Webinars 101

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In July, sales research firm CSO Insights released a report (“2010 Lead Generation Optimization Key Trends Analysis”) that found more than 91% of companies put increasing new-customer acquisition at the top of their strategic marketing objectives list for this year. According to the online survey of 635 companies, webinars are one of the best and most popular ways to do that. A recent Forrester Research report—”B2B Marketers' 2010 Budget Trends,” conducted online in January with 406 respondents from the company's research panel and newsletter subscribers—found that the medium garners more dollars than online display ads, coming in just a percent shy (7% versus 8%) of e-mail marketing. In addition, about 50% of marketers said they would spend more on webinars this year than in 2009. Only search marketing saw the same increase in anticipated spending. But while webinars are a fairly pervasive marketing tool, plenty of marketers are still having trouble producing and promoting them. “The No. 1 mistake we see marketers making is that they don't market [their webinars] well enough,” said Michael Greene, interactive marketing analyst at Forrester. “B-to-b is very focused on its own media—websites and e-mails. They forget that paid media and other outside venues can be valuable resources. There are other ways to ensure your event is a success, of course. Here are tips to help you boost the success of your webinars: * Get the timing right. Denise Persson, VP-marketing and CMO of webinar technology firm ON24 Inc. suggested avoiding Mondays and Fridays, as both are peak in-office meeting days, which can drag down webcast attendance. “The best time of the day is 1 p.m. ET, as this also accommodates attendees on the West Coast,” Persson said. “Most ON24 customer webcasts are hosted between 11 a.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET.” * Require speakers to practice. Have presenters, whether they are in-house experts or third-party speakers, do a live run-through making sure length is right. You'll also want to approve content and messaging, making sure it's not offensive, repetitive or boring. On the day of the webinar, ask speakers to invite colleagues to sit with them during the presentation since having an actual audience will improve presentation delivery, said Rachel E. Levy, CEO of webinar directory WebinarListings. “It's very easy to forget, when you're sitting in front of a computer, that there are actual people out there,” she said. * Keep language customer- focused. This is a problem that follows b-to-b marketers throughout their marketing efforts, said Forrester's Greene. The webinar and all promotions and collateral produced for the event should reflect the pain points of the audience—not how your company sells its products. “Marketers are insular,” he said. “They use language that refers to their own internal specifications rather than looking at what challenges are facing the customers.” Catchy headlines that discuss the real take-away work well, he said. * Market the webinar everywhere. Promotion is key since the more people who hear about the event, the more will attend. Use your in-house e-mail list, and consider renting lists from reputable publishers and industry groups. You should put your event on calendars, and market it via Twitter and Facebook, said ON24's Persson. LinkedIn has an event section where you can list, and you can advertise with display ads on industry and partner sites. Twitter is an effective tool. WebinarListings' Levy suggested developing a hashtag to help promote the event, and using it on the day of to get last-minute signups and post-event downloads. “People will retweet what they are hearing, and you can follow the hashtag yourself to take questions from the audience,” Levy said. * Consider the reminder process. As registrations start coming in, follow-up is crucial, Persson said. “The recommended best practice is to send two: The first reminder one week ahead of time and a second reminder the day before the webcast,” she said. And don't forget to remarket to those who registered and may have simply forgotten to log in, Levy said. “About 50% of people who sign up for a free webinar don't attend,” she said. “You can capture those people by offering a post-conference download via e-mail.” * Recruit guest speakers. While it's easier to book internal speakers, outside sources are quite beneficial. “Outside speakers can help expand reach and promotion since they will be out there tweeting and promoting their activities,” Levy said. “Plus, having an outside speaker shows confidence and builds awareness without being too "salesy.' People are sometimes more likely to trust material presented by someone outside the sponsoring company.” * Reuse materials. It takes time and money to create graphics, slide shows and case studies. Leverage that to make your webinar more interesting, and give it a tangible take-away. “Case studies ... give you a way to dive deeper into a topic while delivering strategy and theory,” she said. “If you can show an example of how your product will help someone without actually talking too much about the product, it's a wonderful thing.” •
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