When midnight strikes on December 31, this typically early-to-bed gal will happily toast the end of a year that will forever bear the stain of a global pandemic. With massive socio-economic upheaval, a public health crisis, and a peculiar ‘dementia Americana,’ those of us who market into healthcare were hit with how to best serve clinicians battling COVID on the front lines while still helping sales teams hit their targets.
Like most B2B marketing orgs, a slice of our pie consisted of tradeshows and special events. You don’t need me to tell you that any large international or regional event with attendees across geographies is a bad idea during a pandemic. As they ground to a halt, we had to quickly pivot and reinvent the rest of 2020 to continue to generate leads and ROI. After all, at these events we launch products, conduct media interviews, produce videos and social media content, meet customers, and forge partnerships. That’s a lot to replace.
But virtualize we did! First came HIMSS. Cancelled literally while our booth was in crates at the Orange County Convention Center, we’d worked for months to secure nearly 80 pre-set customer and partner meetings which make us traditionally one of the busiest at the show. Quickly the marketing and product management teams salvaged a percentage into virtual live demos. And while these early attempts felt held together with digital duct tape, even completing them felt like a win given COVID travel constraints and the massive distraction of the pandemic.
Sales trainings, once held quarterly at our regional HQ, were reinvented as online, interactive classes. We’ve gamified them to boost attentiveness, including virtual trivia games and happy hours. And while it’s too early to call our July Senior Living virtual event an unqualified success, it generated excellent attendance and some solid sales leads and the team is already planning a similar event for this fall.
So here, in no particular order of importance, are my top 5 pandemic marketing take-aways.
1. Virtual events are no better or worse that live events. Just different.
Ascom opted to produce some virtual events ourselves, such as our multi-session Senior Living tradeshow, but we also participated in LeadingAge Florida and are considering other vendor events. We will carefully measure the ROI to see where to best focus moving forward. But other events, such as the national business meeting for partners and our annual holiday party, are not viable virtually, so the dates will shift by necessity.
2. Fill the vacuum.
Whether you generate more thought leadership pubs or additional podcasts, blogs or webinars, just do it! Content that seems too polished or precious seems out of step right now, so to paraphrase Voltaire – don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good! Partners or prospects working from home may have more time to digest your content and act on it.
3. Tone is Everything.
It’s a bad look for your organization to attempt to profit from pandemic misery, so be sure to temper messaging so it’s sensitive to the very real medical and socio-economic suffering out there. We’re making lemonade (or limoncello) out of lemons here. But lemons are still sour!
4. Even after the pandemic, marketing will not look the same again.
Evolve and prune. Even after we go ‘back to normal’, we cannot expect that large tradeshows and events will return in exactly the same fashion. Virtualization will force us to adapt, streamline and maximize budgets. As just one example, political party conventions, once multi-day sacred convention center cows, are largely virtual this year. And pundits expect that the long overdue pruning of these and other largely bloated events will stick.
5. Keep a sense of humor.
Because there are only so many Zoom calls you can stand in a day!