Well, that the received wisdom. I don’t know whether this is apocryphal or not, but it has been a useful conversation opener for the digital marketing fraternity. Intrinsically it sounds like it is about right.
“You no longer own your brand, the community does”
That’s another one you hear all the time. There is more than a grain of truth in it. It is probably more pronounced in the consumer world (B2C) but there is no doubt that social media is a powerful influencer on how a brand is perceived and valued.
Both of these statements illustrate why most tech vendors are shifting their marketing investment dollars significantly from off-line to on-line.
So where does that leave the part of the industry that wasn’t “born on the web” or who are not predominately or exclusively B2C? Are “in-person events” in their twilight years? Should the marketing mix pie chart still have a segment labelled “Events” and if so, what should be its size?
It should be no surprise for me to say that for most IT vendors it is a blend of on-line and off-line. Most are now at least partially if not fully committed to driving their social media presence, listening to their constituents through the various SoMe channels and ensuring that their digital marketing is state-of-the-art. However events continue to play a significant role in our marketing mix. Face-to-face events offer intimacy, commitment and cohesion of message. The majority of attendees to in-person events find them stimulating and informative. The biggest drawback these days is the opportunity cost of attending, rather than any reluctance to be “sold to” or educated on a vendor’s value propositions.
That means vendors who still see the value of such events must be totally committed to delivering a “return on time investment” (ROTI) for the attendees. In the same way as we customize and personalize our on-line relationships, we need to do the same with our off-line interactions. These need to be personalized to enhance the customer experience, and so attendees leave the event feeling they had achieved that ROTI. A new trend I am seeing is the blending of off-line and on-line in a truly cohesive and complementary way. Take the intimacy, participation and customization of the on-line world and marry it to the off-line world to create a unique experience. It’s a bit like being in the audience at a play but then being given some lines to speak and finding yourself in the action, with the chance to change the denouement.
Large scale in-person events are not a secondary backwater activity within the marketing mix. Events are not yet the equivalent of tape – solid, reliable, yet slow and unwieldy, their death being greatly exaggerated. Events are morphing into being a key part of the overall experience. Witness the 100,000+ attending Salesforce’s Dream Force Conference in San Francisco or the 25,000+ attending Oracle OpenWorld, among many other large scale industry conferences.
What is different today is that the on-line experience is being melded more and more into these off-line activities. It is becoming the best of both worlds.
With ubiquitous communication today and the ever increasing intermingling of work and private life, the return on time invested is becoming easier to achieve. It does mean however that hosts and organizers cannot be assured of 100% participation and attention any more, given that attendees can no longer put their business lives on hold whilst they attend a conference or a seminar. However it does mean that events are increasingly becoming more participative rather than passive. Subsequently those events that offer the attendees an all-round experience are continuing to flourish, whilst those that follow the tired old format of preaching and one-way instruction are struggling to be justifiable.
In my experience, in-person events are becoming incredibly sophisticated. From the technology being employed, the accuracy of the messaging and value propositions being presented together with new innovative formats, we are truly driving forward the customer buying experience. I love digital, don’t get me wrong, but there is definitely still a place for more traditional means of engaging with customers and prospects – they just have to be interwoven with the new vehicles.
Today when leading edge companies start planning attendance at big industry shows like a VMWorld or Cisco Live they begin with the SoMe plan. It is that simple. Blend the on-line into the off-line and help the attendees with the Return on Time Invested calculations.
The attendee couldn’t care less whether the vendor is getting an ROI on our marketing activity – they want an ROTI and that is what you should aim to give them!