Are You Ready for Virtual Events? (Dennis Shiao)

InXpoLiveexhibit Drew's Note:  As I try to do every Friday, I'm pleased to bring you a guest post.  Meet a thought leader who shares his insights every day. So without further ado…Dennis Shiao.

Again, enjoy!

The recent economic situation is providing a catalyst for companies to look at cost-effective alternatives to meet and hold events. This, combined with reduced travel and marketing budgets, is giving rise to “virtual events.” From a marketing perspective, a virtual event is a cost-effective way to communicate and engage with partners, customers and prospects. This also presents a great opportunity for marketers to stand out. A successful virtual event strategy reduces costs, increases productivity, extends reach, provides rich data intelligence, and benefits the environment. To successfully implement a virtual events strategy, there are five questions to consider first:

What is your strategy?
Most companies are simply extending their physical events by adding a virtual component, or in some cases, replacing physical events with virtual events entirely.  We advocate that companies strategically look at their overall events program and what makes sense based on their objectives and audience. The strategy can include a mix of physical-only, virtual-only, or a combination of both (hybrid).

Who are you reaching?
Consider who you’re seeking to target with the virtual event, such as customers, partners, employees or prospects, and their level of technology sophistication and literacy. These factors will dictate how you communicate, educate and drive your audiences to the virtual event. For example, a solution with no downloads is a lower barrier to entry than one that requires a download.

Do you have the right staff?
One misconception is that a virtual event is easier and quicker to produce than a physical event. While you eliminate certain aspects of the planning process, such as travel, a physical venue, and lodging, a virtual event is still an event. You want to ensure that you have the right staff to promote and drive attendance, to sign up vendors, partners or other types of exhibitors to participate, and to manage the process from beginning to end.

Do you have the right virtual event platform technology?
Depending on your needs and your audience’s technology aptitude, you’ll want to make sure that you have the right virtual event platform technology. This includes a platform that is flexible enough to grow with your needs, including audience size, reliability and integration with third-party Web 2.0 technologies and other applications. Furthermore, an integrated reporting backend is critical for rich data intelligence and tracking, as well as to generate detailed reports and lead score report cards to accelerate your sales pipeline.

Do you have executive buy-in?
Though virtual events have experienced tremendous growth over the past few months, their adoption by corporate marketers is only just beginning. Securing executive buy-in or aligning a business owner with an inaugural virtual event program provides a mandate from above to proceed with the program, including budget allocation and staffing. While you may not be able to answer yes to all of these questions, the above provides you with key success factors for implementing virtual events as part of your marketing program.

Dennis Shiao is Client Services Executive with InXpo and author of “It’s All Virtual,” and is a frequent writer on virtual events, virtual worlds, virtual trade shows, virtual meetings and more. He counsels corporations on their virtual strategies.

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