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What makes the post-pandemic playbook for field and event marketing?

by Erica Gunn  |  December 8, 2022

4 min. read
Two persons using VR goggles for an augmented reality task while a third person gives instructions.

So how do we do this again? Fist bump, elbow tap, or good old handshake?

The welcome return of meeting people IR L— sorry, in real life (digital habits die hard) — means it’s time to reboot in-person networking at conferences and revive field sales and marketing. Now it’s fair to say, as research from Deloitte explains, the B2B events calendar has yet to “bounce back to its prepandemic size.” Nearly three in four companies still plan to spend less this year on sending staff to conferences and events than in 2019. But what’s interesting is that they will make those dollars count.

“Companies are taking a rigorous 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 fist bump, elbow tap, or 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 playbook as if nothing has changed. The pandemic had a rapid impact on go-to-market models and the transition to digital-only engagement. Just a few months after the initial shock of lockdowns/stay-at-home orders, McKinsey reported that “only about 20 percent of B2B buyers say they hope to return to in-person sales, even in sectors where field-sales models have traditionally dominated, such as pharma and medical products.” With organizations discovering the effectiveness of video calls (as opposed to phone calls) and webchat as go-to-market channels, McKinsey predicted the future will be “digital and optimistic.”

What does that mean for field tactics in 2022? I believe they now become part of a new flywheel of seamless digital and physical interactions. A new hybrid model of interactions with clients and potential clients could emerge.

What does hybrid really mean though?

Hybrid is becoming one of those catch-all terms with multiple meanings. Here, it could mean engaging with clients and potential clients who are both in-person and online simultaneously at a live event, those who made it to the venue, and those who are virtual attendees. That might work for a roundtable discussion or a customer forum where it’s easy enough for someone to join by video call, but not so well for an executive breakfast, brunch, or dinner.

But “hybrid” increasingly seems to be the term applied to the multimedia experience created for an in-person delegate or client. That goes beyond encouraging conference or seminar delegates to tweet or create Discord or Slack channels. Think about how augmented or virtual reality could help paint a more vivid picture of your product or service in real time to the customers you are talking to. Hey, if a single banana can explain its sustainability journey from tree to store through AR, how could this technology enrich the experience or understanding of your product, its lifecycle, or your customer service?

It starts with the invite

Over the years, brands have tried all manner of guerrilla marketing tactics to get folks to attend events — particularly when targeting tough-to-reach C-suite executives. Famously, photography business Canon sent golf balls, golf turf, invitations, and a goodie bag of other sporting swag to tempt their target list of CEOs to join them for a round a while back. It worked; 50% of their target list turned up.

But post-pandemic, even the invite has been rebooted. JPMorgan tempted attendees to its first cryptocurrency conference at its Wall Street headquarters in New York with non-fungible tokens — the fashionable, tradeable digital assets. According to reports, one of the NFTs was immediately put up for sale with a price tag of $1.8 million — talk about generating a buzz for your event.

Three persons emerging from separate screens communicating with each other in a hybrid setting.

Three hybrid ideas for your playbook

  1. Gamification: Want to make sure your in-person delegates visit all the exhibition stands and pay attention? Take a leaf from games like Pokémon Go and set delegates on a little challenge or two to find “rewards” or prove their expertise around the conference venue. Ensure you create an online counterpart for remote attendees.
  2. Whiteboarding, not just presenting: Encourage speakers to use digital collaboration tools like Miro or Mural, where remote delegates can get actively involved in talks through sharing ideas in real time.
  3. Live social: Bring social polls and live Q&As into the room. Encourage panel hosts to bring not just remote delegates into the room, but also the broader audience following the conference on social media.

Internal re-engineering and rethinking

What all of this means is that to win IRL, you may have to engage in a little internal re-engineering of your teams. Field sales, marketing, social, and digital teams should collaborate more closely than ever—they should think strategically and develop common tactics and campaigns. If that wasn’t happening before the pandemic, the need for new go-to-market strategies hopefully started productive conversations during the lockdowns. It’s time now to build on those conversations as the opportunities revive to greet, meet, and network with clients and prospects.

Originally published on Fast Company.