Does your business have the Canceled Conference Blues? If so, marketing could start cooking up the cure to the travel-restricted, event-canceled world we’re all living in right now. Here are some ideas and strategies to help you navigate the business backlash of COVID-19 (more commonly known as the coronavirus) and to find new and creative ways to reach your customers.
Marketing Responsibly During a Pandemic
We’re dealing with unprecedented situations due to COVID-19 as humans, let alone as marketers. With more and more events being canceled, businesses are quickly finding themselves looking for alternate solutions to conferences, trade shows, and dealer meetings. And whatever your feelings are on the severity of the viral crisis, there’s no denying the economic impact of the virus to both our business and personal lives.
As leaders, it’s our job to stay calm, relieve panic where possible, and find solutions to help our businesses weather the storm. As marketers, that means it’s time to get creative and embrace innovation. We can’t sit back and wait for the impact of the crisis to grow—we need to step out and lead from the front.
All of the following ideas should be viewed through the lens of opportunity, but also smart business sense. If you’ve got budget opening up due to the cancelation of conferences or trade shows, I’ll share some ways to help put those dollars to use, and, ultimately, help sales capture lost opportunities. But, as always, make sure your dollars make sense (pun not entirely intended)—being innovative can lead to a host of opportunities, but, for it to be effective, start small, test a lot of ideas, see what sticks, and grow with what works.
1. Host Your Own Virtual Conference
Don’t let your presentations, slide decks, demos, and guest speakers (not to mention planned time to be away from the office) go to waste—host your own virtual conference.
This can be as big or small as you like—a few webinars with the materials you planned, or a full-blown multi-day event where you reach out to other presenters and invite them to share your stage. You could extend this to conference sponsors, too. There are plenty of available solutions for hosting—some of which, like live meeting software like Zoom or GoToMeeting, you may already have available.
What’s most important here is to remember why your audience was going to that conference or trade show that was canceled. Unless it was solely your event, they likely had other things on their agenda than just checking out product. Add sessions like expert Q&As, live chats, and industry influencer presentations. You could even add a cocktail hour or lunch—send attendees GrubHub orders, restaurant gift cards, or another means of enjoying a meal or drink during your online event.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to have fun and be spontaneous. This doesn’t have to be a major production (although it could be if you have the time and resources). The audience you were likely to serve at a canceled conference is human, just like you—and they’re dealing with canceled travel plans, trying to get refunds, and finding their own solutions to these unexpected business challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bring some levity and humor into your event if possible, and help them relax. Your calm leadership in the storm and ability to laugh may be just the signal of confidence your prospects need.
2. Conference in a Box
If your team prepared lots of event swag, don’t let a canceled conference stop you from sharing the goods with your prospects and customers. Whether you pair event collateral with a virtual conference or use it as a substitute, boxing up your swag with some brochures and other materials can be a great way to reach prospects (and spend any leftover conference budget).
You could take this idea to the next level by adding digital materials to your print pieces and swag items—add a flash drive with videos, PDFs, and whatever else would be useful to your intended audience. For some additional fun, you can add the aforementioned gift cards for a meal, or even add something related to the city where your event was scheduled to be held (think, a gourmet bottle of BBQ sauce for an event in Memphis, an umbrella for a Seattle destination, or sunscreen and shades for that lost beach stayover).
If you’ve got the time to do so, creating a custom printed box for your conference would be the ultimate touch—a branded piece of artwork to make your “conference in a box” truly memorable.
3. Virtual Sales Floor
Conferences aren’t the only events being canceled, and B2B businesses aren’t the only ones affected. Whether you sell to businesses or consumers, if you have hard goods (boats, RVs, diamond rings, medical devices, automotive parts, etc.), you may still need a way to let customers see your product and have a conversation with your sales staff.
Setting up a virtual sales floor is a great way to showcase your products. Let prospects schedule virtual tours and walkthroughs with an expert, and have consulting appointments with sales staff. Find a part of your brick and mortar store, warehouse, or other facility and create the ultimate customer experience—and then invite your prospects to participate virtually. You can even take advantage of having this setup in your backyard by bringing in product engineers, executives, and others involved in making your products and/or leading the business.
You can pair this idea with the custom delivered box of goods mentioned above for an extra special touch.
4. Consider an Offer or Discount
If your sales or financing teams have been considering any offers to boost end-of-quarter sales, now is the right time. Not only can offers help attract prospects to your conference alternatives, but they can also show that you’re willing to lend a helping hand to improve their businesses during scary times. Whether you’re considering financing and credit offers, discounts on special products or services, or other financial incentives, this can be a great time to responsibly use offers to support sales efforts.
5. Don’t Forget to Promote!
Lastly, don’t forget to promote your event. Email, digital ads, and social posts all will be useful, but you can also get creative with some paid search (event cancellation and refunds keywords), print invitations and more.
Be a Leader in These Strange Times
A lot of blood, sweat, and tears goes into pulling off a big conference—which makes canceling the event that much harder to stomach. Don’t wallow in self-pity. Instead, figure out a way to deliver a different—but just as impactful—experience for your audience. Hopefully, the ideas above can serve as a good starting point as you move forward in these strange times.
As the Digital Marketing Director for Element Three, Dustin works with the Element Three digital marketing department to determine the best combination of data analysis, marketing technology, and storytelling for driving our clients' bottom line. His background in journalism, digital communication, and ecommerce positions him as a unique voice in the cluttered digital marketing industry. When he's not writing about the forefront of digital marketing, you can find him jamming with a guitar or at home with his wife and two children.
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