi-year client relationships.  This is the year we build on making Reciprocity a standard, repeatable process.

Over to You

As fellow humans, how can we build better reciprocity into relationships to help one another discover and solve challenges?  Can we improve on the habit of acknowledging others’ contributions to our relationships?  As sales professionals, can you use your online presence to establish credibility, begin the Reciprocity loop, and close it with your own follow-through? Love to hear your comments and stories.

Cheers, ~Ed


Content and Event Marketing that Fills the Room

January 18, 2013

It’s all about the Value Exchange

In 2012 I co-developed and produced the North by North Shore (#NXNS) digital media event series, and proved a few content marketing concepts along the way.  Starting from zero in April, the program attracted a capacity, on-target audience in June – just 90 days – and attained an over 90% program satisfaction index, based on survey responses.   We repeated the event in September, with a few audience driven improvements, and again achieved that result.  Another success indicator: two-thirds of all event attendees paid less than full price to attend, driven by an assortment of social promotional programs that let each attendee run their own “friends and family” plan.  Anyone who says you can’t prove the ROI of social media…well, have them call.

How did I target various micro-audiences to get these results?  We could talk about the usual suspects like speakers, topics and location, but, speaking more broadly, I attribute the success of NXNS to the use of Choice Architecture and a Value Exchange framework  in guiding program and content development.  Now with two successful events in tow, we continue to engage our audiences to tune the program further to better address their challenges and learning needs:

  • SBO – small business owner
  • PRO – career professional, practitioner, specialist or solo-preneur
  • MSO – marketing services organization or consulting firm
  • CXO – senior executive

Understanding Motivation

We Content Marketers talk a lot about the buyer’s decision journey, the buyer persona, landing page optimization, and the like.  All of this seems to assume we are adept at understanding motivation and that we use this knowledge when we develop content. Frankly, considering the repeated high demand for relevant content, I thought it would be nice just to ask the question:  how good are you at building motivation into content?  Often a simple “buy” button just doesn’t cut it.   We’ve all felt a bit pushed at times by out-of-synch content.  Here’s how to fix it.

The Value Exchange Continuum

Value Exchange Continuum

The Value Exchange Continuum

I created this graphic to help decide what type of voice to use to appeal to different target audiences.  Executives, for example, act, think and decide differently than other audiences.  If you’ve developed a buyer persona or two to help you think about the frame of reference your micro-audiences are using when they encounter your content, then you are probably somewhat familiar with these concepts.

 Keeping it Real

It’s helpful from time to time to ask: What do you want?  What do you seek? What does any of us want out of life?  If you think those questions are unnecessarily broad or existential, consider this:  Neuromarketing experts suggest that up to 90% of decisions are made unconsciously, guided by our value frameworks.

This is a job for the Choice Architect, the User Experience (UX) practitioner.  These are great people to have on your team when you are designing a website, a sign, an event, a white paper, a presentation, or just about any type of audience-focused content.

Next up (You In?)

If you like the NXNS concept and want to participate, by all means use the handy links at the NXNS site to get started as a speaker, sponsor, media partner, attendee or content contributor.  Let me know some specific event or other opportunity you might have in mind.  And if you are interested in Sustainability topics, consider attending the Sustainable Network Summit, another new event series I am co-producing.

Your Take

Do you have a content development framework that guides your content creation?  Do you have an experienced Editor on your team who is tasked with hewing to a particular point of view or tone of voice that personifies your brand?   Love to hear your stories.  If you’d like to have this case study presented to your audience, contact us.

Cheers,

Ed


How Lead Nurturing Improves Sales

September 3, 2012

In your quest for sales, do you leverage the value of lead nurturing?

Sales leaders know that in the process of converting a raw Lead to a Prospect, and then to a real Opportunity, and ultimately to a Customer, there are often many nuances and inflection points in the conversation, with the result that the sales process is almost never linear.  Those nuances can include shifts in the Prospect’s priorities, needs, and role in the buying process.  These things must be verified repeatedly to detect changes in Prospect status and respond accordingly.  If you don’t frequently check them, your sales forecast becomes a fairy tale, and you won’t know where your next meal is coming from.   You could be ignoring imminent buyers or focusing too much on long-shot prospects, and not even know it.  Either way, you lose.  Lead Nurturing helps you keep on top of the changes.

Click here for a free, crowdsourced process guide to help improve your forecasting.

Recent Experience

A recent project we performed for Pluris Marketing, provider of OCDP (omni-channel dynamic profiling) solutions for large consumer marketing organizations, transformed from simply securing executive appointments to also nurturing leads, and illustrates how lead nurturing contributes value to the sales pipeline.

Not part of the original project scope, Lead Nurturing quickly grew in importance, for three reasons:

  • Establishing a dialogue with as many prospects as possible enabled us to train our ears to the “Voice of the Customer” so we could determine what value people derive from Puris’ solutions – in their own words – and tweak our campaign messaging to improve relevance.  In short, what you call yourself is often not as important as what your customer calls you.  Example: the phrase “Dynamic Profiling” is a term borrowed from a Prospect – not something Pluris dreamed up.
  • Nurturing leads enables us to captivate and sustain a broader, interested audience, improving our place in each prospect’s “Initial Consideration Set” of potential options when they decide they need a relevant solution.
  • The sheer number of “nurturables” far exceeded the number of immediate sales appointments generated under this project.  The number of nurturables alone caused our client to take notice of the opportunity.

Why Nurture Now

Certain human behavioral tendencies make it difficult to convert a new Lead to a current Prospect, let alone a sale:

1) Relevance – People typically perceive immediate needs as more relevant and more urgent than future problems.  No matter how relevant you think your offering is, your Lead’s opinion matters more.  You stand a far greater chance of converting a Lead to a Prospect if they view your solution as currently relevant.

2) Consequences – People tend to discount the importance and consequences of future events.  A distant goal or pain is less motivational than a current one, even if delay portends grave consequences.   Moreover, people tend to see future consequences – even grave ones – as less important with every year such action is delayed.  The farther into the future a need is projected, the less likely it will be perceived today as ever becoming important.

Surprise! Researchers Find Humans Illogical

Illustrating the Relevance and Consequences phenomena, Columbia University researchers found that the average person finds little difference between getting $250 now or $350 a year from now.   Imagine that!  You could opt to wait a year and earn 40% on a surefire outcome, or you could take the money now and forego the potential 40% greater financial benefit.  You don’t need to be Warren Buffet to know that no investment vehicle can guarantee you a 40% one-year return on principle just by delaying receipt, and yet most people queried would rather have the money now, consequences be damned.

Heavily discounting future benefits or consequences can greatly distort corporate thinking, behavior and beliefs.  As maddeningly illogical as human nature may it may seem, your appreciation of this phenomenon actually becomes your competitive advantage if you have a Lead Nurturing program that helps prospects learn, appreciate and promote the importance of your solution.

Lead Nurturing Includes Content Marketing

An effective Lead Nurturing program, including content marketing mapped to each prospect’s unique persona and information needs, enables you and your prospects to keep the discussion channel open and lively.  Rather than attempt to drive each prospect toward near-term action, you instead conduct periodic relevant communication, build productive relations, and assist prospects in evaluating your offerings, so that they can intelligently shift priorities toward considering and adopting your solution – perhaps even sooner than they expected, but in any case, willingly.  If done well, you can identify the “hand raisers” worthy of greater attention and likely to buy, and even determine their decision time frame.

Driving toward a sale too hard or too soon can be viewed by the Lead as pushy, inattentive and ignorant, and typically leads to a fall-off in response, inattention to your future communication attempts or, worse, unsubscribing from your feeds and possibly treating your ill-timed, irrelevant communication as unwanted spam.   We’d all like to believe that prospects discount our pushy, sales-y human failings and focus instead on the merits of our offering, but you are more likely to hold one another’s attention over the long term if you actually listen, check for understanding and nuanced changes, and respond accordingly with relevant information.

Patience Pays

In your eagerness to bring in more sales this calendar quarter, don’t risk alienating a next-quarter sale. The Leads you start to nurture today rarely move as quickly as you’d like, but a constructive, open dialogue helps you understand your relevance in the Prospect’s view so you can tune your messaging to match, while also giving them something to share within their own circles of influence to build consensus toward adopting your  solutions.

Patience and persistence pay, and lead nurturing is the currency.

 

 

 


Content Marketing: A Day in the Life

February 27, 2012

Keeping to the plan of openly sharing our playbooks with clients,  friends and followers, I’m hoping this overview of a typical Content Marketing routine helps you think about ways to be more productive and get better results.  For more Playbook tools, visit the Resources page and help yourself.  As usual, more links apppear below this article. Enjoy!

The following routine is – like most – idiosyncratic, but after some weeding and winnowing, I now have a handful of “go to” resources that work well for many situations. Your own results may vary, and certainly your own audience and goals will affect your choice of routine and toolset.  That said, here’s one routine.  Will it be the same a year from now?  Probably not.  Audience requirements change, tools evolve, and our “learning lab” approach reveals new findings every day.  How does yours compare?  Holla back, friends!

Overview

Digital ink

In about an hour a day, two to five days a week, I create, share, comment and research interesting, relevant content among my online community of Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, and several membership and nonprofit organizations I have joined or for whom I give presentations by invitation.  I perform versions of this process for clients who have outsourced their Chief Revenue Officer and content marketing roles.

Overarching Goals

Simply put, the goal of any content marketing effort should be twofold: Uptake and Intake.  Uptake refers to the echo effect of communities sharing and re-using original content.  Intake refers to the process of linking all content to intake processes – landing pages, email responders, mobile apps, microsites, interactive tools, events, documents, etc.

To fulfill those goals, it helps to have the following workout goals:

  • Cultivate an online voice
  • Generate original noteworthy content
  • Promote others’ noteworthy content
  • Link it all to intake processes for  generating business leads and monitoring/managing community dialogue
  • Continually explore tools and techniques that facilitate “scale-up” i.e. maximizing results of time and effort.
  • Link Content, Community and Conversion using a content mapping and planning tool like the one shown below.

Blog Routine

I write two articles per month for my two blogs. I write one article per week for each client blog I curate. When very busy, I let my own blogs lapse.

e-Zine Routine

FanFoundry Daily and SocialClimate Daily (Paper.li)
Weekly: Rotate the hour of publication each week to hit the 8 am and noon hours across US / EU  .

Daily: Browse articles matching my pre-set keywords; re-tweet articles from the source where possible; move tweeted articles “above the fold”.

Hootsuite

Daily: Review the handful of Twitter accounts I own, as well as those I curate for clients – Stream, Mentions, Re-tweets, keywords, client community dialogue, as well as personal friends and professional groups; Re-tweet relevant content (see Paper.li above and Alltop.com below); Post relevant original Tweets – an article link, a meeting note, a convo thread, etc.; schedule client promotional Tweets to occur in the 8 AM and noon hours across US / EU  time zones.

LinkedIn

Daily: Scan Profile for InMail, Visits, LinkedIn news, and Connection updates. Send notes to Connections with noteworthy Updates (new job, interesting article, etc.); respond to discussion threads, invitations and queries.

Semi-weekly: Visit Discussion Groups; post article links; comment where my expertise warrants; start a Discussion (usually a research question for my own or a client’s business).

Alltop (virtual “magazine rack” of noteworthy bloggers)

Review the blogs I follow for timely and relevant articles. Re-tweet them, and flag interesting ones to link at the end of my relevant blog articles.

Databases

Each week we add new contacts to our main CRM database, classifying them by source, organization, industry, and several other criteria.  Sorting on multiple criteria, we can usually find anywhere from a dozen to several thousand relevant audience members to whom we may email, Tweet or otherwise reach out and initiate or sustain conversations.
The database numbers around a hundred thousand, yet we are able to keep conversations personalized and theme-specific.  This generates significant inbound interest and keeps us touch with clients, partners, friends and prospects.  Shameless plug:  our lifetime average open, click and conversion rates exceed industry norms.

They say you can only have about 150 members in your personal network before things break down; you can easily triple that number – or more – with an effective CRM database, compelling content and mobile/social/email marketing.

R&D / Sharpening the Saw

I condense notes from interesting and relevant magazine subscriptions (Forbes, Fortune, Wired, AdAge, BtoB, etc.). I file them under appropriate topics (in a list of 20).  I update my portfolio of presentations with relevant statistical references from all sources.

I follow a handful of industry analyst heavyweights and key businesses.

I review my meeting notes and generate follow-up communications using my database, private email and, for larger audiences, email marketing software.  I review trending topics on Twitter etc. to determine best topics for timely articles.

Trending topics I cover for myself and my clients include: marketing automation, branding, campaign management, community building, content marketing, customer care, email marketing, event marketing, interactive design, marketing communications, marketing funnel, mobile marketing, prospecting / inside sales, public relations, sales pipeline management, sales training, SEO, social media, and sustainability. Additionally, I cover trending industry topics for my portfolio of clients.

Other Tools – Analytics, Plumbing, etc.

All of the above may seem like a full time job,  but couple of years of practice have transformed it to a daily one-hour process that we have adapted to suit many clients.  It is all facilitated by an array of tools.  You can find a reasonably updated listing of tools in the right sidebar.  They include CRM, analytics, and assorted utilities that help leverage channel data for better client results.  Examples: Klout, FollowerWonk, InMap, etc.

How does your routine compare?  Got any tips to share?  Holla back!

Thanks, and make it a great day.


Inbound Marketing, PR and Web Analytics: It’s Cool at School

March 9, 2010

I was fortunate to meet Yanique Shaw, a Marketing student at Salem State College, at a recent Boston Media Leaders event, and she invited me to meet with her PRSSA chapter at her school, led by Professor of Communications Robert Brown, Ph.D.   Here is what we discussed at our meeting on-campus this week.  I think you’ll find it uplifting.

Content, Community, Commerce… in that order

First, we discussed the linkages between Content and Community, then Community to Commerce.  Anybody drinking the HubSpot koolaid (like me) recognizes and endorses that mantra.  (The folks at HubSpot are, if nothing else, infectious and clear in their branding and engagement model).  Proof: some members of this PRSSA chapter recognize the HubSpot brand.

Each member of the group was able to come up pretty quickly with examples of how content builds community, and how absence of content makes it difficult to build community.

Example: One student who works at a nearby coffee shop remarked that she is able to better serve those customers whom she sees more frequently.  Becoming familiar with customer preferences enables her to make appealing suggestions.  She even came up with a unique beverage recipe for one particular client by combining available store ingredients.  How cool is that?  Now her loyal customer will only let her serve him and his kids.   Can you pick out the content and community – and subsequent commerce – elements here?   How likely would you accept an experimental recipe sample – let alone buy it – if you were in a new coffee shop with a barista you’d never met?  Granted, some like me might take that gamble, but can we agree that this student’s trust relationship with a loyal customer increased that likelihood?

Just as our one-hour campus meeting raced by much too quickly, I too have to abbreviate here.  If time permits later, I’ll update this blog entry with more discussion examples.   Everybody had examples to contribute.  Alex, Luis, Ashley, Karrina, thanks!

Obsessing About Data

Joseph Wanamaker, the department store magnate, is credited with commenting that he always knew half of his advertising dollars were being wasted, but he never knew which half.   Like the buggy whip, that bromide has had its day.  Every mouse click is data, available for analysis.  The PRSSA group confessed lack of MS Excel chops.  My advice: get some.  You may not like the drudgery, but every job has it, and if you re-frame it as sleuthing for clues, you’ll appreciate how your discoveries help your organization improve.

The PRSSA group readily volunteered knowledge about tools like Google Analytics.  We also went on to discuss tools like Grader.com, useful for comparing your business site’s performace to empirical measures as well as competitors’ performance – both extremely useful business guidance, and very helpful when making the business case for improving your online customer experience.   We also looked at ways to use inbound marketing technology like Eloqua to more precisely guide the buyer’s journey through a considered purchase while continuing to cultivate relationships with early stage evaluators of your product or service.

This behind-the-scenes experience management practice all came across as a bit spooky and manipulative to a few folks, but we quickly turned the corner and recognized that obsessing over your data is indispensable in helping you focus your organization’s resources on improving customer service.

In parting, the group invited me to join their online Wiggio collaboration community, so we could keep in touch about relevant matters.  Done!  To my new friends at SSC PRSSA: good luck with your Bellringer Award entry!

Upshot: there is hope for the future, and it thrives at Salem State College.  Thanks a bunch, Dr. Brown et. al., for your hospitality.

How has your college experience prepared you (or not) for the challenges of a Marketing or Public Relations career?   What new realities do you face?  Love to hear your comments.

~Ed

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Virtual Trade Shows: Worth it? (Article, discussion, results, updates)

January 6, 2010

Since December 2010 I have posted that query on this blog, on LinkedIn’s MarketingProfs discussion Groups, and various other forums.  The response from these channels and within each stream has been so lively and informative that I felt compelled to aggregate, interpret and present the combined groups’ responses here.  I hope you find it worth my effort to give you a handy, occasionally refreshed digest on the subject.    I continue to update this post from time to time to with current insights, wiki-style, to help readers gain some historical perspective on how knowledge and experience continue to evolve on this topic.

I wish to personally thank Steve Lubahn, Lydia Sugarman, Beth Harte, Ronn Irving, Julia Geyerhahn, Joan Saunders, Paul Welsh, Cathy Goodwin, Paul Ardoin, Kimberly McCabe, Fred Mikkelsen and and Steve Nesich, for your willingness to share your extensive knowledge and your thoroughly professional commentary.

Below you fill find (a) the original post, (b) an analysis of the commentary, (c) the unabridged dialogue stream from multiple forums, so you can read it and draw your own conclusions, and (d) a periodically refreshed list of additional resource links.

And, of course, if the mood strikes you, feel free to comment using the handy comment form on this page!

~

Here is my original post.

Online marketing: Virtual Trade Shows – worth it?

Virtual trade shows combine some interesting elements of both inbound and outbound marketing.

Recently I convinced a firm to participate as a Sponsor for a virtual trade show run by a professional organization serving their industry.

Compared to a live trade show, the virtual version provided some distinct advantages, as well as some eerily similar behavioral analogies.

Firstly, there are obvious cost savings in travel, lodging, meals, shipping, logistics, downtime and dead tree media.

Beyond that, a number of distinct advantages occurred.  For starters, the price tag was about half the comparable expense for a live in-person event, yet the traffic was higher than any of the dozens of events we had done in the same year.  I suspect the low price is partially due to the reduced production cost, but I can’t help wondering if prices are artificially low and might inflate in the next year or two, as virtual trade shows catch on and sponsorships become more of a premium (the old supply vs. demand conundrum).  I guess time will tell. (Update: on  the other hand, if they catch on, perhaps the “scale” will reduce individual costs by  spreading them over a greater number of participants).

Operationally, the virtual event had some distinct characteristics I really liked.  For example, exhibitors had the ability to:

  • post all manner of media – video, white papers, demos, brochureware, available for unlimited download and access, and all without killing any trees.
  • empower virtual booth attendants – the sponsorship package we selected permitted the creation of 3 avatars, each represented in real life by myself and two colleagues, who would take turns “staffing” our virtual exhibit – that is, being online to receive automatically generated alerts each time a visitor accessed our virtual exhibit, and operating a chat window feature provided with the virtual exhibit.
  • track and nurture visitors – Most importantly, exhibit and show traffic was better than any live event over the past year, and it was all visible to us, not only during the event but for up to 90 days after the show dates.  We could see who had accessed each type of content, how long they visited, and any questions they had logged or discussed in chat sessions.   Any time a visitor logged in, we could see what content they were accessing and make some determination about how best to follow up.   Genius!

This last feature is roughly the equivalent of having a dedicated micro-site, laser focused on a specific audience, complete with profiling, analytics,  reporting and live alerts.   All data was stored and accessible in spreadsheet format for easy download and transfer to our in-house CRM software.  All for the same price.
If all this is not sufficient testimonial in favor of virtual trade shows, consider:    the professional organization whose virtual event I sponsored has decided to make their big annual conference a virtual event too.

Pre-event training offered by the virtual event company was well worth attending; it kept us out of the woods and guided us in attaining successful results.

Have you sponsored or managed a virtual event?  What has your experience been?

~

B. Analysis & Highlights

Here is my capsule analysis, where I categorize and summarize the commentary along the following topical lines:  Attendance, Engagement, Exposure, Lead Quality, Lead Volume, Efficiency and Cost.

Attendance. All of the commenters noted having attended live trade shows, half had attended virtual trade shows, and 1/3 had sponsored both live and virtual shows.  Both the live event and its virtual variant were seen to have experienced diminished attendance numbers lately, as the Recession has eaten into marketing and travel budgets.   Optimism prevailed about the coming year.

Exposure/Engagement.  Perceptions seemed correlated to commenters’ familiarity with and use of online media.  In other words, the more comfortable you are with virtual environments, the more you are likely to exploit and benefit from a virtual event.  Having said that, both camps report that live events provide two important dimensions of communication not available online: visual and aural sensory input – put simply, face to face networking.  Humans have evolved, over milennia, the ability to interpret facial expression, visual cues, and spatial relations.

Examples:

  1. Presenters can interact with an audience more effectively live than online;
  2. Attendees at live events can visually scan a show floor and absorb more people, activity and information more quickly and efficiently than they can at an online event;
  3. Online event participants, by contrast, are seldom singly focused; they are at work, multitasking and distracted, and not fully  engaged.

Still, some virtual event sponsors were “wowed” at the effectiveness of virtual events.

Lead Volume/Quality.  This element seemed less affected by choice of medium (live/online) than by preparation.  People who said they prepared well for a live or virtual event seemed satisfied with lead flow, and others who admitted a lack of preparation expressed discontent with lead flow.  Lesson learned.  Fail to plan, and you plan to fail.  Moreover, some savvy people viewed virtual events not so much as a cost-cutter or a replacement for live events, but rather as a recruitment channel for live attendees.

Efficiency/Cost. Notch a “Win” for virtual events, which expand on the limitations of badge scanning, capturing information such as duration of visit, clickstream, collateral downloads and visits, and visitor comments, all of which can easily be downloaded and exported to your CRM.  In terms of participation cost, virtual events seemed to cost about half that of a live event.

ROI. While the entire group expressed great interest in measuring ROI, only a few seemed to have a firm grasp on their metrics and could unequivocally state the ROI case for either type of trade show.  Interestingly, participation in a virtual event seems an additive investment, not a replacement for live event participation.  Moreover, some savvy marketers use virtual events to (a) recruit more live event attendees, treating the virtual event as a “content-light” forum to build interest in the live event as a richer experience, and (b) do some cost-effective experimentation with event content to help guide live event strategy.  Live interviews on the show floor with dignitaries, displays of attendee lists, and promotions of “live-only” aspects of live events all seem to help with the recruitment.

~

C.  Comment Stream 

Here is the unabridged commentary from both forums.

Steve Nesich wrote:

Some differences are obvious: the production cost of doing a virtual event is significantly less. No travel, no meals, no lodging, no room rental, no booth construction, shipping or storage, no booth space rental, etc.

But the results and the ROI from a virtual vs. a live event are still unclear. It varies from show to show, company to company. My research, thus far, is showing a clear pattern: generally, with a virtual event, although you’ll have a lower cost, you’ll also have less engagement between the attendees and the speakers/exhibitors.

People who log on to a webinar, webcast or virtual trade show are, of course, in front of a screen, where the “multitasking” work mode is in high gear. Yes, the attendee is “at” your event, but they are also answering email, composing a document, surfing another website or talking on the phone with the sound of your presentation muted.

There appears to be some evidence that there is a trade-off between the lower cost of a virtual event and the number and quality of leads that result from a (less expensive) virtual event and a (more expensive) live one

Steve Lubahn wrote:

Most virtual trade shows I have looked into are too expensive relative the real benefits. Be sure and ask for actual stats, not just visitors, but also clicks to vendors. I have also contacted other vendors who use the virtual exhibits to get their experiences, most often they tell me they are not even sure what their results are, or they do not plan to sign up the following year.

Lydia Sugarman wrote:

Personally, I have *never* actually attended any virtual trade show for which registered. Now, I just don’t even bother registering. For me and I think, most people, the real benefit of trade shows is face-to-face conversations and networking with other attendees. Needless to say, that just can’t be adequately replicated virtually.

Ronn Irving wrote:

Ed, I planned and worked many tradeshows – mostly technical equipment. Expensive, lots of effort and long days from organizing to follow up. We often wondered if it was worth it. Yes, 80% of your annual revenue flowed through those 5 days on the floor in Vegas or wherever. But when it was done, we had a stack of leads, lots of handshakes and muttered promises that we would talk after the show. That’s the way it works when you are a small company dwarfed by the Palaces of Sony and Panasonic.

I recently attended two Virtual Tradeshows. I came away with lots of good information from the vendors – some excellent White Papers and Case Studies and superb Webinars – now available on demand – from some of the industry professionals. I have not looked into the costs, but suspect the cost per lead is lower. I imagine the quality of the leads generated are higher. The technology to integrate those leads into a CRM for follow up is obviously very efficient. The ability to chat and interact with both vendor reps and clients was valuable too.

Does the “convenience” of a virtual trade show offset the lack of face time? At this point, I would vote maybe.

Ed Alexander wrote:

All good points, gang. I agree there is no substitute for face to face meetings, and as Lydia pointed out, a virtual event lacks the visual in-person effects. For example, at a live show, you have a matrix-type experience in that you can scan the show floor visually and note the presence of colleagues, customers, and prospects. At the virtual event, it is a linear experience – people have either clicked or they haven’t, and there is no nuance in between.

So then the question becomes, what can you interpret from the virtual event data? Almost all the clicks are deliberate i.e. the visitor has a purpose. I will post additional feedback in terms of actual traffic quality results as the weeks unfold.

Thanks for all your contribution to a balanced discussion!

Julia Geyerhahn wrote:

In my opinion, virtual trade shows an be more valuable than f2f trade shows.  At live events, you probably wouldn’t walk up to an attendee and start a conversation.  Plus, you’d spend a lot of time finding someone from a company you might want to talk to.  Trying to attend sessions and get in quality time with vendors is challenging.  And on top of all of that, trade show traffic overall is way down.  Companies have less money to spend on sending their employees to attend, and vendors have cut their trade show budgets as well. In the virtual world, however, you have attendees at their desks – no travel budget required. They are much more likely to start conversations via chat with other attendees. And vendors can start discussions and have the attention of multiple people at once. I think virtual trade shows are highly valuable.

Lydia Sugarman wrote:

Historically, there is absolutely no follow-up on fully 79% of all leads generated at trade shows. Fail! I would venture to guess that percentage is even higher for exhibitors and attendees not adequately preparing for attending trade shows. As the old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  If a trade show is worth attending, plan which sessions you’ll attend.  Decide what companies or customers, present and future, you want to meet with and call to schedule an appointment.  Plan a dinner for your top customers and make reservations far in advance.  Make use of your website, newsletter, and social media accounts to let people know you’ll be attending. Trade shows are huge networking opportunities, so you should be striking up conversations at every opportunity. If not, you’re doing yourself and your company a disservice. Get and give cards and organize them at some point every day, enter them into your CRM app with a note to remind you why that person is relevant and what the follow-up should be.  Don’t party too hard.  You’re there to work.

I used to sell syndicated TV programming and the big annual domestic tradeshow is NATPE. Well before leaving New York, every good syndicator had an appointment calendar that was filled with appointments with the most critical, most important stations and confirmed dinner invitations with station group executives. The little free time on the floor was given over to the mom-and-pop stations in small markets who were wandering the floor aimlessly.

I think these points are valid for both types of tradeshows. To have a successful experience, you must first have purpose about everything you do.

Ronn Irving wrote:

@ Lydia – Sage advice. I too have done NATPE and about 20 years of NAB shows, and you are correct, many of the exhibitors, small and large, have poor planning. One of the things I am most interested to learn about the Virtual Tradeshows is how well they convert the leads they get into opportunities and ultimately sales. I see V Tradeshows as an add on, not an alternative, to the tried and backbreaking ones. That may change over time, especially for the software-based companies. I have a link to one of the ones I attended – it appears to still be active. I will be glad to share it with anyone, but in deference to Beth, I will send it to anyone who requests it.

Joan Saunders wrote:

This is a great discussion and a very relevant one in these tough economic times for business. I agree that there is a place for both types of trade show. And this is coming from someone who actually sells virtual trade shows. At the moment, I think cost and positioning of virtual shows is the barrier to entry. I believe they are perceived as being quite expensive for what you get – a one day, two day show. Yes, you do have the archives, which is a distinct advantage to a live trade show, to which you can continue to drive an audience and so extend the ROI. It is true that attendance is way down on live trade shows, yet the virtual shows have not taken off quite as one would have expected. I don’t believe this to be the forum or the content – I do believe it is the cost. When the cost of producing virtual shows comes down, which it will over the next year, I think the usage will sky rocket.

Paul Welsh wrote:

I haven’t attended a lot of virtual trade shows but the one Marketing Pofs had in September blew me away. I’ve probably told 50 people about my positive experience. After spending most of the day at the show I told my friends not to invest their money in airlines of convention hotels because once virtual trade shows move through the adoption process travel and hotel dollars will be on a downhill slope.

Cathy Goodwin wrote:

We tried exhibiting at a virtual trade show – and found the traffic and results disappointing for the investment. Compared to a traditional tradeshow the engagement is very superficial – an online chat is completely different from an in-person conversation and the chance to see, feel, and experience a product. I would want to see higher traffic, lower costs, and a more engaging interactive experience to deem another virtual trade show as a solid investment.

Debra De-Jong wrote:

Do you guys think that the sort of product/service a company offers is a limiting factor for participating in a virtual tradeshow? I organized CeBIT, Infocomm and NACS for high-tech companies I worked for, and the face to face demonstration and explanation was crucial for understanding the product. I also noticed that visitors like to touch – being it a computer screen or a real product.

Steve Lubahn wrote:

I think it is an issue less about the actual product, and more an issues of the venue and price of the virtual tradeshow. There are many ways to represent a product or services online, but you have to get the visitors to come and spend time to search out what they are looking for before the product presentation can even occur.

Joan Saunders wrote:

Ah, yes, there in lies the issue. Getting people to come! It is the same as any type of show / meeting, whether virtual or live. I can tell you from 16 years experience producing virtual events that most sponsors still believe that ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Not so. Most sponsors do not spend sufficiently on generating the audience. To have a successful event, you need good attendance. To get good attendance you need to spend money on getting the audience there. At least one third of the budget for any event should be spent on audience generation. Sorry to go on about this – it is one of my pet peeves. I deal with it practically every day of my business life – unrealistic expectations! And that is the second point – I think most individuals do have unrealistic expectations of virtual trade shows. Of course it will not be the same as a live show, but it certainly has many advantages. Ultimately, cost will be one of those advantages. It is for attendees now, but it will be more so for sponsors as this forum evolves.

Paul Ardoin wrote:

I recently organized and ran a B2B virtual event, and while it was 25% the cost of the face-to-face events (even less when you include travel), the traffic was horrible. Almost no one engaged with us when we tried to start a conversation. We had some visitors to our virtual booth, but almost no one visited for longer than 1 minute. There were several hours where no one at all was in our booth. We were also limited by the templates as to the artwork we could show — and could not show demos. We wanted to bring people into demos outside the virtual show, but never got that far with any visitors. A much lower percentage of people have returned our follow-up emails/calls (vs. F2F tradeshows). I have been meaning to speak with other vendors from the event to see if that was their experience as well.

Unless I find out that I did something wrong when planning this–and figure out how I can fix it–I’m not planning to do another virtual trade show again. It was a horrible experience.

Steve Lubahn wrote:

Paul, I think your experience is similar to many others when it comes to virtual events. The main people getting rich are the people putting on the “virtual event”, not the exhibitors.

I have had some luck with directory listings that is longer term, not just one or two day events, where you can have an actual profile with links within your website, be even there be sure you ask for website traffic and results before committing.

Paul Ardoin wrote:

I’ve been to a couple of virtual events as an attendee, and it’s waaay too easy to blow off the vendors. And, sitting at your desk, it’s waaaay to easy to get distracted by the minutiae of a typical work day.

Kimberly McCabe wrote:

I have attended 3 virtual conferences. I found the most memorable “take-away” was how boring they were to navigate. The second: how much memory the conf zapped from my CPU. There were far too few vendors. Timing issues meant I wasn’t connecting with people but sending messages. I got lots of follow-ups from companies along the lines of “Thank you for visiting our virtual booth…” even when I went in….saw what the company was about and immediately left. Some of the booths were good. But I think there is something missing. The companies hosting the websites are focusing too much on making it like SecondLife. There is too little info before the conference about the webinars and the companies exhibiting. The human element is too far gone. I think it would be more valuable if people were available via web-cam…or if there was more of a “live” feel. Personally Joan, so far I think most companies are better to spend their marketing budget on hosting their own webinars than partaking in a virtual conference.

Fred Mikkelsen wrote:

“Going to a show” is viewed as, and managaed as, a company perk.  Perks for the marketers, the attenders, and the press.  Managers cannot say, “As a reward for your success on this project, I want you to sit on this WebEx for four hours.”

As budgets have cut back, live show attendance has been more about marketing to marketers, and the biproduct of hooking up with the most successful inside achievers, and most influential press, has faded.

Small regional shows already offer reduce travel costs and seem mostly to be uninspired. People come-and-go quickly leaving the at-any-time attendance even more disproportionally low. Vendors fall-back to the boring tri-fold, table-top displays that can never wow, and the cycle of apathy accelerates.

The big show has also been a vehicle for presenting strategic direction. Breaking news at a small show does not get significant press. Breaking news on a virtual show would not get significant press.

If it’s not a reward for your best employees; if it’s not a way to meet the best employees of other firms; and if it’s not a way to break strategic news, I’m left wondering what the appeal of a virtual show is compared to YouTube, and how it could follow-on in the tradition of the trade show.

The genre of the trade show may be filed away with “whistle stops” and “green stamps” as quaint ways marketing used to be done.”Going to a show” is viewed as, and managaed as, a company perk. Perks for the marketers, the attenders, and the press. Managers cannot say, “As a reward for your success on this project, I want you to sit on this WebEx for four hours.” As budgets have cut back, live show attendance has been more about marketing to marketers, and the biproduct of hooking up with the most successful inside achievers, and most influential press, has faded. Small regional shows already offer reduce travel costs and seem mostly to be uninspired. People come-and-go quickly leaving the at-any-time attendance even more disproportionally low. Vendors fall-back to the boring tri-fold, table-top displays that can never wow, and the cycle of apathy accelerates. The big show has also been a vehicle for presenting strategic direction. Breaking news at a small show does not get significant press. Breaking news on a virtual show would not get significant press. If it’s not a reward for your best employees; if it’s not a way to meet the best employees of other firms; and if it’s not a way to break strategic news, I’m left wondering what the appeal of a virtual show is compared to YouTube, and how it could follow-on in the tradition of the trade show. The genre of the trade show may be filed away with “whistle stops” and “green stamps” as quaint ways marketing used to be done.

~end of commentary~

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