Create Contingency Plans for Events Canceled Due to COVID-19

How technology marketers should plan to handle canceled tradeshows to maintain awareness and demand generation.

Events rank as one of the most effective ways of generating leads for technology marketers. Technology and service providers spend an average of 11% of the marketing programs budget on third-party tradeshows, according to the Gartner 2019 Tech Marketing Benchmarks Survey. For hosted events, spend averages 6% of the program’s budget. 

But COVID-19 forced a change in how businesses approach events. In the current climate of limited (or totally canceled) travel, frozen budgets and daily changes on global health reports, determining the best approach as a technology marketer can be challenging. 

Cancellations or postponement of these events can be significantly disruptive to exhibitors or hosts. Eighteen percent of technology and service provider respondents ranked events as the best-performing calls to action of marketing-qualified leads, second only to content assets (20%). 

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As the number of tradeshow cancellations increases daily, marketers need to implement contingency plans to ensure that awareness of and demand generation tied to events continues, regardless of event status.  

How product marketers should respond will vary depending on whether they are marketing a product at an event or hosting the event.

As an exhibitor 

Teams must be prepared to quickly pivot marketing strategy and build campaigns to address this shift. Examples include: For buyers who have already scheduled meetings with you, activate your sales development representatives (SDRs) and sales teams. Replace the event meetings with web meetings. Ideally, reach out within 24 hours of the event being canceled, as you’ll be competing with other exhibitors.

If you had product launches planned as part of an event, shift or increase spend in digital advertising to replace the launch. Use paid social to target buyers with web meetings or those on account-based marketing lists. You can also enlist your PR firm to expand media engagement stories to shift the plan for any planned product launches. Consider webinar content that conveys the key messages you planned to share at the tradeshow, including speaking sessions and in-booth presentations.

Finally, reach out to show hosts to understand promotional opportunities you may have with buyers that registered for the event. Are there opportunities to reach the audience through the host’s digital channels? For example, a tradeshow host or association may have a website and regular communications with attendees. Is there an opportunity to co-market through these channels? Are plans in place to reach the audience via streaming the event? 

As an event host 

If your marketing plans include a hosted event, such as user conferences, customer roundtables or field marketing events, ensure your teams have developed contingency plans.

Reach out to attendees and exhibitors to understand their plans. This will be highly dependent on when and where the event is planned to take place. Find out: Have their companies implemented travel restrictions? Will there be global or border travel restrictions in place? For how long? Are they currently planning on attending/exhibiting?

Develop ad creative and email campaigns to announce the cancellation or postponement to registrants now, and be prepared to quickly swap these messages into campaigns when/if necessary. If the organization cancels, t messaging delays are reduced. 

Marketers with contingency plans in place are less likely to experience disruptions

For large events or user conferences, establish a virtual event in place of the physical event. Virtual event platforms offer the ability to build exhibit “floors” with virtual booths for attendees to download relevant content and engage in online chats with booth staff. These platforms also enable you to deliver virtual experiences, including live streaming and on-demand general session keynotes and breakout presentations. For smaller or regional events, quickly pivot to a webinar approach to deliver your content.

Due to the fluid nature of the current environment, it’s necessary to build contingency plans for the foreseeable future. Marketers with contingency plans in place are less likely to experience disruptions to their awareness, demand generation and product launch efforts.

Christy Uher Ferguson is a Research Director on the Technology and Service Provider Product Marketer team at Gartner, where she advises clients on improving their demand generation efforts (including event strategy), content marketing and thought leadership efforts. A version of this expert view was originally published on the Gartner Blog network. Clients can access the full research, Addressing Disruptions to Tradeshow and Event Marketing Plans Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19), by Christy Ferguson. Gartner clients can visit the Gartner COVID-19 Resource Center to learn more.

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