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Webcasting is on the upswing

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The Web conferencing industry is big business. More and more b-to-b marketers are turning to Web conferences or webcasting to reach their target audience. In a recent BtoB webinar, How to Address Today's Top Marketing Challenges With Webinars, Frost and Sullivan Principal Analyst Melanie Turek said the industry was worth $83.3 million in 2007 and is set to grow more than 28.2%. By 2014, she predicts it to be a $3.4 billion market.

That kind of growth means one thing for b-to-b marketers: Iit's time to get in the game. Turek's No. 1 piece of advice for marketers was: "Start using Web conferencing now."

Benefits of the Web

But why is Web conferencing experiencing such enormous growth? For one thing, marketers are being asked to cut their budgets but still deliver quality leads. According to Turek, webinars reach more people with less: "You can in fact use [them] to reach people regardless of where they're located, literally anywhere in the world as long as they have a Web connection," she said.

Cara Braden, an account executive at VMS Medical, a provider of educational tools and services to health care institutions, also said the use of webinars is on the upswing. "With the changes in our economy, we are seeing a growing trend with meetings moving into the virtual world. Face-to-face communication will always be ideal; however, Web conferencing and webcasting are excellent ways to reach your target audiences, who have increasingly busy schedules."

As webcasting allows marketers to reach nearly anyone, it allows for extremely targeted programming. Steve Gershik, VP-marketing innovation at Eloqua Corp., a demand generation company, uses webcasting as an alternative to the breakfast meeting.

"At Eloqua, we do segmented-based marketing," Gerhsick said. "We target people who would be interested in a particular topic, and they're going to get something out of [our webcast]. It's valuable to them and it's easy. It allows you to engage in a conversation at a deeper level with customers."

And because webinars allow for a much more detailed ROI, the success of that deeper conversation can be easily determined. According to Denise Persson, CMO of ON24, a provider of webcasting and virtual events services, extensive registration capabilities and audience participation allow everyone in the conference to be tracked. "It's the perfect storm right now. [Marketers] have the pressure to decrease travel and cut costs down, but they need to do exactly the things they did in the past. The challenge now is not how many leads are you generating but the quality," she said. "One of the differences between webcasting and traditional events is the extensive reporting you get."

And that tracking comes from the fact that marketers setting up a webcast can not only strategically plan their registration forms but also track how long each individual audience member spends listening to the webinar, track what questions they ask of the presenters and determine what listeners found most (and least) interesting.

Frost and Sullivan's Turek echoed the importance of tracking: "We get an enormous amount of information upon registration. [During the conference] I can see how much people are paying attention. Webinars allow us to change the way we think about qualifying leads. We can get very detailed and do it around specific information points that go well beyond industry and size of company. We can poll [during the event] and see which way different people vote. Then [we can] sell along a particular issue."

Finally, based on the results of any given webcast, marketers can easily change how they do their next event. "You can tweak your content to make sure it hits home with a particular group of people," Turek said. "With recording capabilities, attendees can go back and review what they've learned. It allows them to go out and develop more leads for you├│they can show it to colleagues in other industries and turn them on to your products or services."

Taking it a step further, Gershik said, is essential for getting full value out of a webcast. "People can type in their questions and we can respond during the webinar├│and even after the webinar."

Best Practices

There are several steps marketers can take to ensure they are creating the most successful webinar possible:

Identify targets and create content just for them. According to Frost and Sullivan's Turek, it's important to have content from experts who can provide value.

Consider using hosted services. According to Turek, ease of use is part of what makes webinars worth everyone's time. A webcasting service provider can increase that ease of use on the audience side as well as provide valuable added services and knowledge of the medium.

Send invitations four to six weeks in advance. Promote the webcast on your Web site and give visitors an opportunity to spread the word. ON24's Persson notes that when her company sends multimedia invitations with embedded video, the response rate is greatly improved.

Engage your audience and monitor them. Use polls and surveys to get people to respond to topics. Allow people to ask questions. Tracking the way people respond allows you to learn more about your audience.

Don't make a sales pitch. "Don't make somebody come hear you talk about you," said Gershik. "You have to make it about them. Nobody's sitting around these days trying to figure out what to do [with themselves]. You've got to talk about the value of the information you're providing."

Follow up. Keep the conversation going afterward by answering questions that didn't get answered during the event and by posting archived versions of the webcast on your website for people to download and share.

The bottom line: At the very least do a trial run. "If you're doing any kind of digital marketing outreach online, you've got a Web site and your buyers are using the Internet, then this is an essential marketing tactic," Gershik said. "There's too much success out there to ignore it at least as a trial. It's inexpensive, easy to do and you've likely got thought leaders lying around your office who can talk eloquently about what you do."

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