When Comdex resurrected itself as a virtual show last November after the live event was dormant for eight years, longtime sponsor and exhibitor Microsoft got back on board, but this time with a soft sell strategy that was less about plugging the company’s products and more about helping Comdex attendees find solutions to their biggest IT challenges.
“The paradigm for events [at Microsoft] has evolved from a push strategy to a pull-push strategy,” says Greg Lissy, director-SMB channel and online services strategy at Microsoft. “We look at providing resources and information to focus on a deep understanding of the attendees whose mindshare and eyeballs we are competing for at the event.”
This give and take strategy isn’t new, but making it work in a virtual environment forced the brand to take a new look at how to deliver the content it wanted attendees to absorb. By using engaging and informative video upon “entry” to its virtual booth, Microsoft allowed multiple presenters to approach the brand’s product objectives from the problem-solving angle. The content was about how the brand could help potential clients develop strategy and solutions to their challenges, rather than about product specs and sales pitches. They also catalogued the content, be it text, video, images or slideshows, in such a way that it led attendees down a voluntary path from the general to the specific, letting them choose the road they wanted to take.
As is true of most virtual show exhibitors, one of the main goals for Microsoft at Comdex was lead generation, but not in the usual way. They wanted to look at attendee behavior on a continuum to provide objective data about the interests of visitors to the booth. “One of the advantages of virtual events is that an interaction does not have to be synchronous with the event,” Lissy says. “Attendees are often ‘shelf surfing’ for information that they’ll absorb later, and we can track that for potential follow up.”
The key was authenticity. By being helpful, no matter the topic or relevancy to the brand’s specific offerings, the brand was able to establish its benevolence and then align future content offerings with the attendees’ interests. Dozens of staffers were on hand in real time throughout the show to provide support and interact with virtual visitors. Lissy says the event will likely remain in the brand’s portfolio for the foreseeable future.
There were three goals that Microsoft set prior to the show to ensure the success of its virtual booth. The first was to build the right content, using the brand’s knowledge of past attendee demographics and interests and also new data collected about how the needs of the industry had evolved since the live show went on hiatus. Once the content and subject matter had been developed, the brand set out to create delivery mechanisms for the material that would engage attendees while still remaining useful rather than falling into the style over substance trap. They did this through creative video and the content catalogue system, but mostly through having live staffers on hand and well-versed in the material to keep the discussions lively, entertaining and informative. Finally, by adding those elements to a sponsorship package that put Microsoft’s branding front and center on the virtual show floor and main hall, and session presenters prominently promoted in the schedule, the brand ensured that it generated reach for its content to as broad an attendee audience as possible.
“We feel that virtual events like Comdex provide a format for great reach in terms of subject areas, education and measurement,” Lissy says. “One benefit going forward is what we can learn to use in planning for other events. For example, the quantitative data we gathered that can be associated with specific attendees’ actions can be tied to revenue generating initiatives, specifically targeted to that attendee.”
This data mining is where the real gold was gathered for Microsoft. Now, in future marketing programs, the brand will use that data to target programs more accurately and improve the efficiency of sales initiatives. Also, the ability to ready visitors’ interests based on activity and content consumption allows the staffers live at the event to engage potential clients during the show in an informed manner, which can easily lead to sales calls after the fact, Lissy says.
And we think that’s virtually priceless. EM