Webcasts are the most valuable content marketing tool in Bonnie Thomas' arsenal. As director of content strategy for software provider Lithium Technologies, she produces a virtual event to support each announcement, white paper or educational initiative that the company introduces.
“We think of [webcasts] as a main lever for delivering content, and then we structure all of these other levers around it,” she said. “We sell [social engagement] software. It's emerging technology, and it's not the kind of thing that you can promote through offer-driven marketing. We are charged with the task of making sure that people have the information that they need to make their purchasing decisions. Webcasts are at the fore of how we deliver content.”
The company's use of digital events is evolving. Last year, Lithium hosted 10 webinars on the ON24 virtual events platform.
The company rolled out a “Get Serious About Social” campaign in January, promoting the event and white paper to the telecommunications segment of its database. About 650 people responded, and about a third of registrants represented new leads. “That's a viral event,” Thomas said. “We are expanding our depth of contact within companies, and people feel these are worthy of being passed on.”
Lithium plans to expand the event calendar, implement more sophisticated lead tracking and step up its vertical marketing program, investing in the virtual medium.
Webcasting technology has also impressed big-budget marketers such as Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems and SAP. The companies have used webcasting tools to broadcast live events and engage broader audiences for longer periods of time, identifying virtual-event technologies as an important component of their content marketing strategy.
“We have to think [about] how we take a once-a-year engagement, and take a content-marketing approach and embrace [our audience] through digital all year-round,” said Scott Lum, senior digital marketing manager at Microsoft.
The company runs many events each week. Large conferences have the budget for a video crew and create a high volume of content. The company captures smaller events using a cost-efficient method that employs a simple webcam. All told, Lum and his colleagues posted about 400 webcasts last year. “It's a more customer-focused approach where we want to get involved with thought leadership content and make it available with a regular cadence,” Lum said.
Cisco has also developed a centralized repository for its educational webcasts. Cisco Live 365 includes 1,800 sessions captured at Cisco Live events as well as partner content and monthly webcasts that put the audience in touch with Cisco engineers. “Our charter is focused on content and learning,” said Staci Clark, global marketing manager-Cisco Live.
It didn't start out like that. “We started virtual events back in 2009 with the idea of making an idea-sharing community,” Clark said. “But our audience just wanted the content or access to the speakers. Cisco has other forums about troubleshooting or networking, so it would have been redundant to create something that tries to do the same thing. We watched the behavior of our virtual attendees, and it became clear that they wanted the content.”
Cisco also experimented with a partitioned site, with free and fee-based content, she said. The company did away with the paywall and almost quadrupled the number of visitors, also increasing the reach of the marketing messages promoted on the site. “The greater value for us was having more people in our community,” Clark said.
At SAP, virtual events strategy centers on thought-leadership vehicles and highly technical, product-focused events, said John Morris-director, platform ecosystem and e-channels marketing. The company uses the ON24 platform to develop webcasts that fit into an over-arching content marketing strategy, one that provides a consistent brand message in the noisy tech space.
Marketers considering digital events should look at their target audiences and understand the demand for knowledge in a particular area, he said.
“The general rule of thumb is to understand your business needs and requirements, and put that together with the customer experience,” he said. “As we move away from disrupt marketing to engagement marketing, it is critical to understand what moves the audience. Two-way conversation is so important.”