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Pivoting budgets from physical to digital – what we’ve learned

22nd September

We saw the first event cancellations because of coronavirus in February of this year, with plenty more to follow in the months after that. Trade shows took a real hit, and will probably not return to ‘normal’ for a while. If companies can reorganise them to be online, they have, if they can’t, they’re cancelled.

From a networking perspective, that might be upsetting – there are many benefits to physical networking and putting yourself in front of other industry experts, clients and prospects. From another perspective, it’s just another thing that drains time and resources. Anyone who has traipsed all the way to the London ExCeL Centre for a day without any daylight knows that claustrophobic feeling, and is probably glad to steer clear for a while.

One thing we can say though is online versions of events are usually not as expensive. No need to hire the space, a booth, buy tickets for on the ground staff or arrange travel. It’s certainly not as exciting, and living our lives through video calls and webinars can be frustrating, but think about what can be done with all that extra budget.

So where should that budget go first? We might be biased, but digital marketing is a great place to start and an easy way to track your ROI.

The reality is that digital marketing allows you to promote your goods and services in front of a digital audience that is online pretty much 24/7. These are the people in the right phase of the sales funnel that will be searching for you, talking about you, and making those purchase decisions. It’s crucial that you reach them.

If you are in the boat of having just cancelled an event, you might have done a lot of the hard work already. That means your initial planning and promotion doesn’t need to go to waste – it’s likely that you were working on marketing and advertising collateral anyway, so that’s a great start. You can use this as a base to start creating a digital marketing plan that will give your business the boost it needs, particularly if you utilise paid advertising.

The best part is you’ll have that event money back in your pocket so it’s time to gather your team around to discuss building upon that digital foundation – is there an opportunity for a new website perhaps? How about increased social media activity to get your name out there, or perhaps an advertising campaign with Google Ads to reach people searching for your services? There are some great options for redistribution of budget.

Joao Botelho, owner of luxury furniture brand, Casa Botelho, shares with us how some unanticipated budget reallocation worked for him,

‘Attending design shows can be important for businesses like mine, and I’ve been visiting and exhibiting at some of the biggest events since I founded the company. Some, however, are very overrated and the results are mostly disappointing. So while it’s fun to do, it’s a lot of hard work and the expense isn’t worth it. 

For the networking and ‘fun factor’ it is a real shame that the shows aren’t going ahead, and it’s created new challenges for us, but I think there’s always a way to glean something from these experiences. 

The time, effort and budget that would usually have gone into event planning and prep has now been redirected into paid ads. I knew there were benefits having seen other companies do it, and it would always be in the back of my mind, but I don’t think I quite understood what could be achieved with them. 

Now, with the right level of attention and planning, we’ve seen an uplift in traffic, interest and sales with our campaign – we’re reaching people that we haven’t before and I think we’ll keep this cemented in our wider marketing plans moving forward.’

Peter Grant, managing director of Hitherbest, sheet metal fabrications company, explains how they feel about virtual events after recently attending:

‘Virtual events are a very different experience altogether. We exhibited at the Made in the Midlands Live event alongside some other great companies. For such a large event, we found it really well managed.

The Exhibition ran for a couple of weeks and the organisers worked hard to maintain momentum, organising daily virtual drinks and seminars. But, undoubtedly, we did miss the human element of an Exhibition – nothing can beat face to face interactions with prospective customers.’

Losing physical events really isn’t the be all and end all of companies, and they will come back to us when it’s possible because they do have a place for specific industries.

There is a lot we can do virtually with events, yes, but it lacks the human element that was perhaps its biggest and best selling point and without that engagement people tend to shut off. It’s much harder to track success this way too – you’ll be able to see who signed up initially, but you won’t know if they dropped out, stopped listening or thought of you in the future.

In our digital first world that is trying to adapt to change, the best thing you can possibly do is build a really solid foundation for your business, regardless of what’s going on around us, events included.

Most importantly, is being able to be found when your customers are looking for you. A great website is essential, it should give your customers everything they need in one streamlined and aesthetically pleasing package from wherever they might be looking for you.

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