The coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing the world in ways we’ve never seen in modern times. Events of all types are being canceled, we’re encouraged to avoid mass gatherings, restaurants and bars are closing, and we’re urged to practice social distancing to avoid further contamination.
All these changes are leading to dramatic shifts in the way companies need to think about marketing their events during a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.
It’s time to reallocate some (or maybe all) of that event marketing budget and concentrate on boosting virtual events where people can still tune in and participate. Here are a few ideas.
There is a lot of planning and marketing that goes into getting a trade show off the ground. Some companies are choosing to postpone annual conferences while others are wondering what to do about conferences planned for later in the year.
One option is to consider turning your in-person event into a virtual trade show. This will require a shift in your marketing messages to hype the benefits of tuning in at an attendee’s convenience and from wherever they deem safe or appropriate — no travel required.
This may take a little extra behind-the-scenes work on your end, but with resources like Zoom and GoToMeeting, you can easily record sessions and make them available for on-demand viewing.
Here are a few ideas for inspiration.
If your conference is educational in nature, you likely already have a speaker lineup. Ask each speaker to provide a PDF version of their presentation for download and then ask them to record their session. Be sure to tell the presenter to include contact info when people have questions after the fact. Monetize this option by creating bundles of sessions by category or topic, or let your audience pick five sessions for x-amount of dollars.
If you’re still looking to give your attendees the experience of being at a trade show, consider creating a smaller version of your trade show with clusters of webinars. These will allow both speakers and vendors to interact with your attendees with live presentations or demonstrations — including live Q&A. If you record these sessions, they can also be watched on-demand or referred to in the future. If your trade show was scheduled to be three days long, your webinars can span that same three-day time period. You can also offer the conference experience at a lower cost by allowing attendees to choose which day of webinars interests them most or by offering a bundle of all conference days.
For example, the Adobe Summit Digital Experience Conference was originally scheduled to take place in Las Vegas at the end of March. The original early-bird cost of attending the conference was $1,695. Adobe has since changed that conference to digital-only and is offering it for free on March 31. Attendees can watch the keynote, explore 100+ breakout sessions and more at their leisure and in a safe environment.
Another example is the popular tech conference Collision, normally held in Toronto. The conference has rebranded to Collision from Home and says “Collision from Home attendees will participate from wherever they are in the world, livestreaming talks from tech CEOs, international policymakers and global cultural figures. They’ll chat and connect with each other through the bespoke Collision from Home app and they’ll engage with some of the world’s most influential companies and fastest-growing startups.”
Give your presenters the reins to one of your social media accounts and let them go live. This is a great way to interact with your entire audience, including people who weren’t able to make it to your event in the first place. You could use a social media live video as an opportunity to tease a session you’ll include in your webinars or pre-recorded sessions, or you can have your speaker present their whole session and take questions live. Either way, this is a great way to interact with your audience from afar and a great way to provide a service your audience may have otherwise missed out on or not been able to afford.
Zoos across the country are closing down in an effort to do their part to stop the spread. The Akron Zoo, however, is using this time to provide free lunch and learns on Facebook Live. During these half-hourish programs, zookeepers feature and teach the audience about different animals. They also take audience questions.
Create smaller versions of your big event and give your audience the chance to network with people in their area by hosting local virtual conferences or summits. Segment your email lists by region or state and invite them to participate in this smaller, more intimate version of your event. Video conferencing platforms can help you coordinate all the players, and you can still have a full agenda. This would also be a great way to host vendor demonstrations, that way the vendor can answer questions in real-time as if the attendee were visiting their trade show booth in person.
New apps are emerging that give attendees as much of the in-person conference experience as possible. For example, Run the World is a newer app that has been described as, “a hybrid of Zoom video, Eventbrite ticketing, Twitch interactivity, and LinkedIn networking ... Run The World brings like-minded people together with live online events. It’s a digital space where participants can learn from experts and connect in a way that feels natural, safe, and fun while maintaining the professional and personal connection.”
Users can browse the attendee list and connect with other members. There’s even a Cocktail Hour feature that allows users to connect and socialize for one hour — BYO cocktail.
Don’t let a canceled or postponed event stop the launch of your new product or service. Consider adding a skin to your website that promotes your new product. Set up a marketing program that offers gifts or giveaways to people who opt in to learning more about your new product and add new contacts to any nurture programs, just like you would after a show or conference.
It’s important to let your audience know you’re taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously. Be transparent about what you’re doing to protect your employees and your customers.
Your customers aren’t coming to you for information about coronavirus — they want to know what to do now that they already paid to attend the conference you just canceled or postponed. Remind them of your refund/cancelation policy and let them know where they can find updates on the situation as it evolves.
Adobe is doing a great job answering questions about its once in-person, now digital-only summit. Leaders created an FAQ page that answers questions about refunds, why they made this decision and future conferences.
Let your audience know how you plan to communicate any changes to your program and be consistent. Remember that your entire audience may not be on social media, so communicate any changes across multiple platforms. At the same time, it’s important that you keep making positive announcements as well, like a new keynote speaker or session. This will keep the momentum going and encourage your attendees to attend.
If you’re still hosting an in-person event, make sure you clearly outline your plan to keep attendees safe and healthy and offer contact information for people who may still have questions.
Several consumer brands are making concessions to help ease burdens brought on by coronavirus. What can you do to help? Is your product or service something remote workers could really use right now? Can you help the people self-quarantined at home? Consider this your chance to do some good, and your customers will never forget your generosity. Don’t discount the benefits of word-of-mouth marketing.
For example, video conferencing app WebEx is offering its services for free until July, a definite bonus for the upswing in work-from-home (WFH) employees. An Ohio public transit line, Metro RTA, is offering free rides for the foreseeable future, and Peloton is extending the free trial of their app for 90 days so users can still get their sweat on at home.
It’s definitely not business-as-usual right now, but there are ways to make marketing during the coronavirus pandemic feel a little closer to normal. We may not be able to meet in large groups or in person, but we can keep doing marketing that matters for the people who need it.
How have you shifted your digital marketing strategy during coronavirus? Share your ideas to help fellow marketers scrambling for a solution.