7 Key Considerations in Today’s Virtual Marketing Environment
Annette Carroll 10.14.2020
By early June of this year, the Marketing team at Okuma had already been working for nine months to prepare a physical structure and booth presence for IMTS - The International Manufacturing Technology Show, the industry’s leading tradeshow in the Americas. The team had worked tirelessly to create an optimal customer experience within a 17,000 square foot booth space. I was very pleased with our progress leading up to the June timeframe, especially since all of the conceptual work had been completed. We were on the precipice of physically printing and producing the elements of the booth, and we still had three months until the start of the show. Typically, that would have been plenty of time.
When we got the news that there would be no in-person IMTS for 2020, it was a gut-punch moment, although not surprising given all that was going on with COVID-19. Nonetheless, we were suddenly faced with the improbable reality that we’d have no way to demonstrate machine tools in an in-person environment. We put together an impromptu team of about 30 people and rallied ourselves to orchestrate a virtual trade show environment. I’ve never seen an endeavor like this come together so quickly in my entire career, with everyone working tirelessly to deliver successful results. I’m extremely grateful for the contributions of everyone involved.
It was an invaluable experience, albeit one I don’t plan to relive anytime soon! But we gained learnings that will carry us forward, and here I’ll share some of the key considerations that may be helpful for anyone involved in orchestrating a virtual show environment.
THE COVID CATALYST
We still have people who ask, “is virtual just a fad, or is it here to stay”? My answer is, I believe the need for virtual experiences in marketing and sales is here to stay, though it will never replace the human interaction aspect of the selling process. Virtual tactics will work together with, and augment, personal selling. This will eventually become a blending of the best of both worlds, combining on-demand access to tools and information (the virtual) with opportunities for personal interaction at opportune times. I call this the “COVID Catalyst” because this evolution of our marketing processes was always inevitable, but adoption was sped up by the circumstances of the pandemic.
If you have a global organization, there are no borders on your website. This drives a special set of considerations that matter in a virtual environment. What kind of resources should be available globally, branded globally, and shared within a global perspective? How can you provide on-demand support 24/7, and what languages should be offered? Consideration should also be given to which resources should be delivered regionally vs. globally, creating a need for a well-defined roadmap for bringing your experience to market.
If I'm buying a roll of tape online, there’s not much need for an interactive user experience. But in the world of capital goods, the human touch, the physical experience with products, is essential. If you’re purchasing a high-value, long-term investment like a machine tool, you probably want to see and touch it. Again, here we need to evolve to a mentality where we think of virtual as an augmentation to the capital goods purchasing experience. At the same time. It’s not a replacement for person-to-person interactions. There will be a sweet spot in balancing these things.
LOTS OF VIDEO CONTENT
One of the biggest challenges in any virtual environment is that it can tend to be cold, impersonal and uninviting. Marketers therefore need to create ways to add a human touch whenever possible. This is why Okuma’s virtual booth for this year’s IMTS includes things like virtual tours, live chat, and LOTS of video. This leads me to one of the most important considerations for marketers going forward: make sure you have bandwidth to create LOTS of video content.
LEAD GENERATION VS. DEMAND GENERATION
Strategically speaking, it’s important to consider upfront what your desired outcomes are. What is the goal of your virtual environment? Is it to capture leads? Or, to spread a blanket of accessible information to the market and fulfill your audiences’ need to retrieve this content on-demand? Knowing this will drive a lot of your decision-making, such as how much of your content is gated, and how much information you require on contact forms to allow access.
CONNECTION WITH EXISTING WEBSITE
Another high-level consideration will be, how does your new virtual environment connect with your website? Are they separate entities, or should one nest within the other? This is a nuanced decision that involves many variables, and ideally should be decided upfront.
QUALITY VS QUANTITY
Anyone who worked on this year’s “virtual IMTS” will agree, in such a condensed time frame it was impossible to achieve a high quantity of content at a high quality level. Time and resource constraints were simply too extreme. Going forward I urge marketers to be cognizant of whatever your current realities may be and act accordingly. Keep in mind that the quality of your content makes a lasting impression. Therefore, it may make more sense to cover fewer topics in a high-quality way, creating the positive brand impression that will keep audiences coming back for more. This means we should prioritize what we can, and should, cover in the time allowed.
As I observe the B2B space these days, the virtual trade show is everywhere…for now. I think what we created here at Okuma for IMTS 2020 is an excellent springboard for us to build upon. The exciting part is, the COVID Catalyst has spurred a period of accelerated innovation for marketers. Change is sometimes uncomfortable, but the opportunities it brings often lead to growth. I look forward to what lies ahead.
About Annette Carroll
Annette Carroll is Director of Marketing, Okuma America Corporation.
Connect with Annette on LinkedIn.