Connecting with Customers During Covid Doesn’t Have to be Virtually Impossible

By Nicole Kaplan, SVP, Group Director, Momentum Worldwide

Before COVID-19, there was a shift in how marketers talked about B2B, recognizing the best approach was to humanize efforts and that businesspeople are people, too. Appealing to their personal interests and needs led to customers connecting further with a brand.  Some examples include two of the most popular CES booths from the past two years:  

  • The American Express Magic Show allowing attendees to take a short, fun break from the tradeshow-floor madness to be awed by how American Express and its products benefits are built to have businesses’ backs.   
  • Google’s roller coaster featuring the twists and turns in a day-in-the-life showcasing how Google Home is there for you in a range of scenarios can face in a day.   

While the focus on the “human” behind the executive remains today, delivering more personal brand experiences during the pandemic is next to impossible. With events being cancelled, starting most notably with SXSW, conferences have turned into virtual events quite quickly (According to Forrester, this wasn’t expected to happen until 2025). And although virtual experiences make it more challenging to create meaningful, natural connections, there are some clear benefits to going digital. For marketers, there is likely greater scale, flexibility, more data to be captured, ways to better personalize an attendee experience, and create more custom conversations.     

But what are attendees missing most about live events? When will they be ready to go back or even think about virtual events?   

Momentum recently surveyed 500 employed business professionals ages 25+ who have attended a business conference in the last 12 months. Key findings include: 

Desire for Increased Focus on Cleanliness and Smaller Crowds: Although 95% of those surveyed said they will be more selective about events they will go to, the majority said they do want return to them again within six months of things going back to “normal,” or whatever the “new normal” is, …but with safer conditions and new requirements.  The larger the crowd, the higher the concern —  68% of people want to see shows limiting the number of attendees, 63% want abundant hand sanitizer stations, 54% want communications around cleaning policies, while 52% want temperature checks at entrances.  

Virtual Experiences Need to be Re-imagined:  Since most believe travel restrictions and the health crisis will hinder travel for some time to come, there is strong interest in attending virtual conferences as an alternative, indicating that will be a need for online business conferences. About half have already attended a virtual business conference and 91% are interested in attending a virtual business conference. However, the top things they say they want included are: engaging activities (56%), inspirational content (49%), and exclusive activities (39%), things they are not necessarily getting today. 

Continued Demand for Human Connections and Engagement: While B2B event attendees feel virtual conferences are informative and useful, they miss connecting with people, such as peer-to-peer engagements. In fact, 86% said Networking is their favorite part of business events. 

So this begs the question, how do you infuse more humanity into a virtual experience? 

Once again, creativity is what will make brands stand out — finding unique ways to engage people that are authentic and remembering the devil is in the details. These are the three key considerations to keep in mind as you build your next virtual B2B experience:  

  1. Know who you are speaking to (literally and figuratively). What is your audience looking to get out of this? And are you delivering on that need?  What will make them show up versus focusing on the other work they have?  And can part of that be customizing/personalizing elements for the greatest relevancy? 
  2. Keep the tech simple, yet strong. Don’t get too wrapped up in the tech, the tech should support the creative idea, not lead it.  While the bells and whistles are a great addition, it can be a distraction from focusing on what you are trying to truly get across and accomplish.  Tech is becoming table stakes, but creativity is a game changer.  And, creativity can come in many forms – your event wrapper, the types of engagements you create, how you connect attendees to one another, etc. 
  3. Keep your customers engaged. How do you get them out of their seats, yet still engaged in meaningful ways?  How do you provide physical and digital elements during the virtual experience to make the experience feel more human and real?  How do you better leverage the pre and post-event touch points? 

There are opportunities for smart marketers – we have only scratched the surface. Treating businesspeople as ‘people’ first should still lie at the heart of anything we do. Although the traditional human interactions that were heralded as revolutionary (the magic shows and rollercoasters) are not currently possible, it doesn’t mean that businesspeople are no longer human. As a global population, we have shared an unprecedented experience through the pandemic and if anything, it has brought us closer to our own humanity. This is an uncertain time for businesspeople, both in their business and personal lives. B2B experiences that recognize and address this can build trust and engage on a more authentic level – potentially, more than ever before.  

About the Author:

Nicole Kaplan is Senior Vice President, Group Director at Momentum Worldwide, leading B2B for a range of clients including American Express, Verizon and Meta. A seasoned marketer with global experience (agency, corporate and media), she has guided teams to drive unconventional thinking, record results and awards.

Before Momentum, Nicole was on the corporate side running marketing for the Association for Magazine Media and had other agency stints running accounts including Mobil Gasoline, CIGNA Healthcare and Virgin Atlantic Airways.    

Fun facts: Nicole is a native New Yorker, sings with the pop/rock choir Unsettled Scores and had her artwork displayed at Metropolitan Museum of Art.