7 Ways to Use Virtual Events for Marketing

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Events are an essential component of marketing strategy—and virtual events are an increasingly important format for event marketing.

Indeed, 72% of event professionals plan on running online events after the pandemic, according to Hopin data.

In 2020, virtual events were a lifeline for many brands forced to cancel in-person events. But their benefits will apply even in a post-Covid world.

Virtual events are a powerful way to reach new prospects, engage (and re-engage) your audience, drive conversions, and track results. Plus, they are logistically simpler, more cost-effective, and vastly more accessible to participants than traditional in-person events.

In this article, we explore seven key online event use cases for marketing. Use the following virtual event ideas to inform and inspire your strategy in 2021 and beyond.

7 virtual event use cases for marketing

While there are many ways to use online events as part of your overall marketing strategy, we will focus on the opportunities that most commonly deliver the greatest impact.

When planning your virtual event, always remember to start with your goals and to focus on your specific audience. Also, consider which event types will be more appropriate given your resources.

1. Conferences and summits

Conferences and summits are an excellent way to build brand awareness and credibility by showcasing your organization’s thought leadership around a specific subject as well as to generate business leads and grow your audience.

These events will generally include a variety of sessions (often organized on separate thematic tracks), feature keynote speakers and presenters, and provide audiences with opportunities to engage with the subject matter.

In 2020, Knotch and Salesforce wanted to establish domain authority around remote work at the onset of Covid-19—in the effort to generate awareness and interest in their workplace collaboration solutions.

To do so, they created Pros & Content Connect, an online summit designed for CEOs, CMOs, and marketing professionals.

The two-day event involved 34 sessions, including fireside chats and panel discussions, with 78 speakers on topics including brand purpose, leadership, and content—and ultimately attracted more than 4,000 participants.

Takeaway: Successful online conferences and summits deliver a range of content in order to create a more comprehensive conversation around a given theme—and thereby deliver greater value to your audience.

2. Festivals

Similar to conferences and summits, festivals provide a way to bring together large audiences around an exchange of ideas and entertainment.

These events are ideal to promote upper-funnel brand awareness and affinity—associating your organization with stories, personalities, and experiences that have cultural relevance and cache. 

Whereas conferences and summits offer your audience opportunities for professional growth, festivals give your audience access to unique experiences.

American magazine The Atlantic hosts a yearly festival as part of its marketing strategy, with the brand goal of distinguishing the magazine as an important venue for cultural conversations.

In 2020, The Atlantic Festival was a fully virtual event, combining keynotes, interviews with prominent speakers, and musical performances. Using Hopin, the event team crafted a fully branded experience for the online venue—and ultimately brought in 40,000 participants from across the world.

Takeaway: As brand initiatives, online festivals are made more effective by customizing your online environment, setting up the virtual space and experience to articulate your brand language and aesthetic.

3. Competitions and contests

Events are powerful insofar as they engage audiences. In that respect, virtual competitions that encourage audience participation can offer some of the most impactful opportunities to cultivate brand-audience relationships.

Spotlight Events hosts an annual dance competition known as the Spotlight Dance Cup. Instead of letting Covid-19 interrupt their highly anticipated gathering, the team hosted a virtual installment of the event.

The online competition invited users to submit entry videos, providing guidelines for original choreography and a routine dancers had to learn on their own. On the day of the event, judges, contestants, and attendees watched the videos live at the same time—after which the winners were selected.

Takeaway: Whether hosting a virtual competition or another online event, look for ways to bring the audience into the action. Audience participation can range from contests and games, to Q&A, to live chat.

4. Award shows

Similar to festivals, award shows allow an organization to convene relevant stakeholders and a community of shared interest around a specific topic—for the purpose of establishing brand authority in a given space.

Hosted by media outlet Max Publishing, the Excellence in Housewares Awards is an industry-leading event that celebrates new products, innovative marketing, and contributions to the field.

The annual award show brings together hundreds of participants and is considered the Oscars of the housewares industry.

To transform the event into a full-fledged online show, the event team set up multiple virtual spaces to showcase products, give participants a place to schmooze, and a main stage where they announced the winners.

Takeaway: For award shows and other virtual events, go beyond the talking head. In the context of an online event, video provides an excellent opportunity to spotlight products, conduct demos, and show rather than tell.

5. Product launches and demos

Online events offer a venue for announcements that simultaneously generate the buzz and urgency of moment-in-time happenings, while expanding access to a larger, geographic distributed audience.

These kinds of events are a tried-and-true method for building evangelism, generating interest, and driving in-the-moment conversions.

They are also a way to show products or services in action—and provide guided tours and demonstrations of the functions and benefits of your offering.

Google Developer Expert Ben Collins recognized that audiences were under-utilizing a powerful tool: Google Sheets.

As a result, he decided to host a virtual event that taught people how to use Sheets—in order to provide real value to his community while boosting his brand as a course creator and educator.

Bringing in 11 experts, SheetsCon demonstrated the various use cases for Google Sheets and provided opportunities for hands-on learning via in-event tasks.

Takeaway: Live events provide the ability to show a product in action as well as take attendee questions in real time. Allow that two-way exchange—the live feedback—to inform your presentation, in order to build interest and educate your customers.

6. Webinars, training, and workshops

The live nature of virtual events opens the door for real-time interaction with your audience.

That dialogue allows you to encourage deeper audience engagement with your brand and products via events like trainings and workshops.

The Hidden Genius Project conceived an interactive virtual workshop as a way to reach new potential audience members through specialized career training to further their mission to mentor and train Black male youth in tech.

For its Brothers Code event, the team hosted more than 40 hands-on, gamified learning sessions on topics like gaming, AI, music creation, entrepreneurship, and augmented reality.

Ultimately, the quality and engagement value of the content succeeded in achieving an average time spent at event of 168 minutes, for its one-day event.

Takeaway: Compared to other online communication tools, virtual events provide greater opportunities for audience participation. Take advantage of those via interactive sessions, game, Q&A, raffles, etc., in order to keep your audience’s attention and deepen their engagement with your brand.

7. Thought leadership events

Virtual events—specifically, events hosted using a virtual event platform—allow you great flexibility in hosting different kinds of experiences.

Whether a two-hour bootcamp or a multiday convention, online events provide the ideal tool for advancing thought leadership and helping promote your brand as a critical voice in your industry.

The ExO World Summit is an online marketing event aimed at bringing transformative ideas from industry experts to audiences who need them. As a global ecosystem of specialized consultants for hire, ExO set out to create an online event that would establish their brand as the leader for a variety of niches all at once. 

In the end, they were able to generate an impressive revenue from the event, but also gained valuable audience insights from the experience using Hopin. Details such as referral tracking, session analytics, and 1:1 video networking engagement were all automatically captured for their review within the platform.

Takeaway: An advantage of hosting virtual events on dedicated event platforms is access to audience analytics. You can see how attendees interacted with your event content and use that information to optimize future events as well as overall marketing strategy.

Conclusion: Don’t reinvent the wheel

Although they are a newer tool, virtual events are not fundamentally different from your other marketing levers.

However, in their emphasis on video and their ability to foster real-time audience participation, online events can deliver unusual impact.

A professional online event provides more opportunity to increase brand awareness, audience engagement, and lead generation.

You don’t need to start from scratch to build your own strategy. You can take inspiration from existing online event use cases or by choosing event types that resonate with your audience and start there.

No matter where you are in your virtual event planning process, remember to use the same best practices that the industry leaders above incorporated:

  • Put your audience first by creating online events around what they love or need the most
  • Create a multifaceted program with a variety of sessions to surprise and delight guests
  • Use a virtual event platform that can facilitate a professional, branded, interactive experience for all attendees

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