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Beyond Virtual Events: 3 Replacements for Live Events That Are Taking Center Stage in 2021

The cancellation of live events in 2020 (and for most, at least the first half of 2021) has forced publishers to find new ways to connect buyers and sellers, particularly as sponsors shifted ad dollars earmarked for events into all-digital channels.

Virtual events were the obvious answer but if you talk to most publishers and sponsors privately, they’ll admit they see “traditional” virtual facsimiles of live events as a stopgap to be abandoned as soon as the world goes back to normal.

Here we look at three solutions developed in response to the crisis that have performed so well that they will continue to be offered even as live events return.

1.  Social Simulcasts

AC Business Media (ACBM) covers markets ranging from heavy construction to manufacturing to supply chain and that means serving sponsors with heavy equipment to sell. As events canceled, giving customers a way to get products in front of potential buyers was critical.

“We were at CONEXPO last March just as the world started imploding,” says ACBM Chief Digital Officer Kris Heineman. “Big manufacturers had already paid millions to ship machines out to the show but they didn’t come themselves because they didn’t want their staffs exposed to COVID. When events go away they’re not going to stop producing products, they’ll start looking for other outlets.”

While many publishers produced virtual product showcases within proprietary digital platforms, ACMB created simulcasts—basically live streaming—that leveraged social media to expand the reach of its audience.

In one example, ACBM created a single livestream that played simultaneously across the seven different Facebook pages devoted to its Construction brands.

“When we first started doing this, we were concerned that the channels would start overlapping with each other but it’s actually a case of more is more—with each platform you get a certain percentage of your overall audience,” says Heineman. “Let’s say you have 1 million Facebook followers—Facebook won’t let you organically reach all those people. But if you stream to 10 different Facebook pages, maybe you reach 40,000 here and 60,000 there, so it’s all complementary.”

ACBM created a simulcast for equipment manufacturer Bobcat that drove more than 100,000 views and 800 interactions in the first few days.

“For B2B, those are high numbers,” says Heineman. “When most people in B2B say they put something on Facebook they’re usually getting two or three interactions. Not everyone thinks there’s opportunity in B2B for social media but this product proves that wrong.”

Customers continue to clamor for the live streams even as ACBM begins exploring the return of live events. “We can’t produce enough video,” says Heineman. “We’re already sold out on some channels through 2021.”

[Editor’s note: For more on how ACBM is creating social simulcasts, register for our upcoming webcast this Thursday, March 25 at 1pm ET on New Revenue From Social Media: How To Build a Live Product Showcase.]

2. Marketing Services

Marketing services have grown faster than digital display advertising in B2B media for several years now but prior to last year still took a backseat to events as an overall revenue producer for most publishers.

Marketing services has always been tied closely to events for Government Executive Media Group (GEMG) but in 2020 came to the forefront by helping customers meet their event objectives when live events came to a standstill (and finished the year with revenue up 43 percent as a group while helping to drive 20 percent topline growth for the overall company).

Frank Salatto, GEMG

“It wasn’t just about helping customers achieve their event objectives with us but their event objectives writ large,” says Frank Salatto, Vice President and General Manager of Marketing and Communications at GEMG. “Honestly, we were part of the conversation with clients like never before in how to rebuild their event programs.”

GEMG transitioned quickly to an all-digital environment by turning large live events into multi-part integrated digital programs, using content as the connector to drive audience from one touchpoint to another.

“Digital events were part of that but it’s a series of digital events that would allow you to recreate what you would get with a live event but in between those you need additive content that keeps the conversation going,” says Salatto.

Data collection and diverse capabilities helped GEMG keep revenue whole for all but one live event booked prior to the pandemic.

“There is opportunity in the data that you can collect,” says Salatto. “That’s always been a pain point for live events. But in digital we know what customers are interacting with across a much longer time-period and we know more about them including how interested they are and how ready they are to buy.”

Branded websites proved to be a winner for GEMG last year and will continue to be a key product in 2021. “That turned out to be a great vehicle for brands to tell their story and drive sustained engagement over time but also a way for us to have a center piece for really large, long term programs and have tack-on revenue beyond the initial build,” says Salatto.

GEMG expects a similar marketing environment in 2021 and is looking to capitalize on its stable which includes branded microsites, immersive articles, video and audio, digital event integration and data visualization.

“We believe this is sustainable and there’s room to grow,” says Salatto. “The net of this is that 14 out of our 15 top clients have marketing services central to the program they bought with us. We are not a huge piece of the revenue pie as an individual unit but we are a driver of topline revenue and a significant part of the pathway to bigger revenue programs.”

3. Attendee Data

You’ve likely heard of first party data and third-party data but how about zero party data?

At our recent Business Information and Media Summit, Informa Markets chief digital officer Jason Brown, who leads a newly created group called Informa Markets DNA, showed how the company is finding new revenue by leveraging event audience data into a new take on lead gen that not only creates revenue in the interim but promises to elevate the value of Informa’s live events when they return.

That includes creating online marketplaces that are enhanced versions of the show directories that Informa produces for its live events. Customers can use the online marketplaces to search products and suppliers, discover new products via a recommendation engine, make connections, create a virtual “walking” or favorites list and register for other Informa physical and virtual events.

The online marketplaces also provide Informa with “zero party data” where users offer direct insight into their interests through their use of the marketplaces, which helps Informa create authenticated data that shows not only who a lead is also their buying intent.

“We take our first party data, the third-party data that we can buy or borrow and the zero-party data given to us by our audience when they are specifically after something and combine that information together to create something called authenticated data,” says Brown. “If we do all of that correctly, our gray cloud of a data lake becomes a green cloud of known buyer status. That’s where we can say who our buyer is and where they are in the funnel.”

In addition to the traditional model of offering leads as part of a one-off sponsorship, Informa is moving toward an annual subscription model that includes,

  • continuous access to fresh data
  • ability to count, segment and modify criteria for best data selection
  • intent scoring
  • ability to create a sales pipeline that feeds directly into the customer’s CRM

“Instead of bundling and packaging programs, this is an annual program that you can subscribe to and we can present different layers and opportunities to you,” says Brown.