In Person Marketing Gets Connected: Part 2

Having found myself persuaded, not least by Ben Hindman’s articulate enthusiasm, that in-person marketing was being transformed, I was now being challenged by Forrester’s Laura Ramos and others to consider the consequences. If brands benefited from new technological agility in capturing and activating data from physical events, wasn’t the logical next step to bury brick and mortar reality, and make events digital through and through?

I had a feeling I knew what Mark Bornstein, VP of Marketing at San Francisco-based webinar platform ON24 would say.

Reach everybody on the planet

The first thing Bornstein said when I told him I was writing about the digitization of events marketing was: “Define event.”

He acknowledged that we’re seeing “an evolutionary change in the definition of what events mean for marketers today,” but in contrast to Hindman and Blazejewski (see part 1), he argued that we should: “remove the concept of an event as a moment in time.” With its flagship webinar product, and other virtual environments (virtual training, virtual product demos, etc), ON24 takes the position that the event of the future should have an on-demand component.

In-person conversations, said Bornstein, are expensive and don’t scale very well. Live events marketers might have “a few big hits every year. We’ve been in that mode for a long time, but it’s finally changing because of what digital has brought to the table.

“Every spring and fall,” he continued, “there are lots of conventions. Marketers love the events, they’re really able to qualify prospects, but there’s something missing. None of the data is captured.” Others I spoke to for this article would, of course, strongly disagree with that: But Bornstein was referring to the experience we’ve all had of memorializing an in-person meeting by writing a name on a slip of paper, or pocketing a soon-lost business card. The content too can be ephemeral, unless it’s available for people to watch “when they want to, and wherever they want to,” if they were unable to catch all the sessions, or attend the event at all.

The benefits of all-digital

Bornstein listed the ways in which digital events have live events beat — in his view:

  • Ease of deployment and persistence of content
  • Tote bags are great for picking up pieces of paper; but people now expect to consume content digitally
  • Product demonstrations can happen right away; no scheduling
  • You capture every conversation, every single action: poll responses, responses to CTAs, the chat log, etc
  • Much faster marketing to sale hand-off; instant CRM.

Does ON24 practice what it preaches? Largely yes, but it’s noteworthy that its Webinar World user conference is an in-person event as well as a virtual event, held among the very real bricks and mortar of San Francisco. Bornstein points out that putting the content online at least doubled the audience. “We made it global without having to spend a bundle.”

Pressed, Bornstein will acknowledge a “small evolution on the side of the physical event” — but by digital means. “There’s better data collection, but it still misses conversations and social interactions. There is a merging of the digital and the physical: They’re marching towards each other.”

In Hindman’s view, physical and digital events both have their place in the funnel. “Webinars tend to work well for top of funnel and live events, while important to top of funnel, often are best used to drive acceleration and close deals.” 

For considered purchases (and encompasses much of B2B), the human relationship remains important. “Humans are buying more than just the product,” said Hindman, “They are investing in the relationship. While there are attributes of digital events that are similar to live events — urgency, promotional cycle, etc. — strictly digital events lack core attributes of live events that make them so valuable.” Among them, “serendipity, which leads to memories and experiences that build trust.”

In any case, was Bornstein under-rating the extent to which engagements and interactions could be captured in the new data-saturated in-person environment? I decided to ask someone else deeply invested in the in-person events marketing space, Chalva Tchkotoua, CMO of Connecticut-headquartered event management platform etouches.

“The overall space is huge, growing approximately 6% per year,” Tchkotoua told me. But the opportunity is still massive. “Slowly, organizations are demanding a lot more focus and results on the last black hole of the marketing lifecycle.” Real time customer engagement at live events is extremely important, not only for the brands sponsoring the event, but for event managers in order to make the investment case to the CMO. 

Etouches, Tchkotoua said, views itself as a complete end-to-end solution for in-person events, from pre-registration to post-event outcome tracking. In the last 18 months, he said, it has made a number of important acquisitions to enhance live data capture. Pride of place, perhaps, goes to the purchase of Loopd smart badge technology in March 2017.

The bidirectional, Bluetooth-enabled badge – robust, but a winner of design awards – enables attendees to exchange contact info with a quick badge-to-badge touch; essentially, it’s a digital business card, and and replaces those hastily scribbled scraps of paper. Event sponsors can use data collected by the badge to build attendee profiles, featuring session attendance and duration – the whole journey, beginning at registration. “It’s not just about capturing leads,” Tchkotoua said. It provides “critical insights” when it comes to follow-ups, for example with highly personalized curated content.

Of course, Tchkotoua readily admits, basic tracking of attendee behavior is nothing new. But the “still prevalent” RFID approach brings a whole infrastructure with it; as anyone who has leaned awkwardly forward while an attendant tries repeatedly to scan a conference name-badge will know.

The etouches smart badge isn’t the only development in this space. There was Disney’s MagicBand, for example, and from the same creator, Carnival’s OCEAN medallion, for use on leisure cruises; similar concepts turned to different purposes, and it surely won’t be the last development we see.

Etouches had already acquired Tapcrowd in 2015, a mobile app platform for live events (another important player in that space, whicn remains independent, is San Francisco-based DoubleDutch).

“An event was a success because 100 people stopped by the booth? None of that is actionable,” Tchkotoua said. “I call it ‘passive data.’” The live action data etouches captures is fed into Salesforce to bring background information on attendees together with live event touch-points, channel preferences, and app and social media activity.

Admittedly, this all sounds great: But it’s a lot for events teams to chew over, especially when logistics are a high priority. My next stop: A planning tool for events, with the emphasis on following the dollars.