When the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic canceled in-person events, conferences and trade shows in 2020, it was just the beginning of what could prove to be a seismic shift in how major corporations approach events. Lingering epidemiological and economic concerns mean that, for the foreseeable future, business leaders will need to rely on virtual events to reach their audiences. This represents a new way of operating for most organizations, but when done right, virtual events can be engaging, authentic and effective.
Below, SAS Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing Jennifer Chase shares key lessons her team learned from SAS® Global Forum’s successful virtual event this year.
Focus on bingeworthy content
It is not enough to just “lift and shift” a live event into a virtual experience. The whole experience must be reinvented and reimagined. It’s easy to exit a digital event, so stories need to be more compelling and experiences more engaging.
For SAS Global Forum, this meant condensing breakout sessions to a bingeworthy 20 minutes, creatively using social media for polling and trivia, and enabling attendees to chat one-on-one with subject matter experts.
“We wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a passive experience,” Chase said. “Creating deliberate paths to continue the conversation past the day of the event is even more critical in a virtual world.”
For tips on creating compelling content during times of crisis, check out the webinar Content Marketing In the Age of Uncertainty.
Shake up your teams – and your tools
Planning an on-site event and planning a digital event require completely different skill sets.
SAS spent a lot of time finding and developing a platform that not only allowed interactive experiences but also ensured 20,000 people could log on at once. Still, it’s good to have a backup plan. Or six.
“Set up contingencies. You need plans B through G,” Chase said. “In case our site was overwhelmed, we had another plan ready to go at the flip of a switch. I was so thrilled when we didn’t have to use it.”
Set the right benchmarks and track progress in real time
“There must be absolute clarity around what success looks like,” said Chase. “We set a goal of 20,000 qualified registrations and made sure that everyone understood exactly how their role contributed to achieving that number.”
To ensure that all the stakeholders were on the same page, the company set up a dashboard powered by SAS® Viya® with up-to-date metrics on everything from audience profile to registrations and marketing effectiveness.
Don’t expect your tried-and-true promotion plan to work
When the event parameters change, so does the promotion strategy.
“We stumbled a bit out of the gates,” Chase admits. “We weren’t sure exactly how best to promote this new online approach.”
But the team found success through new behavior-based segmentation and using look-alike targeting to reach new, relevant audiences with an interest in data, analytics and transformation. The team also tapped external influencers to promote to their audiences. In addition, they activated a global network of SAS employees and partners by providing enablement materials to promote in their regions.
Embrace the benefits of going digital
There are certain advantages to going fully online. With everything being digital, SAS had more insight than ever before about attendee behavior.
“The value of a digital event is the depth of data about content consumption,” Chase said. “We’ve been able to inform the sales teams at both an account and contact level. We could see where individuals went, what they viewed and what they are interested in. We used this info to personalize interactions with customers and prospects.”
This information about what attendees found most valuable will also allow SAS to produce other blockbuster virtual events like SAS Executive Connection: Reimagine on Nov. 10, 2020, a virtual SAS event focused on how organizations can apply lessons from the global pandemic to prepare for the future.