By Bob Bahramipour, CMO, InXpo
Until recently BtoB marketers have had limited online tools for demand generation. While consumer marketers have long had a variety of online tools available to them, such as Yahoo!, YouTube, FaceBook, Hulu, BtoB marketers,on the other hand, have been forced to rely mainly on search engine marketing, direct response email and some display advertising to get in front of potential prospects.
Each of these online tools do have value, but they also have very significant limitations in generating leads, qualifying leads, and closing leads. Search engine marketing and email are effective at driving traffic and clicks, but do very little in turning that traffic into an engaged lead. Banner and online display advertising in the BtoB space are very limited in scale and while these methods can drive general awareness, they do little to meaningfully drive leads.
The rise in virtual events in the past year has finally given BtoB marketers an immersive, interactive, live, content-rich tool through which large-scale lead generation and lead qualification is possible. Furthermore, virtual events offer a powerful combination for both lead generation and brand building.
Virtual events constitute a powerful and cost-effective BtoB marketing platform. Using this platform, marketers can transform raw traffic generated by search engine marketing and other online advertising methods into qualified leads. Virtual booths can be used to distribute product information and connect prospects to live sales and product people. Virtual auditoriums can be used to talk to large audiences about business solutions and also serve as a congregation point for customers to freely chat and ask questions. Virtual networking tools can be used to introduce prospects to partners and other customers who can give positive testimonials. And within a virtual event no action is lost into the ether – every click, every visit, every download, every email is tracked in the virtual event’s comprehensive data mart for future review. Furthermore this data can be directly connected into the marketers’ CRM systems – ensuring that every lead is actionable.
At the same time because virtual events are real time, live and experiential in nature, marketers also have an opportunity to bring their products and brands to life. Virtual events not only offer the opportunity for brand advertising throughout the virtual space but also allow marketers to bring their product experts, customers, partners, R&D gurus together to do product demos, solve problems, and engage deeply with the brand.
For example, Cisco Live is Cisco’s premier customer conference providing education and training event for IT, networking professionals. As a low or no cost option for customers and partners in 2009, Cisco added a virtual companion powered by InXpo’s platform that would continue to be accessible after the physical event concluded.
The virtual event drew in over 6,600 unique attendees during the live dates. These attendees logged 3,956 booth content views for 11 external sponsor and Cisco Business Unit Booths and over 7,000 webcast session views for the original 40 webcasts available during the live event (Cisco Virtual Worlds Blog, August 21, 2009). Furthermore, Cisco Live Virtual proved to be a path for building loyalty, driving sales and increasing familiarity with products and services by customers and partners (Cisco Virtual Worlds Blog, September 13, 2009):
- 34% of the virtual attendees indicated they were extremely/very likely to attend the in person event next year in Las Vegas.
- · For virtual attendees, the increase for familiarity with Cisco products and services before the event and after the event was near as strong as for the in person event
A virtual environment, like one created for Cisco, enables B2B marketers to create an experience that drives lead generation year round, while driving brand awareness. These results are achieved through:
- promotion tools to bring prospects and customers to the environment
- immersive rich media environment to bring them through the door
- content targeting to get them interested
- real-time interaction with product experts to peak their interest
- real time person-to-person interaction to drive organic promotion of brand / product
- powerful reporting, CRM integration, backend tools to make the information actionable
For the first time, there is an interactive, live and collaborative environment that enables prospects, customers and partners to touch, feel and evaluate products on a level they couldn’t previously.