The cost of live: how treating online events like products could save your marketing budget

The cost of live: how treating online events like products could save your marketing budget | MCI | Global engagement & marketing agency

July, 21 2022


Things are getting tough out there. Global economic factors, such as post pandemic recovery and the war in Ukraine, have seen inflation and prices for goods and commodities rise around the world.


With less money to spend, and the money we spend being worth less, consumers and brands alike are feeling the pinch; a trend which is expected to last into the immediate future.


We know what you’re thinking; ‘this isn’t the cheery start we’ve grown accustom to throughout this series.’ But, as we all know, it’s something we need to talk about. We promise it’ll get lighter soon.


The reason these economic factors are so important is because, as many marketers will know, the marketing department is often amongst the first to experience a significant squeeze in any organisation. In fact, a recent report from Campaign and Deltek shows that 49% of client companies interviewed claimed they were looking to reduce their spend, with only 18% disagreeing, and 33% with no opinion. With this number likely to climb higher as the effects of conflict and potential further rising inflation kick in, it’s starting to look like an uphill battle for marketers.


However, there’s still hope, and more than enough evidence to support maintaining and maximising, or even increasing the spend on marketing. History has shown us that maintaining or strengthening marketing budgets during times of economic downturn can be the difference between profit and, well, protracted financial pain.


Research conducted during the US’ recession in the early 1980s showed that businesses that maintained or increased their spend saw a growth of 275% compared to those who reduced their spend.


So, instead of focusing on the doom and gloom, let’s get the positivity, and your events, back online.



Online = lifeline


Running online activations can be a fantastic way to maximise the effectiveness of your marketing budget. Technologies are bridging the gap ever further in terms of generating the levels of engagement typically seen in live activations online. See some of the earlier pieces in this series for some ideas in that department.


The crucial point, however, is that digital events can offer brands the chance to cut out some serious overhead costs. Hosting your event on a digital platform can eliminate the need to pay for a venue, transport and even logistics. This can allow brands to focus in on delivering plenty of creativity, booking the best speakers etc possible and, ultimately, dialling in on meaningful audience engagement.


It’s worth noting that, whilst spending less always sounds like a good deal, it’s vital your brand considers what form of engagement marketing will work best for the event you have in mind. At the end of the day, it’s not what you spend that’s ultimately important, but how much of what you spend yields engagement with audiences, and therefore a return on investment.


With that in mind, here’s a thoughtful strategy, with a healthy sprinkling of creativity, that can help you to get the most from your online activations.



Sync or swim – Productising your online activation


At MCI, we work from a breakthrough model when it comes to planning and executing live events: we treat each one as though it’s a physical product. Our experience throughout the pandemic has taught us that online activations sink, or swim, based on the attention to detail at every digital touchpoint.


Sure, your brand could save plenty if your event runs on an online platform, but what will it have to offer your audience if you strip everything else away.


By imagining that your online event is a product in its own right, you can begin to apply tried and tested marketing techniques that will likely enthuse and, ultimately, engage with your audiences.


With that said, here’s a step by step guide to productising your engagements, accompanied by a recent and pretty good (if we do say so ourselves) example of this design philosophy in action.



Design – The big idea


The first, and amongst the most crucial elements, is the design. What is your digital event going to look like? Who will it be tailor made for? Who will benefit the most from what you have to offer? Just like when you’re designing a product, these questions will inform the choices you make with your online event.


Thanks to pandemic related disruption, when MCI designed the 2020 Online Seedstars Summit, we had the challenge many brands have to face: translating a legacy live event into an online format. This made it vital that we garnered ever grain of engagement from the live experience, before amplifying it for a potentially far wider online audience.


With a rich point of reference in the form of previous Seedstars summits to draw from, we envisioned what the productised summit would look like.


As Seedstars is a global organisation with the mission to impact people's lives in emerging markets through technologyand entrepreneurship, our virtual summit needed to bring some of the brightest minds from all over the world in one place where they can meet, exchange ideas and celebrate achievements. 


Whilst previous summits saw brands, keynote speakers and audiences convene in person, and with the utmost convenience, in order to exchange ideas, showcase products and deliver cutting edge insights, our online activation had to pack all of that into a digital platform.


With a clear vision of what our online summit ‘product’ needed to be, we designed an ad-hoc digital platform, purpose built to showcase every element of the previous in-person summits online.


This included the digital hosting of entrepreneur spotlights, talent podcasts and more. As the key function of the summit was to connect tech talent with enthusiastic audiences, we ensured the platform was interactive, visually pleasing and easily navigated in order to maximise meaningful engagement.


And, just like that, the product itself was born. Now, to market.



Marketing – Reap what you social


Got an idea what your online activation needs to be, how it’s going to look and what it needs to feel like for audience members to engage with it? Congratulations, you’re over the halfway point.


As with the successful launch of any product, it’s now all about how you spread the word, raise awareness and, ultimately, get audiences to log in to your event.


The good news is, just like hosting your event online, promoting it through well established, highly curated and carefully managed social media campaigns can be a poignant but cost-effective way of attracting audiences. One especially helpful technique here is to create multi-purpose content, which can feed into both event and promotion.


If you’re developing bespoke footage for your event, why not create a promo cut, designed to tantalise audiences on social media and give them a taste of what’s to come? Working with the assets you have to hand is always a good use of your budget, so have a think about what you’ll already have can use to engage with audiences.


That’s exactly how we handled the promotion of the Seedstars summit. In only 3 weeks, we designed and produced a series of audio-visual content assetsthat would feed the platform as well as the organisation’s social media channels. 


These spanned from videos to podcasts and a documentary. Every piece of content was recorded and reworked to create a cohesive sense of engagement, from our promotional campaign right through to the event itself.



Consistency – Your brand means business


The last tip, and one that should really inform every step of your design process, is to ensure that your brand is strong and absolutely consistent throughout each digital touchpoint.


We’ve all experienced our fair share of poorly executed online events throughout the pandemic. More often than not, when an online activation goes down in a plume of smoke, there’s barely a logo in sight, let alone a consistent look and feel across all areas.


For many brands, the blank, one size fits all vibe of digital webinar platforms, right the way down to Instagram lives, has seemed either unimportant or insurmountable. However, carrying your brand across your activation, be it with brand films, social media promotions or designed digital backgrounds for speakers, can make a world of difference.


These relatively low-cost assets will massively bolster engagement by making audience members feel connected to your brand, and are well worth your time if you’re looking to make an impact online.


During the Seedstars online summit, particular attention was paid to coherently showcasing the brand through visuals, sounds and graphics. For the live segments of the event, a Community Manager was available to interact with the audience and make sure every audience member felt actively engaged with and connected to the Seedstars brand, and its speakers. Now that’s attention to detail.



The proof is in the press reach


In the end, our productised online event model proved hugely successful, delivering more attendees than ever whilst remaining cost effective.


In fact, Seedstars received a 500% increase in attendance compared to the previous year, with over 19k registrations, 12 million social media and press impressions and over 50 pieces of bespoke content designed.


Does the idea of a cost-effective online activation suit your needs? Get in touch to discuss your digital & virtual possibilities. 

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