There is no doubt that events have been one of the marketing channels that has been greatly affected by COVID-19. Here are some insights on how some of our clients see events evolve both during and after the pandemic.
Webinars are suddenly popular
Most financial services clients recognize the value of in-person meetings and live events when building relationships with their clients. However, with social distancing rules in place, webinars may be the next best thing. We have noticed a clear increase in the number of webinars. Some of our clients increased from once per quarter to twice per week. A few of our customers are also producing more podcasts, both live and recorded, for external and internal audiences.
Webinars were introduced as a way to address urgent pieces of market information to reassure their internal and external stakeholders en masse. However, this approach varies depending on geographies. In Europe, our clients in Germany and Switzerland confirmed that the webinars are reserved for only certain types of communications and will not replace written articles or blog posts.
Live video invitations increased by 475% in March vs. February, and by 360% compared to March 2019. The number of contacts used also was much higher with a 1,130% increase in the volume of invitations sent compared with February 2020. Despite enlarged lists, the engagement remained high (15% for February, 13.5% for March and 14.5% for April). This clearly demonstrates how relevant the communication was.
The encouraging webinar engagement rates has also led many of our contacts to rethink their video strategy. Whilst video has been the medium of choice for a while, some of our clients think its glory days are over. Video production is too costly and takes too much time, while an on-demand webinar can have a similar impact for a fraction of the cost. In addition, in the dynamically changing market situation, timeliness is key and a webinar has a clear advantage over a video as it can be organised and launched immediately. Finally, the fact that everyone is getting used to lower budget production quality with TV shows being recorded with less staff or simple TikTok uploads makes the shiny videos look almost too perfect or even artificial.
Compensating with other channels
The void left by cancelled events is replaced with webcasts, videos, webinars, more calls, more emails, and more social media. There was a 40% increase in emails sent since the start of 2020 and two of our clients increased external communications from once a month to twice a week. Some have added new ongoing campaigns to their communications such as Market Weekly podcasts.
The highest number of conference calls across all our accounts were delivered in March following event cancellations and travel restrictions. In terms of percentage increase, it led to a 325% increase globally vs. January 2020 and 145% compared with February 2020 but also represented a volume 17 times higher compared to March 2019.
Rise of video on-demand
Video on-demand invitations in March grew by 500% compared with January and February, while the number of contacts grew by 5,602% vs. the previous month and by 14,900% compared with the same period in 2019. Despite the fact that open rates seem lower (over 70% in March 2019 vs 36.8% in March 2020), the number of unique opens increased by 8,113% for the same period, and the click rates remained at the similar level of 4.8%. Despite enlarged contact lists, the percentage of bounce backs remained very low at 0.0002% level, proving that a substantial effort was put into reviewing the database across all our clients.
With the introduction of GDPR last year, we went through multi-week or multi-month long programs with our clients to introduce preference centres and tidy up their distribution lists. It included separating their lists into segments, e.g. engaged users, semi-engaged users, non-engaged users etc. These segments were emailed with different messages based on their past behaviour in order to ascertain their content and frequency preferences. This resulted in smaller but cleaner and more accurate lists for our clients as the stats now demonstrate fewer unsubscribes. The non-engaged users who either unsubscribed back then, or never consented to being contacted, are not part of these lists anymore.
Rapid learning curve
The transition from in person to virtual didn’t happen smoothly overnight. Both internal teams and clients had to rapidly learn how to use the various virtual alternatives, and businesses are continuing to tweak the technology and process to make it smoother. Joint processes between the event and content arms of the marketing teams also had to be drawn up to make sure the team was aligned in producing and executing webinars.
Virtual is here to stay
Many clients confirmed that the enforced change was a good opportunity for everyone to test video tools that had been available before but not widely used in the context of a more conservative financial industry. The success in implementing those solutions across all our clients and the fact that everyone is learning how to use video from home gives virtual meetings a good chance to continue instead of in person events when government restrictions are lifted.
Both clients and internal teams can see advantages of this shift in terms of improved response time, lower expenses and lack of limitations due to travel availability. It can be useful for sales teams to hold virtual meetings with existing clients so that they can service more people and save time travelling in the country or in the region, especially if the borders are still closed. Another benefit of virtual meetings is that one can receive the same level of client service regardless of where they are in the world. Of course, new clients will still be offered in-person meetings.
The overall engagement of virtual events across our clients is also encouraging. The comparison of event metrics with other content types clearly demonstrate that event invitations score the highest in terms of overall interactions and longest read times.
Postponing live events
A bit of an obvious fact since most countries are on lockdown, many of our clients have tentatively postponed live events to start in Q3 or Q4. However, since no one knows how long COVID-19 is going to last, they are going to reevaluate nearer the time if the live events can indeed push through. Some clients confirmed that they already foresee that Q3 and Q4 will be an extremely busy period in terms of events. Potentially, their clients will not be able to attend them all. If they could cancel their participation in some of them, they definitely would. However, they are prohibited by contract clause limitations.
Some predict that while 2020 will be still a big year in terms of Asset Management events, physical events will decrease in 2021 in favor of the virtual ones. This will be due to potential budget cuts as well as the fact that webinars will be the new norm. Consequently, event companies, event venues and adjacent conference support services are struggling. The business model of offering organizations exclusive events in luxurious hotels needs to be revisited although it might rebound at some point as a competitive differentiator.
Implementing technological workarounds
Most of our customers already have online event technology approved by IT from a security perspective, but they have not been used this frequently or at scale. Some have experienced technical difficulties like Webex suddenly not working just as the presentation is about to start, so they have had to implement new workflows such as pre-recording presentations instead of doing them live and only introducing a live Q&A at the end.
Testing new technologies
It seems that Webex, Asset.tv, BrightTALK and Zoom are the incumbent platforms of choice. However, some have reported some temperamental behavior with Webex whilst Zoom has security concerns. Since financial services usually contain sensitive information, both stability and security of the online platform is of paramount importance. As a result, some newer platforms are also being tested and looked at as alternative options.
One client is testing new technology like holograms for virtual meetings to prepare for situations where in-person meetings are not possible due to international travel restrictions e.g. UK representatives going to Germany for a presentation.
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