By Steve Williams

Co-Founder / Chief Creative Officer

Jun 21, 2020

MISSION SUCCESS: A Virtual Event Action Plan

In the film. “The Martian,” Matt Damon’s character is forced to innovate in order to survive after catastrophe leaves him stranded on Mars with limited ability to communicate with Earth.

For immediate and primary survival, he applies his expertise in botany, and a few highly creative uses of the limited equipment at his disposal, to cultivate a small garden on the barren surface of Mars using bio-waste, a small supply of potatoes and a jury-rigged irrigation system. Improvising a rudimentary communication system, he is able to slowly but effectively exchange enough information with his team to formulate a series of rescue plans. The goal is simple and everyone involved knows the steps and follows the plan to achieve the mission’s objective. In the movie, it took roughly 1 year and 7 months from disaster to mission success.

Unfortunately, we are not living in fictional fantasy where happy endings are part of the script. We are in the midst of a global health crisis that will have immediate and long-lasting economic repercussions in all sectors of business. Unfortunately, many will collapse, it is not business as usual. In fact, what is considered “usual” or “normal” in business will be permanently changed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s time to use our creativity and share our ideas to gain footing again on solid ground.

Most industries will adjust their pace of marketing but recognize that even in a time when sales slow or stop, customers are still interested in receiving communications from brands that add value and prospects are still seeking information. As these companies explore ways to maintain relationships with clients and consumers through marketing communications, remote or virtual technologies will take center stage.

My SKIP co-founder, Chris Finch, and I have spent our entire careers helping companies engage with customers through creative methods using digital channels and how to best navigate unpredictable and uncharted territories in the world of marketing. In this time, we have never seen anything as disruptive and damaging as the current catastrophe facing the world. It’s time to use our creativity, share our ideas and gain footing again on solid ground.

If you run a business that relies on B2B person-to-person customer engagement activities to move leads through your sales pipeline, we offer you this customer engagement action plan designed to help your company get through today, survive the next 90 days and craft a strategy for the next 12 months that rallies the team for mission success.

MISSION SUCCESS: Virtual Event Action Plan

DAY 1 – Take a deep breath, things are about to move quickly and, as a group leader, your responsibility is to provide reassurance and direction. If you agree with any or all of our suggestions please share with your team… get to work!

30 DAYS – The next month or so will be challenging and quite unnerving but being proactive with activities that aid C-suite & enterprise management will build confidence for any future endeavors. It will be critical to demonstrate that you have a plan to come out stronger. It will also be important to be completely transparent in your communication with your team. They need to trust you more than ever in these uncertain times. Review this list, identify what’s valuable and relevant to your company and then quickly move to the next stage.

OVER THE NEXT 30 DAYS HAVE THE FOLLOWING TASKS COMPLETED. 

  • Analyze Customer Engagement – Your digital marketing and analytics team have their heads wrapped around all current customer engagement activities and have a good feel for what’s generating value and anything not working.
  • Strategize Customer Engagement Reporting – Marketing communications are collaborating with Digital Marketing to produce a Customer Engagement report presentation where activities, ad spend and internal/external resources required are more easily interpreted by c-suite & enterprise management. They have begun working on a 90 plan to consolidate and present reports for all future activities.
  • Pause Any Ad Spend – You have determined which ad-campaigns get paused or reduced to support business overhead and operational impact. This was included in your Customer Engagement Report.
  • Audit Software Technologies – Marketing/IT has begun auditing all licensed software technologies currently impacted by marketing operations. Licenses and renewal dates are prioritized. You are preparing a business case to share what changes have been made.
  • Cancel Trade Shows – Cancel any trade shows events for the next 6 months. This may feel drastic but most predictions have travel restrictions staying in place for even longer.
  • Adjust Content Calendar – The CMO has flagged any marketing projects that rely on internal/external agency resources or require IT implementations. You are preparing a business case to share what projects require resources and swap these in priority over your previous projects.

Now is the time to re-think how you approach marketing and engage customers!

90 DAYS – Virtual events such as live webinars are highly effective ways to provide customers a brand experience that is both personal and informative. Successfully entering the webinar space also requires your sales & marketing team to adopt a thought leadership approach to content marketing that leverages their own knowledge base and expands their online network.

Note: It’s likely that you have cancelled trade shows for the entire 2020 period. Many conferences will be actively working to replace these events with online solutions, giving you multiple opportunities to explore how remote or virtual communications fit into your new strategy. Present a business case for how those budgets can be used to fuel virtual marketing activities designed to engage new customers and deepen relationships with existing clients.

IN 90 DAYS HAVE THE FOLLOWING TASKS COMPLETED. 

  • Lead Gen Strategy – You’ve developed new ways to engage your target audience, identified additional customer segments that can benefit from your products or services and determined which products will deliver the most value in this current business environment. For your Webinar Pilot Program, you have documented your value proposition, personas, customer journey maps, and content pillars.
  • Webinar Pilot Program – You’ve reallocated event budgets and are partnering with a virtual event industry vertical publication that conducts webinars or you’ve licensed a webinar system and technology partner (we like #ON24). You’ve created a Webinar Pilot Customer Engagement program by using a theme or industry topic that shows customers information that is relevant to their current situation. You’ve selected an event date as well as your drop date for marketing promotions. Your goal is to record video live and engage audiences using a number of different tactics including live polls, Q&A’s, relevant resources and content motivators such as other resources or product sample requests.
  • Presentation Framework – You have identified your team of presenters based on their subject matter expertise and begun collaborating with them on the presentation framework, including industry insights, product-specific value proposition, competitive differentiation and pricing structure. You’ve determined if your presentation format will be a panel discussion of a series of relevant topics or a rehearsed deck focused on a limited set of themes, such as how to address a unique set of industry challenges.
  • New Content Calendar – You’ve revised your Content Calendar to be focused on promoting the webinar leveraging your presenters networks. The calendar is now aligned with your content strategy and is driving the production of content that builds a case for and supports the themes in your webinar. Content is being published by your selected presenters and is designed to build their credibility as thought leaders in their specific areas of expertise. Content is being published through individual Linkedin and Twitter profiles that prepare audiences for the main topics of discussion.
  • Webinar Case Study – Document a case study of the webinar to include valuable information such as the harmonized process steps around the customer. Document learnings and experiences with the webinar host or platform. Include results around registration, audience participation, top downloads, who were considered tops leads and what action was taken to further engage those customers. What are the outcomes of those conversations? Determine ROI on webinar, paid advertising and resource requirements.
  • Lead Nurture Program – You’ve successfully engaged a large cohort of your target audience who have attended your webinar. You saw high engagement metrics so now is the critical moment to ensure you retain interest and continue moving prospects through the purchase funnel. Using the intelligence gained from analyzing customer behavior during the webinar you should have insight into what topics are most relevant to which attendees and deliver relevant content via personalized email.

Gather your Product Managers and Sales & Marketing teams and begin developing your virtual conference strategy.

12 MONTHS – As more and more people are affected and systems disrupted, the impact on contracts and supply chains will damage marketing’s ability to engage customers in methods they were accustomed to. For any Brands whose messaging does not reflect the new normal, they may, in time, see a disconnect from their own customers. Any new outbound messaging or brand must be about helping people conduct business in these difficult times.

Now that you have conducted your LIVE webinar pilot programs, gathered performance data and shared lessons learned across your business, you should begin scaling successful webinar programs across various themes and evaluate the ROI of developing LIVE conference events of your own. Gather your Product Managers and Sales & Marketing teams and begin developing your virtual conference strategy. Review the case studies and lessons learned, paying close attention to where you receive the highest engagement. Develop your remote and live event objectives and develop a content strategy that will facilitate the identification and production of content that is needed to support your various event and webinar programs. Identify which outside speakers are seen as thought leaders or experts in relevant subjects and invite them to participate and leverage their network by providing content they can easily promote on their networks.

IN 12 MONTHS YOU WILL HAVE ACCOMPLISHED THE FOLLOWING.

  • Lead Gen Strategy – Personas and buyer journey maps have been created for all current customers and new target segments. Products and services have been mapped to most valuable customers. Thought leadership content themes, including audience-specific value propositions, have been identified and content production processes have been established. Campaign-specific goals and success metrics have been agreed upon and a measurement methodology has been architected. Budgets and resources have been reallocated.
  • Virtual Video Conference – Strategic and implementation webinar partners have been vetted and selected. Presenters have been selected based on thought leadership standing and reputation in the industry. Employee co-presenters have been selected based on product expertise and completed presentation training.
  • Presentation – Audience-specific topics have been selected that are aligned with your audience’s informational needs. You’ve created content that engages your target audience and will cement your reputation and establish your brand as a trusted source of valuable and credible information.
  • Thought Leadership Networks – Relationships have been built with a carefully curated pool of subject matter experts and mutually beneficial alliances have been established with think-tanks and educational institutions. Your speakers are actively growing their Linkedin networks by disseminating valuable content.
  • Content Calendar – You have developed a detailed plan for every piece of content to be created over the next year, in 3 month increments. This includes content theme, format, distribution channel, target audience relevance, location on customer journey, associated success metric, expected length of relevancy and any regulatory requirements
  • Engagement Analytics Model – Your team has implemented a methodology to measure campaign effectiveness across multiple dimensions (e.g., segment, channel, etc.). Dashboards have been created for division/brand teams that deliver actionable insight and allows you to understand campaign effectiveness in real time. Processes have been developed for seamless communication between team members which ensures timely & consistent campaign optimization.

 

At this point, you are a full year into the revitalization of your marketing strategy.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: 1 YEAR, 7 MONTHS – At this point, you are a full year into the revitalization of your marketing strategy. A tremendous amount of effort, innovative thinking, mixed with a healthy dose of courage have allowed you to weather the storm. Your business took a hit but things are beginning to normalize. You feel a sense of excitement and optimism because you’re receiving positive feedback from customers and you are confidently more attuned to your customer’s needs. Within your marketing and sales team, everyone is working on the new playbook and better understands how to plan ahead. Finally, you’re able to plan a year or two out, instead of having to figure out just how to make it through the next month.

 

This could be an inflection point for your business. You’ve capitalized on a terrific opportunity by using a time of uncertainty to build a foundation of trust with your customer base by establishing your brand as a source of reliable and useful information. You’re engaging with customers on a more regular basis using video communications that have been embraced as an acceptable, if not preferred, form of business communications. Through these more frequent touch points, where the value exchange has grown and you’re receiving constructive and actionable feedback from your customers, you’re seeing an increase in both customer loyalty and referral business. You own the data!

Out of necessity, you moved quickly to adapt to a crisis no one saw coming. You made the bold choice to lean into your customers, to learn about what they really need and design a customer engagement strategy around what really matters most to them. You embraced new ways of using technology to build meaningful customer relationships and it’s paying off in the form of significant increases in customer satisfaction and new business. Congratulations! Not only have you survived but you’ve charted a course that will allow your company to thrive for years to come.

Yes, it is Mission Accomplished. Good luck!

Steve & Chris