Guest Post by Brent Arslaner: The Next Generation of Lead Generation

March 23, 2009
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Brent Arslaner is the Vice President of Marketing for Unisfair, a provider of virtual event solutions. His biography is here. You can follow Brent on Twitter at @Brent_Arslaner.
Brent responded to a request for best practices in social media, courtesy of Peter Shankman’s Help a Reporter Out.
Increasing lead generation, while decreasing cost per lead, will be […]


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Brent Arslaner is the Vice President of Marketing for Unisfair, a provider of virtual event solutions. His biography is here. You can follow Brent on Twitter at @Brent_Arslaner.

Brent responded to a request for best practices in social media, courtesy of Peter Shankman’s Help a Reporter Out.

Say hi to Brent ArslanerIncreasing lead generation, while decreasing cost per lead, will be a top priority this year, as companies across the globe continue to grapple with how to navigate through the seismic changes in the business landscape.

Deep budget cuts and mandatory green policy compliance are drastically reducing travel to “live” events that previously served as primary lead generation vehicles.

Simply put, lead generation cannot be put on hold, even as the turbulence of the economy restricts travel.

Fortunately, virtual events and environments are enabling businesses to fill the void in their marketing mix by allowing them to more effectively listen to customers while gaining access to the best lead qualification and ranking analysis of any marketing vehicle.

Definitions

A virtual event has a beginning and an end. A virtual environment refers to an ongoing destination. However, we’re seeing the lines between the two blur more and more. Virtual events are starting to turn into virtual communities that are available 24/7, 365 days a year.

Companies are leveraging these persistent environments to create collaborative communities centered on their prospects, customers and partners. They are also using them for internal purposes, such as training and employee on boarding.

Virtual events and environments are different than tools like Second Life, which, while instrumental in creating buzz around all things virtual and helping build awareness about what is possible, is a “world.” With Second Life, people download a 40-megabyte applet, create an avatar, learn how to get dressed, and fly–they may even run into the occasional penguin.

Virtual events are designed for busy professionals and enable them to easily transfer knowledge, collaborate, create synergies, develop leads, and conduct business more efficiently. I fundamentally believe that balancing immersion with intuitiveness is key.

The 411

The right virtual event technology allows a company to bring together thousands of prospects, customers, and partners in a virtual environment where they can see and participate in multiple live conference sessions, visit exhibitor booths loaded with a variety of rich media, and interact in real time with booth reps and other attendees–all from the convenience of their desktops.

In addition to offering a more economically and environmentally sound way to bring thousands of attendees to an event, virtual events deliver some of the richest marketing data available because the anonymity of prospects evaporates.

Another significant benefit is the fact that more C-level executives are able to attend virtual events because they have the luxury of popping in for just a couple of hours. Virtual events are enabling meaningful online participation at 50 to 80 percent of the cost of physical events, which is after all, the proverbial “holy grail” of lead generation.

Real World Examples

In one case, a U.S. manufacturer needed to reduce costs associated with its annual multiple-city road show of developer events, while generating the same leads and demand as the physical shows. The company took its road show virtual and attracted 2,000 engineers—equal to the total number of participants in the entire three-month road show the year prior. What’s more, the virtual event cost 50 percent less than its previous physical events.

In another instance, a major design technology company eliminated five underperforming locations from its 20-city roadshow and replaced them with virtual events last year. In doing so, the company not only saved massive amounts of carbon, but reduced its cost per lead from $200 to $26.

Some companies are taking the virtual event a step further and creating year-round virtual business environment used to not only generate demand but also as a community or collaboration destination for the their prospects, customers, and partners. Cisco Systems, for example, undertook an initiative called the Cisco Partner Space, a virtual collaborative environment that enables connections and facilitates collaboration between customers and partners, among partners, and between Cisco and partners.

Next Steps

Virtual events are becoming an essential arrow in a marketer’s quiver. Virtual events provide social interaction, professional networking, collaboration, and marketing intelligence that offer untapped potential for the marketing and PR communities that is of increasing importance as the economy continues to sag.

Marketing and PR professionals have the same goals, but are faced with substantially less budget and travel freezes. Large companies are canceling sales meetings and user conferences. But people still have to execute; they still have to do their jobs.

The best way to determine the applicability of virtual events is walk through a portfolio analysis of the performance of existing events and marketing initiatives. Some of the questions to ask would include:

  1. Are my current physical events returning the expected success metrics (cost per lead, revenue)?
  2. With my current physical events, am I able to reach my target audience (nationally, globally)?
  3. Could physical event performance improve if augmented with a virtual component?
  4. If due to current economic conditions overall attendance was down 50% for a given physical event, would you still organize and run the event this year?
  5. Are their events that I have never run physically due to cost or other logistical issues that could work virtually?

A Final Word

Clearly, the foundation of a marketing strategy–in any economic scenario–should center on targeted and timely messages, but today it is more important than ever to hit the mark. Already, virtual events have seen significant growth since the middle of 2008 in correlation to the decline in real-world events. But in my opinion, the benefits of virtual events make the technology not just recession-friendly, but recession-proof.


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