"This is definitely an industry where competition is high," says Tina Thomas, Nortel's Senior Manager of Mobility Solutions Marketing. "You've got competing vendors all over the world trying to get limited customer attention."
Which explains why Nortel's North American and European research teams discovered last year that "a lot of prospects weren't fully aware of what we were doing."
It's not that marketing wasn't doing a fine job -- their ads, white papers, and weekly webinar series were all getting strong results. (The webinars alone were drawing an average 10-point higher attendance rate than industry average.)
But, typical campaigns really only cover two ends of the awareness spectrum. One is the general brand awareness - ie. Nortel exists and it's great. The other is specific product/service promotion -- ie. Nortel's widget 3384a is the best in class.
Thing is, together with partners Nortel provided a comprehensive set of end-to-end offerings. Describing them via marketing was a bit like showing a blind man an elephant. Even a heavily distributed white paper or well-attended one-hour webinar couldn't do the trick.
The research team added one more factoid to the mix. Turns out Nortel's prospects -- top IT people and C-level execs around the world -- strongly preferred getting their information via the Web. So, a trade show wouldn't do the trick. CAMPAIGN
Thomas wondered, why not expand on Nortel's webinar success and present an entire day-long virtual trade show with plenty of time to describe the entire elephant? She'd seen trade publications such as Wireless Week and Ziff Davis Multimedia running them. But, could a virtual trade show work for a vendor?
After getting the go-ahead from management, Thomas scheduled the show for a Tuesday November 8th, a date outside of traditional wireless conference season and before holiday distractions. She had just eight weeks to pull the whole thing off.
Step #1. Inventing "must-see" content
Research shows the number one reason people decide to attend trade shows is the content (the number two reason is networking, and number three is location.) Thomas pulled together three types of highly appealing content:
- Speeches from a wide range of execs, from tech experts to business strategists, including (just like a regular trade show) outside experts such as analysts and technology partners. Many of the speakers were heavy-hitting C-level folks who normally might not all be able to present at the same trade show. So speaker quality was actually higher than it might be offline.
Speeches were presented webinar-style, which is fairly comfortable for most presenters by now. Some chose to pre-tape their bits to ensure the quality was perfect. Others went live.
- 15-20 minutes of moderated Q&A live with speakers - even those who had pre-taped their presentations were required to go live for the Q&A. Some execs, decided to go one step further and display their personal email addresses for attendees to use for follow-up questions. This level of access was unprecedented in the industry.
- Networking with fellow attendees and speakers was also enabled. The system allowed attendees to search out each other by name or company and request a live chat. Nortel felt comfortable doing this because their conference registration system allowed them to filter out people who they didn't want to attend (such as competitors' sales reps.)
Step #2. Lining up exhibitors for virtual booths
Thomas decided to sell virtual booths to Nortel partners for four reasons:
- "Real" trade shows have booths, so this enhanced the event's non-biased "real" feeling. In fact, Thomas included exhibitor's logos in much of her external advertising to draw attendees to the event.
- Fees would help offset event costs. For this trial event, Thomas offered booths at "very much a nominal fee", however, outside of Nortel virtual booths are selling for $5000-$30,000 a pop depending on the event.
- Exhibitors would also help draw attendees through co-marketing deals to their own house lists.
- Anything that draws you into a closer, happier relationship with partners can't be a bad thing.
The virtual booths (see link to sample screenshots below) did almost everything a real-world booth could do. The exhibitor could offer white papers, run product demos, chat with attendees, and gather leads.
Plus, Thomas points out vendors are more likely to staff a virtual booth with high-level sales technicians who can answer tough questions -- thus leading to a higher quality experience for attendees. (These execs are not always available to travel to traditional trade shows.)
Step #3. Marketing to potential attendees
The team brainstormed a compelling event name plus tagline that would explain the concept in just a few words: Building the Mobile Enterprise -- Online Conference & Expo. No Travel, No Expenses, Just Great Information.'
Next, the team had just a six-week window to get the word out to potential attendees.
First they set up a microsite that looked almost identical to a site you would expect selling tickets to a real-world trade show (although in this case tickets were free.) It included speaker photos, a detailed agenda, exhibitor info, and of course a registration area.
Next, aware that many people have no idea what a virtual tradeshow is, they developed a flash presentation (link to sample below) that quickly explained the concept. Thomas used this to help her educate folks within Nortel, at partners, and potential attendees.
Then the team ran a broad series of awareness campaigns, aiming at reaching everyone possible with the show offer, including:
- Online ads at related business news sites
- Emails to the Nortel house list (link to sample below.)
- A grassroots networking effort with the sales team around the globe
- A 15-second video tile with Nortel's CMO talking about the event placed on Nortel's home page and also the event landing page.
And naturally the team sent a series of reminder emails to everyone who registered so they wouldn't forget to attend on the day of. They also offered an Outlook tool to insert the event in registrant's personal calendars.
Step #4. Keeping attendees glued to their screens
Virtual attendees have so many distractions -- incoming email, ringing phones, co-workers, etc. -- that it's hard enough to keep them glued to their computers for an hour-long webinar. In addition to great content, Thomas and her team used four tactics to make the event sticky:
- Publicize the agenda so everyone knows what's next
- Use pop-ups to tell attendees where they should "go" next (such as to the exhibit hall, or back to the session room.)
- Allow 15-20 minutes between sessions and 75 minutes for lunch so folks have enough time to take a break (or visit booths) and return.
- Schedule your big-name keynote presentations to draw a crowd. Thomas put one at the start of the event, and the other just after lunch break so attendees would be more likely to return.
Even so, "we really did not expect people to stay the whole day," Thomas notes.
Step #5. Post-show activities
After the show, the team sent all attendees a rich media email with a video of a C-level Nortel exec saying thanks for attending. Plus registrants were informed the on-demand version of the show (everything minus networking and live Q&A) was now available at the same URL for 90 days.
(Why not longer? Nortel felt the content wasn't evergreen enough to push out further.)
Plus, the research team conducted a series of post-show surveys.
"It exceeded my expectations -- fantastic results!" says Thomas. Thousands of executives registered to attend. Roughly 75% were in America, and 25% from 95 other countries. Roughly half were C-level and the others were from IT departments. (This is an unusually high C-level attendance rate.)
Thomas pulled together a spreadsheet of results data points for us to share with you (see link below). Our favorite data point was the fact that average attendees spent 282 minutes at the event. That's an incredible length of time to get virtual attention.
A few data points that aren't on the spreadsheet:
- Roughly 5-6% of visitors to the landing page wound up registering. This is right in line with typical webinar registration forms.
- The average session had 65 questions submitted during the Q&A period. That's much higher than one would expect for an offline event, due to attendee shyness and time constraints.
- Post-event survey results showed 98% of attendees would be very likely to attend another virtual event.
Side note: Think your life is stressful? At the end of our almost two-hour interview with Thomas for this Case Study, she mentioned she was on maternity leave. Turns out she was at the end of her third trimester when she ran this innovative marketing program. All we can think to say is "Wow."Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples from Nortel: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/nortel/study.html
Unisfair - the virtual tradeshow backbone Nortel relied on to run the event http://www.unisfair.com