Recently, a Blue Seedling client attended their first in-person tradeshow since pre-COVID. The feeling in the room was electric, they said. The Sales conversations at the event were lively and productive, and our client walked away with a new roster of ultra-engaged leads.
Most of us have been waiting to hear a story like this for almost two years. The return to normalcy! IRL gatherings and real human connection! Time to uninstall Zoom, and never deal with webinars ever again, right?
Even if COVID miraculously disappeared tomorrow, I would still advise any B2B startup to plan a webinar in the coming quarter. Since March 2020, I’ve attended, hosted, or organized around 30 webinars, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. As excited as I am about seeing folks in three dimensions, webinars are still one of the highest-ROI marketing channels a B2B startup can employ.
In this post, I’ll tell you why webinars are one pandemic marketing trend that is here to stay — and how a simple webinar playbook can help early-stage startups make a splash.
Why webinars still win
Let’s start with our analytical framework for selecting the most effective channels: there, we provide a map of the relative effectiveness of common B2B marketing channels across five key metrics: time to results, resource investment, financial investment, ROI, and demand volume. By this measurement, webinars scored more green (i.e. good) marks than any other channel. Here’s why:
Zoom fatigue is real, but it’s no match for an enticing webinar topic.
- Short time to results: we recently planned a successful webinar from initial conception to execution in only three weeks. A complex new financial regulation just became effective, and a client realized their internal experts could hold virtual “office hours” to help their audience decode it. Internal speakers were secured immediately. Copy was written, and the fancy Zoom landing page was designed and built in two days. A week later, over 250 people had signed up. That type of turnaround just isn’t possible with most other channels, especially in-person events; there are just too many moving parts.
- Low $ investment: Zoom webinar subscriptions start at around $40/month. That plus staff hours is really all you need to spend, as long as the content is valuable to your audience. High-profile speakers may require an honorarium, but as we’ll discuss in the playbook below, your best-bet speakers will probably be free — and closer to home. (Just send them a nice thank you gift after.)
- High demand volume: Simply put, if your audience thinks your webinar will be valuable—and not just an extended commercial for your startup—they will attend. We took a risk recently with a client: we decided to pivot an in-person summit to a digital one: meaning 4+ hours of webinar content on a single afternoon. The client had never done anything like this, and we had no hard proof it would work. But the combination of big name speakers and hot industry topics got the audience out in droves. Over 350 people registered, over 200 of which were net new leads. There was (expectedly) some attendance fluctuation throughout the day, but after 4 hours, over 100 attendees were still engaged. Zoom fatigue is real, but it’s no match for an enticing webinar topic.
(Quick caveat: a prerequisite for driving registrations via email is having a decent size database to send your email to in the first place. If you’re not there yet, check out our guide to building your marketing database from 0 to 5000 leads.)
- High ROI: Low time and money investment + a large, high-quality audience that leads to lots of Sales Opportunities = a big return on a small spend
Sounds pretty easy, right? The only hard part is actually planning the content, but our playbook can help with that.
The playbook: five steps to webinar success
Earlier this year, we produced a webinar for a fintech scaleup. On the surface, this webinar wasn’t special. It was held on Zoom, and the content was nothing fancy: just a basic overview of industry trends from the CEO, plus a case study featuring a customer. But here were the results: 700+ people registered, 300+ attended, 15 Sales Opportunities, and most importantly, a bunch of new closed deals. It felt like magic, but it wasn’t. Here’s what we did (and what you can do) to pull a high-ROI rabbit out of the ordinary webinar hat.
- Pick a hot topic. The first secret to the webinar’s success was that the industry trends discussed weren’t just interesting to insiders; they were multiple-headlines-in-NYT-and-WSJ-level hot. When the audience received our invite, they may have read a news story about that topic earlier in the day. The topic was top-of-mind, no extra persuasion necessary to drive sign-ups. Not every startup will have this exact instance of PR kismet, but if your product solves a real world problem, there is likely a connection to a newsworthy topic that would draw a crowd.
If you’re stuck on a webinar topic, your customers can be a great source of inspiration, as we explain here. At the end of the day, a hot webinar topic doesn’t necessarily need to be WSJ-worthy; it just has to be enticing to your prospects, and your existing customers can help you unearth what those enticing topics might be.
- Pick a hot customer. The second secret to success for the fintech webinar was the speaker selection. The customer chosen to speak was a VP at another fintech, one that had a celebrity-studded Super Bowl commercial, as well as can’t-miss-them pink ads all over major cities. It should go without saying: brand recognition will attract an audience. And it doesn’t hurt if that big brand customer has great things to say about your startup. Securing a glowing quote from a household name can propel your marketing for months to come, as you’ll see in step 5. Also, keep in mind: even if you don’t have a hot customer, a webinar featuring any happy customer can still be effective, as long as they can speak to how awesome your product is.
- Send some emails. Once you have a hot topic and a hot customer ready to go, the key to making a webinar high ROI is straightforward: just invite people via email. If your content/speakers are solid, you don’t need to do fancy things to promote them. A big name in an email subject line is enough to make someone click “Sign Me Up.” For the fintech webinar, over 350 registrants came from email, which cost $0. Only 150 came from paid ads, where our CPL was $200+. Email FTW.
- Plan the content + do it. This is the most time-consuming part. But with our fintech client, we’ve gotten it down to a science over the course of 10 webinars. Here are our tips on how to plan your content, so you don’t have to wait until you’ve done 10 webinars to figure it out:
- A member of the marketing team always acts as the “host” of the webinar and builds the initial content outline.
- The outline is then shared with speakers well in advance for their thoughts and feedback.
- Usually one or two live prep sessions are needed to perfect the flow of the webinar, but with seasoned speakers, you can get away with one prep session.
- The goal is to make everyone feel just prepared enough that they can be relaxed and confident on the day of the webinar.
- Then it’s off to the races. (And don’t forget to press record.)
- Recycle, reuse, and repackage your way to long-term glory. Once the webinar is over, repackaging it into other marketing materials will help you extend its shelf life—and will keep the marketing wins coming. Case in point: the fintech webinar was reformatted and repackaged into multiple new pieces of marketing content that are still in use today:
- The webinar video was posted on the company website as a piece of gated content.
- We also excerpted the best quotes for use on social media.
- And finally, we were able to craft a written version of the webinar and frame it as a case study featuring the big-name client. Traditional case studies often take a long time; there are usually many rounds of revision and lots of input from the teams on both sides. But when your case study is essentially a cleaned up webinar transcript, there is much less to discuss. The speakers have already agreed on the content, and it’s just as valuable to the audience.
- Every webinar should have at least one evergreen piece of content ready to be created as soon as the Zoom session is over.
The bottom line
The return of in-person events is exciting, but it won’t be the death knell for webinars. Part of our new normal must be a “both/and” approach to audience engagement: one that understands that our target personas live online and IRL at once, and we should meet them both places.
Webinars can and will draw audiences in 2022 and beyond. They’re low-spend, high-ROI, and they’ll set you up for long-term success with lots of reusable evergreen content. Just make sure the topic and speakers are 🔥.