B2B customer relationships are built on trust and sustainability, especially in today’s primarily service-based economy. Events have a proven track record in establishing those relationships and driving meaningful business growth. In this article, we’ll explore how events, particularly those of the virtual or hybrid variety, can increase conversions at every stage of the marketing funnel.
What is Event Marketing, and Why Does it Matter?
In an increasingly digital world, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of face-to-face events and the personal and professional relationships they promote. Automation has proven crucial for enhancing business growth and scalability, but it isn’t a panacea. More than ever, people crave meaningful interaction, and this is true in the B2B world too. Virtual and hybrid events, as well as traditional real-world events, can make that happen.
Event marketing encompasses events like trade shows, business conferences, and seminars in either a virtual (remote) or real-world context. It’s a form of experiential marketing, in which a customer’s interaction with a brand goes beyond the product or service alone to incorporate memorable experiences that build loyalty and inspire advocacy.
Source: Marketing Charts
While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has pushed the vast majority of events online, it has also highlighted the need for maintaining strong business relationships at a time when supply chains are under enormous strain. Although the dynamics of event marketing have changed, it has become even more important and diverse. Once the pandemic subsides, virtual events are set to give way to hybrid events incorporating both online and offline activities, making clear the need for a structured approach to event marketing. Nonetheless, virtual events will continue to play an increasingly important role, especially for businesses with global audiences.
What is a Marketing Funnel?
A marketing funnel is a way of breaking down the buyer journey into several stages from the moment a person first hears about your business to the point they become brand advocates. The process broadly looks the same across all industries, both in B2B and B2C sectors. That said, paying close attention to the marketing funnel is essential in B2B relationships, as well as those in high-touch B2C sectors like finance and legal.
Here’s what a typical marketing funnel looks like:
- Awareness: The potential client first learns about your business
- Consideration: The potential client starts to engage your brand
- Conversion: The potential client becomes a lead or prospect
- Loyalty: The client decides to further their investment in your brand
- Advocacy: The client becomes a brand ambassador, spreading the good word
Any high-impact marketing strategy should align with each stage of the B2B marketing funnel. For example, awareness might arise as a result of online ads, while advocacy can be earned with things like exclusive offers and events.
Much like digital marketing initiatives, events can also apply each stage of the funnel. Here’s how:
While most B2B leads first learn about a brand online, typically with a search query or an ad, these are by no means the only methods. Moreover, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings and events when it comes to building trust and transparency. As these are essential factors in B2B relationships, events can themselves be a highly effective way to build awareness in the first place. Virtual and hybrid events offer an affordable compromise between the real-world meeting experience and the accessibility of online communications.
There are many ways businesses can raise awareness at events. For example, they might set up booths at popular trade fairs or launch fundraising campaigns for the benefit of their local communities. Engaging in philanthropic events and activities is an especially powerful way to raise awareness for both your brand and its vision.
With brand visibility taken care of, it’s time to give your target audience a reason to act. Once they’ve seen your booth at a trade show or your name in the list of speakers in a conference, it’s time to answer the question of what’s in it for them. B2B clients often need some convincing before they will ascend to the conversion stage, making this one of the most important stages of the journey.
At this point, the key is to build authority by providing tangible value to your target audience. When they leave the event, they should do so having a sense of fulfillment. Perhaps they’ve learned something important, for example. Seminars and workshops are especially powerful at this stage of the funnel since they build authority and generate meaningful value.
Potential clients should have the opportunity to express their interest and, if they desire, commit, whenever they encounter your brand at an event. For example, handing out business cards or encouraging attendees to sign up for your email content after a virtual event helps improve the chances of the relationship continuing after the event. It is especially important to consider the conversion stage when planning an event, as far too many relationships end the moment the event does.
While many events are primarily educational in nature, with an emphasis on things like product demonstrations and presentations, promotional and sales events can increase conversions directly.
As far as some business leaders are concerned, the sales funnel strategy stops the moment a sale is made. While that might work for fast-moving consumer goods to a degree, it doesn’t for complex B2B relationships. In fact, loyalty is where the magic truly happens, since repeat customers often bring even more value to the brand at a lower cost than new ones.
Events are inherently powerful for building brand loyalty, since they help forge more personal connections in a way that things like content marketing and traditional advertising cannot. A virtual event can do that too, simply because it humanizes digital marketing. For example, you could hold an event especially for your existing customers, such as an exclusive training workshop or seminar.
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In the B2B marketing funnel, advocacy is the point at which a client becomes more than just a client – but a valued business partner whose experience with your brand has a direct impact on its reputation. These are clients who are not only loyal but are also well-positioned to help you grow your business through their own recommendations. Naturally, these are the clients who demand the best treatment.
Your brand advocates are your inner circle, so it makes sense to use events to provide them with a degree of inside access into your business. These exclusive events should focus on maintaining and strengthening existing relationships. For example, exclusive dinners or other social events can work for many brands, while a manufacturing firm might provide an exclusive tour of their factories. Any event that makes your brand advocates feel like they’re a part of the team is bound to strengthen relationships.
The strongest B2B business relationships are born of the ability to seamlessly pivot between online and offline marketing activities, and events are no exception. Aventri gives marketers a fully integrated event-management platform to streamline workflows and reveals real insight into the value of virtual and face-to-face events. Learn more in our 2021 Event Marketing Guide.