The expert guide to winning webinars

In Ideas by Peter Gearin

Webinars can help companies connect with their customers, but only if they’re done properly.

Japan is a big market for global giant Accenture, possibly its biggest in the Asia-Pacific region. The management consulting company faced a problem, however. Accenture’s content wasn’t reaching a large proportion of its Japanese customers because of a curious and unforeseen clash of cultural sensitivities.

What Accenture found was that Japanese professionals find email marketing campaigns extremely intrusive. That’s assuming companies could even extract any contact details; because of their aversion to inbox-bound promotions, many Japanese executives refuse to put their email addresses on business cards.

So Accenture’s content and digital marketing team took a risk. It decided to try to connect with potential Japanese customers using webinars.

Accenture had no idea if it would work. It soon turned out to a “massive success”, says VC John, who is regional vice president, marketing and communications for Accenture’s financial services division. It was also a great insight into how webinars can reach consumers the way other content tactics can’t.

“We had people join the webinars in droves, to the point where we had to then cut and do newer or repeat broadcasts of webinars in Japanese,” John told an audience at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum Asia. “As a culture, the Japanese aren’t comfortable sitting in a room with their peers in the industry, talking about their problems and challenges. They are far more comfortable sitting in the comfort of their cubicle, or their office, watching content on the screen and typing questions one-on-one with the person presenting.”

Webinars have become powerful vehicles for brands to connect and interact with key audiences. Done well, they provide an efficient way for customers to receive information at all points of the sales funnel. They allow for direct connections and an opportunity for viewers to ask questions of subject-matter experts. For webinar hosts, they provide valuable customer insight, feedback and data.

Unlike those who engage with other content platforms, webinar consumers tend to stick around until the very end. Demand Gen Report’s 2018 Content Preferences Study showed more than one in three B2B buyers say they would be prepared to spend 30-60 minutes on a webinar while researching a purchase. Three-quarters of them say they would share more personal information to receive webinar content. Not least of all, two-thirds say that compared with other content formats, they prefer webinars.

ON24 is one of the fastest-growing players in the webinar business and has offices around the world, including Sydney. Its webinar engagement platform is used by more than 2000 businesses around the globe.

In this interview with Brand Tales, ON24’s vice president of content marketing, Mark Bornstein, explains why he believes webinars are so effective.

Brand Tales: Why do webinars work well as a branded content platform?

Mark Bornstein

Mark Bornstein

Bornstein: Well, when you think about the various channels we typically use as marketers, so many of them – like social media, email marketing, display advertising – allow a really limited portrayal your branding. With a webinar, you have people staring at a fixed location for up to an hour. And the webinar console can typically be completely branded to show off your logos, top-line messaging, corporate colours and brand imagery. We have seen companies do some amazing things with their webinars. Fitbit put a running track right through the middle of its console – it was awesome. Webinars are a great opportunity to really show what you are as a company.

Brand Tales: What are your secrets to producing a successful webinar?

Bornstein: I will give you a few tips that I think can make the difference between a mediocre webinar and great experience. The first is putting on a show. The modern webinar is more like a daytime TV talkshow than the talking Powerpoint presentations that we are used to. I am seeing companies creating really cool “programming” using more informal formats like chat shows, panel discussions, interviews and coffee talks. They are much more approachable, much more human.

Another thing you can do to create a more exciting webinar is to bring your audience into the conversation. Many companies do a little Q&A at the end and think they are delivering an interactive experience. It’s a good start but not nearly enough. Get your audience involved right from the start. Push out some polls, get them live tweeting, perhaps have an open chat, make sure there is plenty of content for them to download and link to. You want your audience taking as many actions as possible. Those “actions” will give you the data you need later to find your best webinar leads and help you have a more effective sales follow-up.

Brand Tales: What are the biggest mistakes people tend to make?

Bornstein: Often times it’s the little mistakes that have the biggest impact. People presenting on cell [mobile] phones or from busy locations like an airport drive me crazy. There is no better way to lose your audience than poor audio quality.

Another common mistake is putting as much content on a Powerpoint slide as possible. Nobody is going to read your slide with over 300 words of copy. Nobody is going to stare into your super complex diagram. A great presentation uses simple images to help you tell your story. Remember, the presenter is the story, not the slides.

But perhaps the biggest mistake I see is marketers thinking that getting a registration form fill is the goal of the webinar. If you are simply trying to generate names, you are missing out on a huge opportunity. The best marketers are creating highly engaging, interactive webinars where they can learn much more about their audience members. Getting “engagement data” from your webinars is what will help you have more effective sales follow-up, and ultimately more pipeline and revenue.

Brand Tales: Have you found there is an ideal length for a business-oriented webinar?

Bornstein: Well, first let me dispel a myth that all content needs be snackable. Our latest Webinar Benchmarks Report shows that the average viewing time of a one-hour webinar is 56 minutes. I think this statistic is a direct reflection of how engaging webinars are becoming. So there is nothing wrong with a one-hour webinar – most are that length. However, I always say schedule a webinar for the amount of great content that you have. Many companies are creating a nice mix of both long form and shorter webinars.

My recommendation is to create webinars for every stage of the buying cycle, from longer thought-leadership events, to customer case-study webinars, to shorter demo webinars. They key is to create a library of great content for your prospects to binge on.

Brand Tales: Is it important that hosts can “perform” for the camera?

Bornstein: It’s certainly nice if you have great presenters that are really comfortable in front of the camera and know how to put on a show. But the reality is not all of us have that persona. If you have thought leaders, or product experts that are less polished performers, perhaps take the pressure off of them by getting them out of presentation mode. Move to a discussion-based format where all they have to do is talk with a few of their peers and take questions from the audience. It will put them at ease and make for a better audience experience, too.

Brand Tales: What are the best ways brands can promote their upcoming webinar?

Bornstein: A majority of webinar registrants still come from email promotions, although that will certainly change in the future as legislation like GDPR makes email marketing more difficult.

A few tips for email promotions: avoid sending the same email multiple times. If it didn’t work the first time, it probably won’t work the second or third. Experiment with different email types. Plain text emails, perhaps sent from the presenter, with a more personal feel can be really effective. Also, try segmenting your database and sending specific emails based on previous campaign responses. “You recently downloaded this whitepaper, we thought you might be interested in this upcoming webinar”. Establishing a relationship can be crucial to getting someone to read your email.

Outside of email, the best place to promote your webinars is from other webinars. You have a captive audience, why not let them know what else is coming up. It may mean that you have to have registration pages built a little earlier than normal but it’s worth it. I will often have 100 people signed up for my next webinar before I give the first slide of the webinar I’m hosting.

Try it. It really works.

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