You schmooze, you lose.

Is there any replacement for the expense-account martini?

Greetings from our various living spaces, where we are desperately trying to recreate the camaraderie of our office by deploying increasingly arcane Zoom backgrounds and using our LHC branded, tax deductible (supposedly?) pickup truck to hand-deliver snacks to various corners of the 5 boroughs:

Now on to the #content

Events were a key part of your marketing strategy. Now what?

In month 3 of the global pandemic, business for B2B and B2C marketers continues to be unpredictable and weird — for either a little better or much worse, depending which industries their clients work in. But no matter what murky waters marketers are swimming in right now, they are all cancelling catering orders and trying to figure out how to make professional-looking Zoom backdrops to hide their treadmills and manga collections. That is to say — they are trying to figure out how to leverage their IRL events budget into interconnected URL experiences that don’t suck.

In the B2C world, finding alternatives to events is a more creative and scattershot process. Many brands have already taken advantage of so much of the world being home to stage virtual publicity stunts featuring big stars with nothing better to do. (It’s better than Cameo, after all.) These have included everything from Mercedes car shows over Zoom to a nacho-eating face-off between Bill Murray and Guy Fieri to club nights DJed by D-Nice, J. Lo and more. These events usually have a charitable aspect built into them, as feels necessary for any frivolous public display of resources during this time.

With B2B, the mandate to carry on business as usual with events is more urgent, since events make up roughly 30-40% of a typical B2B marketing budget. The solutions, as one might expect, aren’t as exciting. Most major B2B conferences are persisting on the Internet, with their focus changed significantly to address the fresh issues at hand in the COVID era. Organizers are trying to be as resourceful as possible when it comes to creating event experiences that feel like they are taking place in space and time, complete with celebrity side events (like the Adam Levine performance we “attended” at the Sirius Decision summit earlier this month — stop judging us!)

But is it possible for these events to feel anything like the “real thing”? And even more importantly, can B2B marketers actually use them to drive leads? Analysts like Reify Works’ Michael Bernstein argue conference organizers haven’t yet found an effective way to emulate the serendipitous interactions made possible by the petri-dish environment of meet-and-greets. There is — for better or worse — truly no replacement for the expense account martini. 

One thing is clear though: as we adapt to the “new normal” (sorry, I’m sure you’re as sick of hearing that term as we are), it’s important that event organizers take advantage of the unique benefitsof their entirely virtual situation, rather than just mounting weak imitations of a real-life hangs. For example, there are plenty of ways to customize individual conference-goers’ journeys so that their experiences are more productive and tolerable than they would have been with pants on. A virtual experience can allow attendees to cover more ground and miss less of what they want to see. Additionally, the lack of travel and lodging expenses — among many other barriers — means that the base of participants has the potential to be larger and more varied, which is a win for both marketers and clients. 

It’s important that event organizers take advantage of the unique benefits of their entirely virtual situation, rather than just mounting weak imitations of a real-life hangs.

Outside of the major summits, there are also an increasing number of ways to stage smaller virtual parties almost spontaneously, with a reach that would be impossible in real life. For example, LinkedIn’s new Events functionality seems tailor-made for the B2B set, allowing users to stream events in the way a Twitch streamer might a Call of Duty game, and to notify connections and followers. There’s huge potential for these kinds of micro-events to foster interaction with potential clients, as long as you earn your keep in their browser window with compelling content. 

Sure, virtual overtures like these don’t feel as natural or invigorating as cornering someone for a happy hour pitch. If done correctly, though, they might just wind up a key piece in the B2B marketing toolkit - whether or not IRL events return any time soon.

Some (talented) people

Dylan Niehoff - Marketing Director (Foleon, Wolaco)
Evan Santiago - Creative Director (Criteo, Intralinks)
Judy Wong - Art Director (Scholastic, Contently)
25+ people across departments at The Muse 
1,900+ people across departments at Airbnb