Until last year, experiential marketing – a live, on-ground consumer engagement technique that brings brands to life and creates meaningful interactions – was hailed as the next big thing for B2B brands. However, by early 2020, physical events took quite a beating because of the pandemic.
Almost 62% of marketers in the US had to cancel or postpone their B2B exhibitions by April 2020. B2B marketers soon realized that their in-person event strategies cannot accomplish their sales goals and lead delivery plans. Fast forward to the end of the year, technology marketers have already pivoted to virtual engagement strategies. Webinars, online meetings, and other digital events have taken the front seat.
The question, thus, arises: is digital enough for businesses to drive audience engagement moving forward? Virtual events are creating new opportunities for technology firms to showcase their offerings. However, B2B marketers find the recreation of in-person experiences online quite challenging, especially as people miss physical interactions.
The new experiential marketing landscape
Marketers consider on-ground events as an effective channel to create effective connections with their prospects. They provide firms with an opportunity to gather relevant participant information leading to improved marketing communications. With the pandemic forcing marketers to go purely digital, experiential marketing has developed from solely on-ground activations to a sustainable mix of in-person and virtual events.
Over the last decade, experiential marketing grew consistently while witnessing an unprecedented 15.2% plunge during COVID-19 this year. This is attributed to consumers’ increased proclivity towards real-time experiences such as product demos, which they find more helpful than traditional advertising and marketing methods. Plus, due to the increasing demand for personalization, experiential activations can turn passive consumers into active participants.
Moving into the post-pandemic world, the role of B2B experiential marketers will evolve rapidly. They must tap new opportunities to deliver thoughtful experiences, achieve modern demand generation, and bolster customer engagement. Here’s how.
Adoption of experiential marketing by B2B firms
Freeman’s Brand Experience study finds that moving forward, one-third of the CMOs will devote 21-50% of their budget to experiential marketing. This is also supported by the fact that COVID-19 has escalated the importance of meaningfully engaging audiences.
Before the COVID-19 era, large conferences, trade shows, and exhibitions were the priority for B2B event marketers. However, virtual experiences and social media engagement evolved to be the mainstream this year. Google shifted its Cloud Next Conference to completely online in 2020. Meanwhile, Adobe has announced that its annual Summit will be a virtual event in 2021.
Technology marketers expect that virtual experiences will consistently grow beyond 2020. So, they must focus on amplifying the online attendee experience to drive meaningful engagement.
1) Rich content:
Short and focussed content will be key to forge long-term connections with prospects. Be it remote webinars, presentations, or keynotes, marketers must keep in mind that attendees are looking for quick, relevant solutions to their business problems.
2) Timing matters:
There’s been an increase in the number of webinars happening on a day-to-day basis since the outbreak. As per the Webinar Benchmarks report 2020, midweek webcasts and virtual events during weekends have performed well.
3) Personalized experiences:
B2B marketers must create personalized virtual experiences such as providing content sneak peeks, creating live streaming extras, and live chats to complement in-person gatherings.
4) Thoughtful communication with prospects:
Give attendees more flexible content viewing options and acknowledge even those who couldn’t make it to the event through post-event engagement.
Incorporating polls, quizzes, and gamification with relevant incentives can help create a focussed environment wherein audiences can actively participate. Furthermore, creating a branded hashtag on social media can help amplify your experiential marketing efforts by involving a large audience.
Taking inspiration from physical events to amplify virtual experiences
Facebook built a neighborhood IQ Park and IQ Home to bring consumer data to life, and hold the attention of busy senior advertising and marketing executives for a full day of learning. Live attendees could view a timeline of holidays Facebook users post about at the 40-foot-wide Year of Extraordinary Wall. This experience provided an immersive look at why and how consumers share on the platform. 93% of over 1500 attendees found the experience helpful as it provided them with valuable insights on how to use Facebook for business.
The takeaway? There’s no restriction on utilizing creativity and innovation to interact with the prospects and guide them through an event. Creative installations can help attendees visualize data easily. Add giveaways and post-event engagement strategies to forge long-term relationships.
GE created an experiential marketing campaign Healthymagination to promote global healthcare solutions. The idea is to enable doctors to share their stories live in front of attendees. This experience has allowed GE to showcase the importance of its 24 innovative healthcare technologies while reaching as many as 135M people since its inception in 2009.
The takeaway? B2B marketers must not only create engagement to attract the audience, but also help them experience your offering first-hand by incorporating live product demonstrations.
Used as a platform for the CEO to tease and announce new Apple products, its Special Events not only provides an in-person experience but also live-streams online to engage with global audiences. Apple also releases the Apple Events podcast that includes its latest keynote addresses.
The takeaway? B2B marketers must create an entertaining experience for attendees to include elements of teaser content, impromptu competitions, and exclusive at-home experiences.
A hybrid future for B2B experiential marketing
PQ Media has forecasted that experiential marketing will rebound in 2021 with a 6.1% growth worldwide. Physical events will get back into action with a new digital dimension after COVID-19. This also reflects in the choice of 68% of marketers who believe in the hybrid future of B2B experiential marketing going into 2021.
Technological innovations such as AI, AR, facial recognition, and holograms powered by 5G will make brand experiences more immersive, increase their global impact, and improve experiential campaign measurement. Technology firms must therefore focus on creating high-quality and personalized experiences to strengthen their reputation and forge long-term engagement with attendees.
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