Replacing face-to-face time

In the wake of COVID-19, there have been inevitable postponements, cancellations and a transition to 100% digital conferences. Although many marketers have invested heavily in digital marketing and SEO, many industries — like healthcare and payments, fintech and financial services — still rely on annual conferences like HIMSS and Money 2020 to launch new products and make new connections.

If your company typically puts significant time and resources into a conference or trade show, you and your team might be scrambling to figure out what to do in place of that valuable customer face time. But before you launch into a new action plan, take a beat to consider your options — and your best next steps.

Here are five things you should do right now if your big annual conference was cancelled: 

1. Review existing always-on ads

If your brand is still promoting an event that was already cancelled through always-on campaigns running in the background, this could make you look at best out of the loop and at worst insensitive. You are also at risk of wasting budget to reach target customers that are not receptive to your message.

Take a look at all of your existing ad channels, including LinkedIn campaign manager, Facebook ad manager and any banner, radio or Google My Business promotions. Any ads promoting the attendance of a live event or product launch announcements related to conferences should be pulled indefinitely or revised to reflect any changes like a new date or digital-only attendance.

2. Keep an open line of communication with event partners

Were you planning to create an experiential booth? A video display? An ice sculpture? We all know that successful event executions come together with collaboration from valued partners. Overcommunicating is essential when event details are constantly in flux.

Make a list of all the vendor partners you’ve worked with in preparation for the event. Note which vendors you need to discuss revisions with, which you need to pause work with now to resume in the future and which you need to cancel projects with altogether. This is a courtesy to your partners as they work through business plans. It will also create a clearer picture of your new budget and timeline as you settle or cancel any payments currently in limbo.

3. Evaluate your social media calendar

Just like with paid ads, you don’t want a social post scheduled weeks ago to create an unnecessary 911 situation. Retractions create confusion and are easy to avoid. Ask your community manager to review all upcoming scheduled posts and evaluate whether they should be removed altogether or if they can be revised and still shared.

With CDC guidelines changing almost daily, you should be consistently evaluating your outgoing content to ensure you are on message. We recommend creating a bi-weekly calendar reminder to adjust scheduled messages as needed.

4. Determine the best communication plan for employees and attendees

Outside of your partners, you have two primary audiences to think about in the wake of a cancelled or postponed conference: your customers/prospects and your employees.

Communication to employees is essential and needs to happen fast. Determine the best way to deliver your message, whether it’s through a company-wide email or during a regular company-wide meeting. Communicate the conference organizers’ statement (postponement, cancellation or digital) and your team’s new strategy. People get antsy about change; help ease their anxiety by communicating your plans as a company.

Whether or not to communicate with your customers should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. It may be best to just let the conference organizers share information with attendees, including your customers. However, if your customers are expecting announcements or news from you, be sure to create a communication plan to address how you are adjusting. To be safe, you might draft a recommended message or talking points for your team members who manage customer relationships. You have the attention of your target customers, so this is an optimal time to continue building trust.

5. Create meaningful digital experiences

While we’re likely forgoing in-person events for the foreseeable future, this is a unique opportunity for marketers. For the first time, you know with certainty that your target audience is at home with their eyes on email and social media just like the rest of us. Offer them meaningful experiences and content they can interact with from home – messaging and experiences you would have deployed in the conference or trade show experience. Examples include:

  • Infographics and images: Break up some of those lengthy emails and social media updates with an image. If you are tired of reading about how your local nail salon and the takeout spot you’ve eaten at a handful of times are handling the COVID crisis, so are your customers.
  • Live streams and webinars: Creating an online community to share information and facilitate discussion will show your customers that you are thinking about the future. Create a Q&A session with your leadership team and/or other industry leaders your customers consider thought leaders. You don’t need to hard sell to make meaningful connections.
  • Polls and surveys: People are home. And probably bored, or at least hungry for outside interaction. Use polls, surveys, voting buttons, etc. in your Instagram stories and emails to engage customers.
  • Videos and vlogs: Videos are engaging, plain and simple. Walk your customers through a product demonstration, suggest useful tips or create a virtual tour of your trade show booth in place of the live event.

Above all, make sure to keep every communication simple and human. Everyone is experiencing anxiety, and we’re all uncertain about the future after COVID-19. So think hard about what’s really relevant to your audience now — it’s all changed and you have to adapt to it. The loss of face time doesn’t mean you can’t communicate like it still exists. A simple and human message, delivered in the right time and place, will give you the tools to make things easier on your team, your customers and yourself.