Dominick Sorrentino

You could probably hear a pin drop in Madison Square Garden right now, or a mouse squeak at Wembley Stadium. And that’s a good thing. The less congregating we do now, the sooner we can all hopefully resume normal life.

Still, social distancing measures come at a cost to marketers, who allocate 30 to 40% of their marketing budgets to conferences and trade-show expenses.

Live events are lead-generation machines, particularly for B2B industries. Without them, businesses will need to figure out where to look for leads instead.

And there’s only one alternative: the web.

Whatever you do now, it has to be digital

Many B2B businesses still lack a digital marketing pipeline to match the usual inflow of leads from trade shows and other live events. And as we get nearer to May, the likelihood of a completely conferenceless Q2 looms ever larger.

But there’s a lot that you can, and must, do between now and July to build up that digital pipeline.

Let’s look at a few places to start:

1. Participate in virtual conferences

Same as any other conference, a virtual one is a chance to learn from, and connect with, professionals in your industry.

A lot of those planned conferences have been cancelled, but plenty will be held virtually. Here are just a few marketing and technology events to be on the lookout for:

  • Content Marketing Conference (April 21): A free virtual conference with keynotes and digital workshops about all things content marketing.
  • Discover MarTech (April 21-23): A free marketing conference with a focus on educating senior-level marketers who are interested in profit-generating martech.
  • Social Media Week NYC (May 5-28): This 4-week, “first of its kind” virtual conference will feature more than 100 hours of livestream sessions and 300+ speakers. More than 10,00 people will participate.
  • IBM Think (May 5-6): The highly anticipated annual gathering has been rebooted as a virtual conference that will feature plenty of interactive events.
  • Women Tech Global Conference (June 10-12): Billed as one of the largest ever virtual conferences, this event will connect more than 100,000 women, minorities and their allies in tech.

2. Schedule your own virtual conference or repurpose your content

If you anticipate your conference being canceled, consider turning it into a virtual conference.

Granted you’ll need a fair amount of digital resources and content to ensure that attendees are engaged and have the means to network with one another:

  • A live-text chat system.
  • Dedicated chat groups for attendees of virtual sessions.
  • Live social media updates.
  • Ample marketing materials (email, blog posts, landing pages) promoting the virtual event and explaining how it will work.

And fortunately, you’ll find no shortage of computer networking and software companies that are eager to help out right now.

If a virtual conference simply isn’t an option for you, don’t let your presentations and keynote sessions go to waste. Set up a webinar series and reallocate some of your spend to promote it on your website, via email and on your social channels.

3. Hone your mastery of digital marketing channels

You’ve probably already been instructed by at least 5 other articles to focus on digital marketing, so we won’t beat a dead horse.

Instead we’ll boil it down to an inescapable truth: Creating digital content and setting up systems to track engagement is literally the only way to do marketing at scale safely right now.

If you haven’t already started redirecting your event spend toward digital marketing, here are few projects to consider:

Revisit your content marketing and search engine optimization strategies

People are searching for very different things right now than they were a few months ago. It’s the reason, for instance, we’re writing blog posts like this one you’re reading instead of focusing on our usual topics. We want to continue to be relevant and helpful.

Now is your chance to start taking a more analytical, data-driven approach to creating content based on what your users are searching for. It will help now in the near-term, but it will also lay a foundation for future digital marketing success.

And that’s huge.

People have realized during this time that they can do a lot more online than they probably thought. If they didn’t have an appetite for digital content before this all started, they do now.

Focus on crisis branding and content

Take Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts as an example. They are currently giving away kits to make free face masks. That’s charity, not branding, right? That’s what I thought at first.

What makes it branding is the fact that they also created branded online video tutorials to help customers make masks with their free kits.

Yes, that takes time and effort. But if you haven’t already started reallocating resources away from your live events (and your “business as usual” marketing), you’re long overdue for a chat with your CMO or CEO.

Take a page out of Jo-Ann’s book, and divert your attention to being relevant. And what better way to be relevant right now than to be genuinely helpful?

Start thinking about post-crisis, pre-event marketing

If you’re fortunate enough to have extra marketing runway (even if it came at the expense of your latest event), it would be wise to start thinking about your rebound.

We’re no oracles, but the conferences that haven’t gone online will likely be postponed to the second half of the year.

Between now and then – including the still-up-in-the-air months of July and August – you will likely be leaning heavily on digital marketing, even as restaurants and hotels and concert venues reopen their doors.

Between that time and the reinstitution of the tradeshows you know and love, you will still need to maintain a healthy pipeline of leads, and you still need to promote your events online.

A closing thought

COVID-19 is digital’s baptism by fire in a lot of ways. Companies that treated working from home like a fringe convenience in February are now entrenched in a remote way of life. We all had to adjust to digital life fast.

If there’s one thing about this “new normal” that will endure, it’s our heightened appreciation for what digital technology has allowed us to achieve in quarantine.

Virtual communication is no replacement for person-to-person networking (oh how I miss human contact).

But now is the time to be thinking about what it can do for your business.