Are You Running Effective Webinars?

Are You Running Effective Webinars?

October 2018 | Digital Marketing

Webinars are one of the most popular tactics in the marketing toolkit. Yet research from Sirius Decisions shows that marketers aren't using them correctly.

A regular webinar series has been the mainstay of campaign calendars for a long time. They frequently serve as an anchor for the marketing event program, fitting around local seminars, regional tradeshows and global summits as required. In part, this is because they are cheaper to produce and easier to run than a physical event. The biggest cost is generally the time required by the presenter to prepare their presentation, which rarely impacts marketing budgets. As a result, the most successful programs have streamlined the task of promoting a webinar until it has become a highly efficient production line. They are frequently the most automated demand generation initiative, relying heavily on marketing automation to send invites and drive attendance.

A high proportion of webinar registrations are generated through email, even when they are promoted across social and other inbound channels. This results in webinars being targeted to middle or bottom of funnel audiences because these align with the interests of the typical mailing list. However, recent research into actual buying decisions from Sirius Decisions reveals that prospects are generally most interested in attending webinars at top of funnel, during the education phase of the buying cycle. Interest in webinars drops off significantly as leads progress through the funnel.

The right audience?

The takeaway from this is that Marketers should be pitching their webinars to top of funnel audiences through web and social channels. Topic choices and session content should align with top of funnel thought leadership and general best practice messaging, rather than brand or product detail. Product webinars are typically more relevant to an audience of existing customers or partners than to prospects. As such, the primary focus of the presentation should be a business challenge that your audience is facing. Don't cut the product content from the presentation, but think of it as a 5-minute segment at the end. The main segment shouldn't be about you at all, but instead be about your customers. Prospects will join the webinar expecting a product pitch at some point in the presentation. However, this isn't what they're actually interested in. By giving 20 minutes of engaging content your audience cares about, you earn their attention for the product or solution messages that you as the marketer are looking to drive conversion.

There is anecdotal evidence to back this up. The fastest growing webinar technology platforms, promote themselves on their ability to drive new prospects to your existing webinar library, rather than their presenter or organiser experience. Take BrightTalk as an example. Their unique selling point is their ability to build webinar attendances on behalf of marketers by cross-promoting related webinars of different brands. In theory, this allows decision makers to discover webinars through browsing the BrightTalk platform rather than having to rely on your promotional activity. In this respect, they are more akin to a social network such as YouTube or SlideShare than a traditional webinar platform such as WebEx.

Using BrightTalk does have its downsides, the social network type structure means that ultimate control over the attendee experience lies with BrightTalk rather than the Marketer. Many companies have chosen not to use the platform because of concern that registrants may end up consuming a competitor's content after registering for their event. If BrightTalk is viewed as more akin to a content syndication channel, then this compromise makes more sense. Other platforms such as ON24, don't include the social element but heavily promote their webinar library features. This has the same result but ensures prospects aren't exposed to events run by other brands.

Social Experience

Webinar recordings have long been viewed as an asset to be included in the corporate content library. Now, the live webinar itself has also become another asset to be used as part of a broader campaign. Webinars are no longer an event tactic but are instead a larger part of a Marketer's inbound strategy. As with any inbound tactic the key to success is driving registrations through multiple channels, especially email and social. Personal invitations are still relevant too. Webinars are useful for Sales as a platform to re-engage cold prospects or to push cross-sell and up-sell, so make sure that Sales and field marketing teams are equipped with the messaging and enablement tools they need to attract registrations.

Location is no barrier to attendance. Many global enterprises organise their webinars on a regional basis. There are good reasons for this, as it allows them to tailor their content to local audiences. European or Asian audiences frequently have different priorities and perspectives compared to North American audiences. However, you will inevitably receive registrations and attendees from out of region. Be aware of this, and embrace it. For top of funnel audiences this isn't generally a problem, as presenters in each region are typically putting a different spin on the same core themes. It's only when you start talking about product detail that this becomes a real problem.

Acquire New Names

Webinars are a leading method for online education. There are good reasons for this, as no other top of funnel tactic allows you to go into as much depth with audiences. Use them to get prospects thinking about the right problems and asking the right questions so that you can continue the conversation across other channels.

At the same time, don't waste the opportunity to use webinar registrations to build your database and push new contacts into broader multi-channel campaigns. Getting new prospects to fill out a form in exchange for a PDF is hard because they don't see any benefit to themselves in doing so. They're often sceptical about whether a white paper is worth the valuable personal details they would give up for it. The same individual will happily give out the same information when signing up for a webinar because they know what to expect and understand that there are valid reasons for needing to provide personal information. A webinar is a known quantity. Attendees go into it expecting to see a 45-minute presentation in return for their name and email address.

Follow Up Engagement

The key challenge then becomes getting consent into further communications at the same time. A regular webinar series is one of the best ways of feeding your nurture programs because you know that the contacts you're adding are already engaged. They filled in a form to register for the webinar. So make sure that form has an opt-in checkbox on it. If this is ticked, start nurturing straight away. Even if a prospect doesn't opt in on initial registration remember that post-event follow up emails provide a second chance to acquire an opt-in.

The value of a good follow up email sent in a timely manner is frequently underestimated, and as a result, they're often an afterthought put together at the last minute. This is a missed opportunity because follow up emails are the perfect time to get additional engagement whilst the prospect is still interested. Think of it as the first stage of the next campaign, in addition to being the conclusion of the current webinar campaign. Even a poor follow up email will get 3-4 times more opens than an outbound invite or a nurture email sent at the same time. As such, always include relevant white papers or additional video content in your follow up emails, alongside the recording and presentation. This extra content then forms the start of a digital nurture track, that is designed to build sufficient engagement to get the lead in front of sales. Few attendees will be ready for Sales contact immediately, and those that are will let you know during the session, but then lead generation is a secondary objective of a top of funnel webinar.

The primary purpose of a webinar campaign is to raise awareness and educate your audience during a 45-minute session in which you have the undivided attention of new prospects. In a world of constant time pressures and short attention spans that's a rare opportunity for Marketers. It's essential that you make the most of it.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.