With a need to draw attendees despite reductions in travel budgets, event marketers and attendees are turning to the Web. The ability to reach a wide audience at reduced cost is a major draw.
“With the economy, we are seeing people looking to migrate to webcasting because of its cost-effectiveness,” said Tom Masotto, VP-product management and business development at ON24, a webcasting and virtual events company. “Organizations are looking at pulling back on their marketing budgets and meet the same objectives with cost-effective alternatives.”
In his keynote at ECEF, YRC World-wide's Reid also urged events marketers to create alternatives to face-to-face shows, including virtual shows and online communities. “Get me there without the need to go there,” he said.
Matt Hubbard, VP-marketing at EWI Worldwide, an exhibit and event marketing company, said that his company has seen an increase in marketers requesting digital media as a way to reach their clients.
“In a downturn, there's more competition for fewer customers,” Hubbard said. “Many times, things like the Web and microsites are leveraged to develop a conversation preshow that will extend to postshow.”
Lorenzen has experienced the benefits of Web-based marketing firsthand. “We're definitely broadening the virtual types of events,” she said. “Based on events that I participate in, talking to my peers, I see a real variety of companies participating and experimenting in some of the newer technologies. It's getting to the point that people are so used to how they interact with the Web as a consumer, as an everyday person, and that's spilling over to expectations they have with how companies communicate with them.”
Of those marketers meeting their customers and partners in a live event, many are looking to personalized outreach to convince attendees that their time and money will be well spent.
According to Jim Burch, director of communications for Toshiba America Medical Systems, a medical equipment maker, the economic downturn has not had a major impact on his event spending decisions—but it has affected his customers.
“In a time where our customers are struggling, the last thing you want to do is flaunt a bunch of money in front of them,” Burch said. “We look strongly at the content and making sure we're being efficient—making sure that when someone comes to visit us they get served. We need to make sure that we are inviting the right people—we need to be more focused in reaching our target market.”
The CMO Council's Miller said she has seen similar trends, including marketers creating personalized URLs for event attendees that bring them to specialized Web pages with targeted information.
The message from marketers that are banking on continued success with events despite the challenging economy is to move with the times. The trick, said Burch, is to “maintain your core and get rid of superfluous costs.”
“Don't be set in your ways,” he said. “Change is good. Every business has a natural tendency when times are very good not to be as conscientious as they should be. It gets a little too free and easy. ... you can fall into traps if you're not careful: "How are you going to be bigger and better next year?' But in times of economic pullback customers understand that pullback is in tune with the industry.”
Weeding out unnecessary event spending is the best reaction to a sluggish economy, Burch said. “It helps to make everybody more efficient and the product more effective for the customer. Every event that takes place in business is an opportunity to do something positively. It's just a matter of how you take advantage.” M
Senior Reporter Kate Maddox provided additional reporting.