So how can we do this again? Punch, elbow or good old handshake?
The welcome return of meeting people IRL — sorry, in real life (digital habits die hard) — means it’s time to reboot in-person networking at conferences and kick-start sales and marketing on field. Now, it’s fair to say, as a Deloitte study explains, that the B2B events calendar has yet to “bounce back to its pre-pandemic size.” Nearly three in four companies still plan to spend less this year sending staff to conferences and events than they did in 2019. But what’s interesting is that they’ll make those dollars count.
“Companies are taking a disciplined approach, prioritizing the most constructive events, closely monitoring who and how many attend, and seeking events with a powerful mix of networking and content,” according to Deloitte. That choice of the punch, the nudge, or the good old handshake at an in-person event in 2022 will likely be with someone who matters to your business.
“IN REAL LIFE” HAS CHANGED
But let’s not just dust off the 2019 Field Marketing Handbook like nothing has changed. The pandemic has had a rapid impact on go-to-market models and the shift to digital-only engagement. Just months after the initial shock of stay-at-home closures/orders, McKinsey reported that “only around 20% of B2B buyers say they hope to return to in-person sales, even in industries where on-the-spot sales models have traditionally dominated, such as pharmaceuticals and medical products. As organizations discover the effectiveness of video calls (as opposed to phone calls) and web chat as go-to-market channels, McKinsey predicted that the future will be “digital and optimistic”.
What does this mean for field tactics in 2022? I believe they are now part of a new flywheel of fluid digital and physical interactions. A new hybrid model of interactions with customers and potential customers could emerge.
WHAT DOES HYBRID REALLY MEAN?
Hybrid becomes one of those catch-all terms with multiple meanings. Here, that could mean engaging with customers and potential customers who are both in person and online simultaneously at a live event, those who have been onsite, and those who are virtual attendees. This might work for a roundtable or customer forum where it’s easy enough for someone to join via video call, but not so well for an executive breakfast, brunch, or dinner party.
But “hybrid” increasingly seems to be the term applied to the multimedia experience created for a delegate or customer in person. This goes beyond encouraging conference or seminar delegates to tweet or create Discord or Slack channels. Think about how augmented or virtual reality could help give a more vivid picture of your product or service in real time to the customers you speak with. Hey, if a single banana can explain its sustainability journey from tree to store using AR, how could this technology enrich the experience or understanding of your product, its lifecycle, or your customer service?
IT ALL STARTS WITH THE INVITATION
Over the years, brands have tried all sorts of guerrilla marketing tactics to get people to attend events, especially when targeting hard-to-reach senior executives. Famous, Canon photography company sent golf balls, golf turf, invitations and a goody bag with other sporting goodies to entice their target list of CEOs to join them some time ago. It worked; 50% of their target list appeared.
But after the pandemic, even the invitation was restarted. JPMorgan wowed attendees at its first cryptocurrency conference at its Wall Street headquarters in New York with non-fungible tokens, the trendy and tradable digital assets. According to reports, one of the NFTs immediately went on sale for $1.8 million – talk about generating buzz for your event.
THREE HYBRID IDEAS FOR YOUR PLAYBOOK
- Gamification: Do you want to make sure that your delegates in person visit all the exhibition stands and pay attention? Take inspiration from games like Pokémon Go and give delegates a little challenge or two to find “rewards” or prove their expertise around the conference venue. Be sure to create an online counterpart for remote participants.
- Whiteboard, not just presentation: Encourage speakers to use digital collaboration tools like Miro or Mural, where remote delegates can actively engage in discussions by sharing ideas in real time.
- Live social networks: Bring social polls and live Q&As to the room. Encourage panel leaders to bring not only remote delegates into the room, but also the wider audience after the conference on social media.
INTERNAL RE-ENGINEERING AND RE-THINKING
What all of this means is that to win IRL, you may need to engage in a little internal re-engineering of your teams. Sales, marketing, social and digital teams in the field need to work together more closely than ever. They need to think strategically and develop common tactics and campaigns. If that wasn’t happening before the pandemic, the need for new go-to-market strategies has hopefully sparked productive conversations during the shutdowns. Now is the time to build on those conversations as opportunities to greet, meet, and network with clients and prospects rekindle.
Erica Gunn is Director of Marketing at Canto.