Just two years ago, webinars (aka Web seminars/webcasts) were the hot B-to-B marketing offer de jour. However, in 2004 response rates began to fall.
Prospects who've been bombarded with offers (and possibly been burned by lame webinar content) were less likely to register or attend in 2004 than they were in 2003. We predict this trend will continue for 2005.
How can you buck the trend and get fabulous results?
We interviewed Joseph Rizzo who helps manage Prudential Relocation's outstanding webinar series to discover his secrets. According to MarketingSherpa stats, only 20-35% of typical marketer's webinar registrants actually attend; but Prudential's 2004 registrant-to-attendee rate is in the 40-55% range.
Plus Prudential's online library of canned past events routinely produces 2-3 new RFPs (requests for proposal) per week from qualified prospects who've attended one or more events. So, leads are turning into sell-me-now handraisers.
The good news is, they do this on a fairly low cost-per-attendee budget. Just because they're marketing to the Fortune 500 doesn't mean Prudential spends big bucks on fancy production or tech.
Almost any B-to-B marketer can copy the seven tactics that make Prudential's webinars so successful. Here's how: Tactic #1. Compelling content = fewer polls & no sales pitches
"The more informational and industry-relevant the content, the higher the register-attendee ratio," says Rizzo. "If it's specific and relevant content, you can hold them past 60 minutes. We see only a 5% drop-off rate between 60 and 90."
Prudential crafts webinar names to indicate that the presentations will be useful. Example: Relocation 2005: Creating a Winning Program for the Year Ahead -- A Tax, Legal & Policy Update.
Plus, the events are called 'Meetings' instead of webinars, which may sound more valuable to a Fortune 500 exec. (We don't recommend it if your prospect demographic is meetings-allergic though.)
After conducting 25 webinars, Prudential's team has found the best format tends to be:
a. Moderator welcomes attendees and gives quick one-paragraph bios of speakers (always prune and rewrite the bios speakers give you).
b. Two subject matter experts each give a 10-15 minute speech with a handful of accompanying slides (more on slides below).
c. 10-15 minute roundtable discussion of questions from attendees
Although Prudential does allow attendees to send in questions during the live event itself, they get the best roundtable topics by asking for questions on the registration form itself. (Plus, speakers love this because it gives them time to prep even better answers.)
What's not great content? Attendee polls.
"It's not really a value-add, results are good for about 60 seconds of talk," notes Rizzo. He adds, "Don't use polls to gauge your audience; you're not going to be able to adjust your content on the spot, and if you don't know your audience before the event you've got a problem."
So what can you use polls for? "Entertaining segues," says Rizzo. Example, during a webinar on personal security overseas, Prudential polled attendees asking which floor of a hotel was the safest to stay on. Then the moderator said, "The majority of you said this, but in reality the safest one is... and here's our next speaker to tell you more about it."Tactic #2. Best practices in slides (ban pics and long text)
Require that your speakers hand in slides at least seven days in advance of the event. That way you can edit as required, and have enough time for legal and/or brand compliance reviews.
If needed, offer your own team's help with slide creation on the speakers' behalf. Plus, give speakers branding and 'contact me at' sales pitch guidelines ahead of time. (For example: Prudential doesn't allow outside speakers to put a non-Prudential logo on their slides.)
Rizzo gives speakers the following rules for their slides:
- Only large-type text (remember, viewers are looking at a computer screen and not an overhead projection).
- No clip art, no pictures of people, no giant company logos, and in short, no graphics that are not charts, graphs, or diagrams. Everything else is marketing fluff, and attendees know it. They're only there for the valuable content. Give it to them.
- Briefly outline your talking points; don't give a transcript of your intended speech. You should never read a point from a slide out loud. Folks can read it for themselves. You're talking *to* the point, not reiterating it.
- Limit slides to 25-30 total per entire hour, including intro and closing slides for the event. This means total slides for all speakers would be 16-20. This is roughly one slide every three speech minutes.
Any more slides and you're giving too much information for attendees to take in, and your speakers are more likely to sin by reading their slides out loud. "It's terrible, don't ever do that. Whenever I give a presentation, I rarely mention any of the words on the screen. You're a topic expert. Talk to the entire story, don't talk to the slides. They're just a prop!"Tactic #3. Pick speakers prospects will want to listen to
Everyone loves to hear what their peers -- fellow Fortune 500 execs -- have to say on the subject. These are the hardest speakers to line up, so Rizzo suggests inviting them for the roundtable discussion instead of asking for a formal presentation.
Your subject matter experts can be in-house or external folks. The topic and points presented are generally far more important than the actual name or company of the speaker. You may not need to pay a famous analyst to speak if your topic is compelling. Besides, wouldn't you rather prospects come away thinking that your company is a thought leader instead of the analyst?
Rizzo warns, before you make any final speaker decisions, always call the potential speaker on the phone and ask for their opinion on the topic. The opinion is secondary -- what you're really listening for is a voice that your prospects will enjoy hearing on their phones.
Is the person passionate? Do they speak clearly? Are they horribly boring? Some topic matter experts are verbal duds. Weed them out.Tactic #4. Conduct not one but two dry run rehearsals
You should give your webinar the degree of editing, tweaking, review and polish that you would give any critical piece of marcom. Crazy but true, most marketers spend more time reviewing copy and art for new brochures than they do rehearsing a webinar.
Remember that prospects may spend far more time in a webinar than they do viewing your entire Web site. The experience can be far more influential.
Plus, your webinar will be canned for future viewing, so it lives on for a long time.
Rizzo swears by not one but two dry runs with all speakers on the line together. The first helps everyone get into the flow, sets pacing and timing (a great chance to control longwinded speakers), and lets you know which slides need to be cut or altered.
The second dry run, conducted a day or two prior to the event snaps the elements into place. You're working with final slides and final timing. Rizzo suggests you invite internal staff such as customer service, sales reps, and other marketers to this version.
Their feedback can be invaluable for final tweaks, plus they're forewarned about exactly what prospects and clients are about to experience. Tactic #5. Include a PDF link in the reminder email
"Invariably about 5% of desired attendees can't get through for some reason or other -- like firewalls or 56k connections -- no matter what webinar platform you use," says Rizzo.
That's why Prudential always includes a link to a PDF of the presentation in the reminder email that's sent to registrants the day before the event. That way folks who can't get in can still call in and follow along.
(Obviously never send the PDF as an attachment, because it may not get through. And PDF the slides instead of sending PowerPoint. It's easier for recipients to view, and harder for them to alter.)
By the way, should you offer voice over IP? Rizzo says not quite yet. Use a telephone bridge line instead for now. Tactic #6. Live-event disaster prevention tips
Assign a staffer to act as timer for the live event itself. That person will watch the clock and coordinate with the moderator.
The moderator's role will be to flip slides, introduce speakers, and send IM messages to speakers who need any sort of prompting. (Never let speakers flip their own slides, too often they click to the wrong spot.)
Speakers get the best voice quality from good headsets (as long as the microphone isn't too near their mouth) or by using one of those speakerphones that looks like a spider.
"If they don't have an office, make them go in the conference room," says Rizzo. "Put a sign on the door, and then LOCK the door!" Also ask speakers to turn off/unplug any other phones and computer programs that might ring or make noises during the event.
But, someday the worst will happen. "Four months ago we were five minutes into the event and fire alarms went off in the building. We said 'We're sorry, we know you can hear this interference. We'll provide you with the information we promised via email," remembers Rizzo.
As soon as the alarms quieted, the team went ahead with the event as though it was live, even though none of the 120 attendees were on the line anymore. Then they emailed everyone links to the canned version with an additional apology.
"You're making chicken salad out of chicken. It's gonna happen. People understand. It's ok."Tactic #7. Promote your playback library
Instead of separately promoting each canned webinar link, establish one section of your site as the Library or Resource Center (or some other clever term). Give it an easy URL. Prudential's Web site normally assigns scary-long URLs to pages, so for promotional purposes the marketing team invented a shorter URL that redirects instantly to the long one.
Now they consistently reference that short URL in every piece of marcom, advertising, and email that they can. It's become a well-known branded destination for their clients and prospects.
To encourage longer visits and repeat traffic, the team packed this URL with links to every piece of valuable content they could, including two-dozen past webinars, white papers, calculators, etc. They even posted edited video from this year's user conference.
What's not posted? Sales materials. You can click on a link to request a proposal or contact a rep, but you won't see marketing copy flogging Prudential's services.
If there's no sales content in the webinar itself, nor in the library, how can you use webinars to help sales? Rizzo suggests every time you add content to the library that you email reps a suggested script showing how they might use the item to initiate conversations with prospects.
It's not a word-for-word script, but rather a directional idea.
By the way, if your prospects learn about your library, won't they stop attending live events because they know they can always get the canned version later on? "I worried about that for a couple of years," admits Rizzo.
Turns out for Prudential at least it wasn't a problem. In fact, live events are so attractive that the team often holds two versions, one from 1-2pm ET for North America and then one later during office hours in Asia-Pacific. Useful links related to this story:
3 worksheets for webinars: a cost calculator, a step-by-step project planning calendar, and a day-of checklist plus script: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/prudential/ad.html
NeoMarketing Systems - the B-to-B marketing systems integration firm Joseph Rizzo is CEO of (they manage Prudential's webinar, lead registration, and Resource Center systems) http://www.neomarketingsystems.com/
IBM Lotus SameTime - the Webconferencing software Prudential uses to handle their live webinars: http://www.lotus.com/products/product3.nsf/wdocs/homepage
Avitage - the service Prudential uses to create and serve canned versions of past webinars to Resource Center visitors: http://www.avitage.com/
IT Marketing Metrics Guide - MarketingSherpa's report that contains Webinar stats http://sherpastore.com/store/page.cfm/2150
Prudential Relocation Resource Center http://www.prudential.com/resourcecenter