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Growth, Engagement and Webinars: How Today’s Top Marketers Make it All Work

March 26th, 2019 Sydni Craig-Hart

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.com by Sydni Craig-Hart. Syndicated with author’s permission. To learn more about Smart Simple Marketing, follow this link.

This week, I was a first-time attendee at Webinar World, a user conference hosted by ON24, in San Francisco, CA. ON24 is an enterprise-level technology company that, per the comments on their website, “is on a mission to redefine how organizations engage with their audiences, powering interactive, data-rich webinars and content experiences that help people connect on a more human level and make smarter business decisions.”

(By the way, many thanks to ON24 for hosting such a great event right in my backyard… I love the no-plane 10-minute commute and sleeping in my own bed! 🙂 )

Table of Contents

At Smart Simple Marketing, we’ve been producing high-quality webinars since 2008, and I have personally delivered hundreds of live webinars. They are one of my favorite platforms for teaching. Webinars have been an integral piece of our marketing strategy, and we’ve consistently used a variety of webinar formats to build our 29,000+ email list, build relationships with industry influencers, train small business owners how to attract more clients and increase their revenue and so much more. Webinars have also been an integral piece of the work we do for our enterprise clients, helping them to drive engagement, deepen loyalty, and gain market share with small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

Hosting compelling webinars continues to be one of the top three strategies we recommend to our corporate clients, as highlighted in our insights paper, Successfully Selling to Small Businesses. In fact, our very first project with a corporate client was producing, marketing, and re-purposing a five-part webinar series for Verizon Wireless, called “The Entrepreneurs Guide to Business Success”, and we hosted that series using ON24.

As such, I’ve been looking forward to Webinar World 2019 and hearing ON24’s take on the latest success strategies for leveraging the power of webinars as a marketing tool. Since it is my first time attending the event, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed three of the sessions I attended yesterday. One of those was a panel discussion entitled “Keynote Conversation: Living Your Best #Webinerd Life.” Check out the description of the session:

“The life of a webinerd can get pretty crazy. From great successes to epic fails, there’s never a dull moment when you’re at the helm of your company’s webinar channel. Join ON24 Chief Webinerd Mark Bornstein in a panel of webinerds who will share their stories of webinar disasters and recoveries, getting big wins and internal recognition and their most valuable lessons learned.”

The session was moderated by Mark Bornstein, Vice President of Marketing and Chief Webinerd at ON24 and the panel included:

To provide a bit of context, Deanna, Josh, and Nina describe their work this way:

  • Deanna (Clarivate Analytics) – “My team oversees all the marketing and strategy for three of Clarivate Analytics business units. Webinars have become critical to our demand strategy approach at every stage of the life cycle. Right now, we’re running about sixty webinars globally. We also support the field by repackaging and repurposing our webinar content.”
  • Josh (Collette Travel) – “We’re a tour operator, and we travel to all seven continents. We do B2B and B2C as well. On average, we do 500 webinars a year. Our goal is to educate travel agents, educate group leaders on our products, and then educate members of those different groups to get them to purchase different tours. We provide webinars throughout the entire life cycle.”
  • Nina (Salesforce) – “For all of our different products and industry segments, my team handles all the executional programmatic approach to our webinars and overall strategy.

Following are my favorite takeaways from the panel discussion along with suggestions for how to implement the insights shared into your own marketing programs.

How Have Your Webinar Programs Evolved?

Mark (ON24) – “How have your webinar programs evolved; are they still talking PowerPoints, or where are you guys with that now?”

  • Deanna (Clarivate Analytics) – “For us, it’s all about engagement. We recognize that industrywide, people are willing to pay more for a premium experience. So, we are really implementing that as part of our webinar strategy. It provides us with an opportunity to not just have engagement, but to give all our prospects and customers experience, and so, for that, it causes us to evolve and look at everything differently.”
  • Josh (Collette Travel) – “If you look at where we were seven years ago to where we are now, it’s completely different. We’ve definitely grown and come up with real strategies for the year and try to plan things out for the following year. We take all the surveys we get and listen to our consumers and our travel agents. We really plan things that are interactive; we do series. We try to do value-added webinars as well; it’s not just about selling for us; it’s about, for example, ‘how to use Facebook’ or ‘how to take the best photography’, so we try to really add that into our strategy.”
  • Nina (Salesforce) – “One of the biggest changes is how much traction our webinars have gotten over the years; we continue to see increased numbers of webinars that we’re doing every single year. We do still have our PowerPoints and audio, but we’ve done a lot more with video recently. We have a studio that we will pre-record in or stream live in, so people are sitting just like this in a panel discussion, talking about things that are interesting to them or product launches or things like that; so, we’ve gotten a lot more innovative that way over the years. We’re not just PowerPoint and audio.”

BIG TAKEAWAYS (aka Smart Simple Marketing Implementation Advice)

  • Focus on creating TRUE engagement—meaning allowing your audience to share their thoughts, ideas, and struggles with you (all of which is far more important than what you have to say to them.)
  • Plan your content in advance, and don’t fly by the seat of your pants. You’ll be less stressed and create a better experience for your audience.
  • Design webinars that make life easier for your audience. Focus on helping them solve the problems that cause them to waste time, money, and effort. If you do, they’ll come back for more (which means lower customer acquisition costs for you).
  • Look for ways to incorporate video in your webinars. Including short videos will help keep your audience’s attention and provide more context for the point you’re trying to make.

How Do You Approach Webinar Management and Planning?

Mark (ON24) – “How do you manage so many webinars? What does planning look like when you’re trying to support so many events?”

  • Nina (Salesforce) – “It was definitely chaotic in the past. We’ve dialed it back, so now, people can only book webinars for the next coming quarter. We have a steering committee where we work together functionally, so we’re not just operating in silos. Also, we have a webinar brief that all of our campaign managers and product marketers fill out and turn in at least four to five weeks in advance of their webinar. That is our working point for our team, to make sure we’re taking care of everything that goes into a webinar. We’ve created stricter guidelines for the process, so we’re not getting a brief two weeks before a live event and people expect us to produce a successful webinar off of that.”

BIG TAKEAWAYS (aka Smart Simple Marketing Implementation Advice)

  • Create a written process document to organize all the details of your webinar production and execution. Insist that every team (or team member) follow this process religiously. Doing so will save you time, money, and effort.
  • Create related forms (i.e., the brief mentioned by Nina) to help your colleagues think through the details of the experience they want to create. Not only will your form collect the information you need to produce a successful webinar, but it can also serve as a strategic asset that helps your team(s) collaborate. Your form can also be a strategic asset that can keep your team(s) focused on their goals.
  • Be intentional about knowledge-sharing between teams to help break down silos. This encourages greater collaboration and, ultimately, will create a more positive brand experience for your audience.

How Are You Evolving Webinars?

Mark (ON24) – “Are you thinking about creating webinars beyond simple high-level thought leadership webinars? Are you thinking about building webinars for each state in the funnel?”

  • Deanna (Clarivate Analytics) – “Absolutely. It’s not just about the thought leadership piece. It’s about engagement and helping the audience really understand what they’re going to get from connecting with the company. So, we’re absolutely building out webinars that are a value add. ON24 allows us to provide our audience with content pieces that will help them with their decision-making at the end of the buying cycle as well. The calendar of how we’re building out webinars, and how many webinars, where they are in the year, and what the buying cycle looks like—we take all of that into account.”
  • Josh (Collette Travel) – “With travel, we’re trying to not only get people to go on a tour; we’re trying to get them to buy. We’re also trying to educate our travel agents on the value of booking travel with Collette so they know exactly what their clients are going to get when they book with us. When it comes to the full year, we do have a strategy where we sit down in the summer and we talk about what we’re going to do for the following year.”
  • Nina (Salesforce) – “We have a lot of your basic product-focused webinars, since we have a lot of different products to serve. We also have webinars that are more sales driven, so you’ll see a lot of buy-in from the sales team on those. These sessions are going to be a lot more targeted to a smaller niche area. We have our thought leadership and “trailblazers” type webinars, and these are going to be your industry topics. So, we do have webinars that fit into all these different levels, and it’s really important to us that we are tailoring the content differently in all of those areas.”

BIG TAKEAWAYS (aka Smart Simple Marketing Implementation Advice)

  • Many companies make the mistake of using webinars as only a top-of-funnel strategy. Don’t be one of them. Leverage webinars to support prospects at ALL stages of the buying cycle. After they buy, you can continue using webinars to help your customers get the ROI they are looking for from your product.
  • Create content for different learning preferences. The same content you produce for a live webinar can become a series of checklists, worksheets, resource guides, templates, audio tutorials, etc., that support your attendees in implementing what you taught them. Distribute the additional resources during or immediately after the webinar to keep your audience engaged.
  • Developing a strategy is key to your success, but do allow space in your plan for flexibility. You want to be able to respond to a new trend, a hot news topic, a customer need, or a request from your sales team. Build in space for these sessions so they don’t throw off your editorial calendar.

How Do You Drive Webinar Registration?

Mark (ON24) – “Let’s talk about something that everyone cares a lot about when it comes to webinars. It’s the thing I hear again and again and again, which is driving registration, one of the hardest things to do with a webinar. You all have completely different types of audiences, what are you doing to try to get people to attend your webinar?”

  • Deanna (Clarivate Analytics) – “We are taking advantage of social. We have some folks that are really targeting and finding the right groups on Linkedin. And we have our partner groups making an appeal because these are their peers, and they are very respected by our audience. So, we give our partners “enablement packs,” where all they have to do is copy and paste into the respective Linkedin groups. This allows us to drive registration in addition to building out the typical paid and organic social and email channels that we are also using.”
  • Josh (Collette Travel) – “We do the basic e-mail that we always send out to get them to join. We have certain Facebook groups that we utilize with our agent network. We just started using Facebook groups over the past three months, and they have actually been working really well. When we’re on our webinar, we talk about what’s coming up next and get them to register right away; that way, we’re already touching that touch point with them.”
  • Nina (Salesforce) – “Email is still our biggest driver of registration, so that’s what we put a lot of focus behind. Each of our teams that are actually running the webinars will do their own social and digital promotions. We have seen a lot of success when we do a blog post about an upcoming webinar too; so, second to email, that’s been our second highest driver of registration.”

BIG TAKEAWAYS (aka Smart Simple Marketing Implementation Advice)

  • A multichannel strategy is necessary to meet your registration goals. Take stock of ALL of your channels, the various features available on each channel, and create content specific to the culture of that channel. Feel free to repurpose content across channels, but do so strategically.
  • Use your marketing communications to give attendees a preview of the webinar event. Show them exactly why taking time out of their day will help them address a pressing problem or meet a current goal.
  • Once people have registered for the event, keep them engaged. Encourage them to invite a friend, learn about their needs by way of a brief survey, and give them additional previews of the content. You need to keep reminding them of the value you’ll be presenting to encourage them to attend live.

What Are Your Tactics for Webinar Engagement?

Mark (ON24) – “How are you getting your audience involved in the webinars? What are you doing to get more engagement in those experiences?”

  • Deanna (Clarivate Analytics) – “We’re absolutely taking advantage of the widgets on the ON24 platform, which, for example, gives us the ability to share white papers. The other thing we’ve done is enable our audience to use social media widgets. We have our social media manager paying attention so that if someone tweets or writes a post about the live webinar, they’re getting a response in real time, so that it becomes more of a conversation. That’s really important when you’re trying to create conversations versus campaigns and building more than engagement.”
  • Josh (Collette Travel) – “We utilize the ability to have resource links, polls and surveys built into the session on ON24. We try to have polls in every webinar, and we also try to ask questions to break up the webinar.”
  • Nina (Salesforce) – “We do a lot of polls and share links to resources. Our other route is we bring video into the webinars so that people feel like they’re connecting with someone on a more personal level then just hearing a voice on a slide.”

BIG TAKEAWAYS (aka Smart Simple Marketing Implementation Advice)

  • Take another look at the tool you’re using to host your webinars. Make sure you’re aware of ALL of the features and benefits available to you so you’re getting the greatest return on your investment.
  • If your tool happens to not have the interactive features of ON24, look to third-party resources to help create engagement during your presentation. For example, tools like PollsEverywhere, Slidio, ClickMeeting, and SlideDog are inexpensive, easy to use, and help create an interactive experience with your attendees.
  • Just because your webinar ends doesn’t mean engagement with your brand should end. While you have your audience’s attention, give them options to continue the conversation in a way that feels comfortable for them. This could include immediately scheduling a follow-up call, directing them to watch another webinar, or giving them a piece of relevant content that helps them implement what they learned.

Do You Integrate Video into Your Webinars?

Mark (ON24) – “How have you begun to integrate video into your webinars?”

  • Josh (Collette Travel) – “We decided we wanted to try something different than just the PowerPoint. So we thought, ‘let’s just try to go live and do an actual interview,’ so we did. It wasn’t in a studio, and we didn’t have lots of equipment. We had a small little Nikon camera, a little microphone attached to it, and a little tiny light, and it was sitting on a kitchen table. It just shows what you can do with a small budget. You don’t need tens of thousands of dollars. We spent $1,000 to buy all the equipment and created a great polished video.”

BIG TAKEAWAYS (aka Smart Simple Marketing Implementation Advice)

  • Hubspot reports, “87% of consumers say they’d like to see more video from brands in 2019.” As such, video is a MUST-have in your content marketing toolbox. The question is not “is video a fit for us?” The question is “how are we using video to connect with our audience?”
  • An easy, fun and inexpensive way to create great video content AND engage with your audience is going LIVE on a platform like Facebook or LinkedIn. Minimal setup is required to create a great video, and your audience will love the opportunity to have a conversation with you.
  • Video is ripe for repurposing! You can use a single piece of content in your webinars, your marketing promotions, and product tutorials. Get creative and start putting your ideas into action!

How Do You Cope with Bad Speakers?

Mark (ON24) – “How do you deal with bad speakers? There’s nothing worse on a webinar than a terrible speaker.”

  • Deanna (Clarivate Analytics) – “We have some speakers who are deeply intellectual and very verbose, or they have slides that have 30 bullets on them, which can be very dense. So, in addition to helping with slide coaching, we run a practice session for our webinars. If we hear they’re not as engaging, we plan ahead to ask questions on certain slides to break up the sound of the voice. We let the speaker know in advance that the webinar manager is going to interrupt them on a certain slide, and this really helps.”
  • Nina (Salesforce) – “We really try to make the speaker as comfortable as possible. Our team makes sure that everything is covered so that the speaker doesn’t have anything to worry about besides speaking. We try to make it so they just have to focus on their expertise for the webinar.”

BIG TAKEAWAYS (aka Smart Simple Marketing Implementation Advice)

  • It’s all too easy for a speaker to go off on an unrelated tangent or turn their presentation into a pitch about their company. In order to avoid alienating your audience, clearly communicate with your speakers your expectations about the focus of their presentation. Make sure they understand that they are there to create value for your audience, not “toot their own horn” or sell their product.
  • Keep your content simple. We’ve seen time and again that our clients try to cram too much information into a session and end up overwhelming their audience. Choose ONE topic for your webinar and design your content to focus on that one topic. You want your audience to walk away feeling refreshed and inspired, not overwhelmed and confused.

How can Webinerds Reach the Next Level?

Mark (ON24) – “For all of our future and current #webinerds, any one piece of advice that you would give our audience today to take their webinerdship to the next level?”

  • Deanna (Clarivate Analytics) – “Use the best practices that ON24 provides you with; they’re critical. View your webinars as engagement, not just a tactic.”
  • Josh (Collette Travel) – “Don’t be afraid to try something new and try something different. Take what you learned here and try it. That’s what I’ve done (this is my third year) and every year we go back with at least one or two things that we’re going to try this year that has really impacted us.”
  • Nina (Salesforce) – “Be really passionate about what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Really push the envelope because who knows, maybe one thing, the next thing, will be a huge win for your company.”

As you can see, this was a rich session, filled with practical insights from three very different companies. Whether you sell B2B or B2C, whether you sell a product or service, whether your new to producing webinars or a seasoned veteran, there is always an opportunity to cross-appropriate strategies that are working in companies that look different from yours. I challenge you, as you think about what you learned in this article, not to think “yeah, but…,” and instead think “how can…”

Take “can’t” out of your vocabulary. Focus on what you CAN do. Commit to truly serving your audience. That is a guaranteed strategy that leads to success.

This is just one recap from the many insights we gained at Webinar World that we’ll be sharing in detail with our clients.

If you’d like to schedule a no-obligation brainstorming session about how to implement a results-focused webinar strategy, you can reach Sydni at sydni@smartsimplemarketing.com.