Coronavirus: How to turn marketing events into opportunities in digital marketing

The coronavirus situation is a growing worldwide tragedy. Something that will likely impact the business world for weeks and months to come. As the news of closures and restrictions pour in, you (and your entire marketing team) may be wondering what to do about the upcoming trade show or the customer event that has been planned for months, if not years. These in-person events offer marketers a unique opportunity to connect directly with customers. They are also an opportunity to feature exclusive content, like new product launches or behind-the-scenes details. While it may not be ideal, COVID-19 has been creating opportunities in digital marketing that no one saw coming.

With people doing their part and voluntarily self-isolating, and with cities and states placing restrictions on large gatherings — plus an unknown timeline for future waves of social distancing — it may be time to create a Plan B to digitally communicate with your customers.

If you are headed back to the drawing board, we’ve curated a list to flip your in-person event on its head and to generate some inspiration:

Digital trade show alternatives

If the trade show you were planning to attend is canceled or postponed, don’t give up hope. There are many opportunities in digital marketing that will allow you to connect with current and prospective customers. You can still share your product updates and other news that was meant to be exclusive to a trade show.

Digital product release

Your brand is releasing a new product — heck yeah! Put the new product content that was created for your trade show booth to work in digital ways. Produce a video revealing the new product on Facebook or YouTube Live (maybe Tesla can inspire you). Or, take that one step further and create a 360º video experience that lets customers virtually walk around a piece of equipment or the production plant (we worked with the National Pork Board to create a cool virtual experience since visitors weren’t allowed in pig barns for animal health reasons, long before social distancing). Take those beautiful new literature pieces and create a digital flipbook (we always love how Ikea turns their catalog into a digital experience). Turn your pop-up banner into a cell phone screensaver and share on Instagram Stories for viewers to save and use.

Event attendee list

Due to many cancellations and show postponements, ask if your trade show organizer is willing to share the list of attendees for a limited-time use or send a distribution on your behalf. Send the attendee list an email that shows how they can connect, learn and engage with your brand in the interim. Build a landing page on your website to house exclusive content that was planned for the trade show. This will serve as the primary place to drive traffic from email, social media or other channels.

Live chat

Other opportunities in digital marketing include offering a live chat. Customers can then connect directly with sales team members to learn about newly released products, answer questions or share case studies. Most platforms allow images and links, in addition to text (we’re partial to LiveChat and Drift for their ease of installation and use.) Live chat takes the online experience to a personal level because your team is able to connect 1:1 with customers. While some people slowly adjust to the video conferencing world, live chat offers a lower barrier to entry than a video call. This is because the conversation is hosted entirely through text instead of live audio or video.

Video calls

If video calls are more your speed, consider offering 1:1 video call with your sales team or representatives. Free and paid tools are readily available (like Zoom and Google Meet). Many are even offering special discounts or features during these times to help people connect. Let customers schedule a time that is convenient for them. Or even offer extended hours, as so many families are juggling schedules (we’re digging what the University of Iowa is offering prospective students). Don’t forget to spend a few minutes on the call checking in before diving into product details or a sales pitch.

 

Customer event online alternatives

Planning your own event? You may have to work with your team to make a difficult decision on whether to cancel or postpone. Many major brands, such as SXSW, are faced with the same dilemma. Major considerations may include the economic impact, effect on local (and global) culture and more. If your brand decides to cancel or postpone your customer event, there are still many opportunities in digital marketing to connect with your customers.

Live streaming

Were you going to have a speaker, panel discussions or other presentations at your event? Continue as planned by live streaming it via your video conferencing software or on YouTube, Facebook, even Instagram! If attendees aren’t able to catch it live, make sure you have a download of the video to share with everyone. Some platforms will automatically post to your page, but tools like Instagram Live need to be downloaded separately.

One note though: Test the technology first. You will likely be recording your live stream remotely and without the hands-on support of an AV team, so be prepared with the tools you need.

As you’re planning your live stream, incorporate interactive features. This could include questions, reactions or polls to keep viewers as engaged as they would be in person. If you were planning to hold a question and answer session following the presentation, don’t skip it! Remain on the air to address viewer questions just like you would in person.

Pro tip: Lessing-Flynn’s in-house live stream expert recommends that if you want to stream to multiple platforms at the same time, try using online applications like restream.io. Simply connect your favorite social media platforms (Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn, Twitch and more). That way nobody misses your stream.

Swag

You likely have a stockpile of killer giveaways (what we like to call “swag”) waiting for a new home. It may not be realistic to mail swag to all event attendees. After all, the mail system is overwhelmed with the shipping of necessities. Send swag to those who engage with your content. This can include watching your live streams or completing a live chat with your customer support team.

These are just a few ideas on how your sales and marketing team can adapt to a canceled event. What ideas or plans does your team have in place to stay connected over the next few weeks and months?

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