90% of webinars are painful. I’ve been reminded of this fact after recently participating in a virtual conference as well as attending some “Introduction to…” topic webinars. I typically can surmise the pain level within the first four minutes. It doesn’t have to be this way. Webinars are critical weapons within the marketing arsenal with some basic planning, block-and-tackling execution, and development of valuable content (not product overviews). It’s hard to gauge whether webinars are becoming less successful overall but my non-scientific poll reveals that people are attending fewer and have higher expectations. One webinar with quality content targeted to select attendees at the right time is worth 50 webinars with poor content delivered through a shotgun approach.
Here’s my view on the five key success elements for a webinar or webcast:
Understand why you are conducting the webinar. Many events are corporate infomercials designed to plug products and place a check in the box that 5 webinars happened in Q1. You need to go deeper. Is your objective to:
- Build corporate awareness
- Generate new leads
- Nurture existing leads
- Educate influencers
- Deepen existing customer relationships
- Demonstrate technical aspects of your solutions
Who is your target audience, what information do you want to share, and what actions do you want them to take after the session? These simple questions determine everything from the topic, speaker, target audience, messaging, marketing, timing (start or end off the quarter), budget, etc. Ideally a webinar would be the conclusion of mapping your customer’s buying process against personas and identifying the best method to move ‘customers’ (buyers, influencers, and users) through the marketing funnel and ultimately to sales. Webinars are a means to an end, not an event to themselves. Webinars also need an official owner that is responsible for metrics that align with the goals.
Audience Specific Content (is King)
For your webinar, are you recycling materials from existing presentations? If so, your content is likely to fail. The goal of most webinars is to generate new leads. With that premise, speakers should tackle important issues related to your domain that will help the audience better do their jobs. Help them and build a relationship. Create content focused on the audience type – end users versus business line – and address their top concerns (deliver value) and position your company as a thought leader. What data / perspectives do you have that is unique (i.e., don’t be a me-too messenger)? Can that content be created into a virtual seminar series to establish a longer term relationship and nurturing? What is controversial in the industry and can you take a stand, be provocative, and add to the conversation with examples and analogies? Choose speakers well known in the industry (even outsiders) to draw a larger audience and who can deliver unbounded enthusiasm for the topic. If you are considering a free giveaway to entice attendees (“win an iPod”), re-examine your objectives as most quality leads will not be influenced by low-cost swag.
Tactically, 40 minutes of content should be planned for an hour time slot, slides should have less text, show videos/ demo to break up the flow, and presenters should never use a speakerphone. If you are a speaker, I recommend personalizing the presentation with the word “you” vs. “the audience” when speaking, consider a scripted start for a smooth beginning, using polling to engage attendees (otherwise they will be taking calls on the cell phone and/or checking email), and focus on a few quotable lines for tweeting. Finally, keep content about your company to five minutes or less to avoid being an infomercial (#1 turnoff for attendees).
The best content is useless without prospective attendees knowing about the webinar. Extensive promotion should start 30 days beforehand in locations rich in the prospective target attendees (either through online communities, blogs, print articles, event cross-promotion, tweeting, press release, etc.). Email lists can also deliver good response rates depending upon their quality and your ability to properly segment within target accounts. Definitely drive prospective to a tailored landing page specific to the event. I’d recommend using A/B message testing early in the promotion process if sample sizes are large enough for both any banners and landing page messaging. Evaluate the subject line and content to make sure it is remarkable. Remarkable content will generate pull (retweeting, forwards to colleagues) and attendance. Schedule the event mid-day to get both East and West coast and not on a Friday or Monday. A simple registration process will yield more results but do gather any relevant data points critical to follow-up (e.g., two questions on their platform or business application used). Don’t ask for lots of contact data – a simple email is often enough early in the lead generation process. Many events have only 50-70% attendance from confirmed registrants so establish a reminder calendar – immediately after registration, week, day, 2 hours before. Consider phone reminders for key potential target accounts. A compelling call-to-action by the presenter should close the session and align with the next step in the funnel process.
Logistics – First Impressions Matter
The #2 webinar turnoff is when the first 5 minutes are spent trying to get the slides or speaker audio to work. That is a huge opportunity and brand cost when you are fighting for mind share. Always test connectivity, phone connections, and conduct dry runs of the materials a few days in advance with both speakers and moderators.
Twenty minutes before the event, put up a welcome slide so attendees know they are at the correct site and have rotating slides that include common questions such as how to ask questions and obtain the slides after the session. Respect your attendees and start three minutes after the hour and end on time. I would also strongly advocate using a moderator to introduce the speaker, handle any transitions, and ask a few canned questions during the presentation (give the presenter a short break). I recently dialed into a presentation from a top enterprise software company where the presenter did not forward the slides, never checked his Q&A to see all the complaints, and effectively wasted everyone’s time. Not a positive brand builder for the speaker or company.
Analyze and Follow-up
After doing all the work associated with having the event, I have seen many occasions where momentum is lost. All registrants (attendees and no-shows) need to be entered into your lead management system for proper follow-up. A post-mortem about the event should be conducted a few days later to ensure follow-up, gather lessons learned, and improve the next webinar:
- Share response rates from different promotion sources and examine yield to attendance
- Evaluate the speaker and presentation / polling flow.
- Discuss the follow-up plan with no-shows and ensure transition into another program element.
- Ensure that attendees are promoted to the next stage of the nurturing process.
- Build plan to clean-up and reuse the webinar recording. Consider breaking the content into shorter micro-viral videos for easy consumption on other web properties.
- Send a link to the content to attendees within 24 hours as promised during the webcast.
Webinars are a great tool to use within your marketing programs. However, a poor webinar experience is just as bad as a poor face-to-face meeting. Respect the audience, execute the tactical, and prospects will look to build a relationship, and ultimately, become a customer.