Have Live Webinars Outlived their Usefulness?

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Remember the days when watching your favorite TV show meant being in front of the television at a specific time on a specific day? Even for a boomer like me, those days are a distant memory.

Why then, in a world of on-demand, streaming, watch-where-when-and-how-you-like content, do we B2B marketers still insist on promoting live Webinars, and expect attendees to show up on a specific day at a specific time, fully cognizant they’ll have the option to watch the recorded event at a later date?

Live Webinars

These days, Webinars are a tougher sell than ever, especially for “first touch” lead generation. Most CPL publishers and other lead generation companies won’t even promote live events. At our agency, we generally recommend live Webinars only as part of a client’s lead nurture or customer marketing or partner marketing programs, where there’s already a relationship and a measure of brand recognition.

Even then, registration rates for live Webinars are well off their pre-COVID peaks (especially compared to downloadable content), and the ratio of registrants who actually show up for the live event is much less than the 50 percent standard of just a few years ago.  (Blame work-from-home distractions, amongst other factors.)

Why then do live Webinars continue to be such a staple of the B2B demand generation mix?  Two reasons, I suggest:

One, Webinars require less work and fewer creative cycles, on balance, compared to, say: an ebook or a white paper.  In their most basic form, Webinars are a 20-slide PowerPoint deck and a demo.  When the boss wants a campaign to launch in 4 weeks, it’s much easier to create a Webinar deck and the event invitation in parallel than it is to attempt even a modest ebook and the campaign assets to promote it.

Two, salespeople love Webinars.  There’s the long-held perception that Webinars generate better leads than other types of content, and that Webinar leads are more qualified, based on the theory, one supposes, that Webinar attendees are more motivated and thus further along in the sales cycle, or at least more likely to engage with sales.

The “Webinars generate better leads” argument may have an element of truth to it (Webinar leads probably ARE more motivated, on average) but there’s a price to pay for that increased quality.  Webinars generate substantially fewer leads, all things being equal, compared to on-demand content covering the same topic.  Anecdotally, if a reader is promised the same benefits (“what you’ll learn”) from a Webinar and an ebook, he/she is more than twice as likely to download the ebook.

So yes, a Webinar lead might be more qualified by virtue of being willing to dedicate 45 minutes of his/her time.  However, by making those 45 minutes the price of admission, as it were, you’re eliminating a much larger subset of leads who may well have the problem your product can solve, have a genuine interest in your solution, and simply don’t want to set aside 45 minutes to hear about it.  Or don’t attend live Webinars.  Or happen to be busy next Tuesday at 11 AM Pacific.

With the possible exception of the use cases mentioned earlier (mid-funnel lead nurturing, customer marketing), I’d maintain that live Webinars have outlived their usefulness, and are an anachronism in an era of on-demand content. Instead, B2B marketers should:

* Record Webinars and promote them as on-demand events, skipping the live broadcast altogether
* Test other, non-Webinar terms for the recording: video podcast, expert roundtable, fireside chat, panel discussion (buyers are burned out on the term “Webinar” as much as they are on the events themselves)
* Promote the recorded event via lead nurture streams, content syndication, paid social ads, Google Display
* Host the recorded event as a gated asset in the company’s online resource library
* Select multiple, short excerpts from the Webinar recording (think 20-30 seconds) and promote on social media as a “teaser” with a link to a registration page for the full recording
* Use a transcription service like Rev.com to find pull quotes or impact statements that can be used as social updates or quote images that link to the recording
* Repurpose the same Webinar content as blog posts, infographics, tip sheets and other short-form assets (again, with a link to the full recording)

Companies have long since generated more leads, and value, and ROI from Webinar recordings than they do from the initial, live event. It’s time, I would argue, to do away with the live event altogether.

Photo by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash

1 COMMENT

  1. I agree with your findings and recommendations, Howard. “RSVP” is meaningless today, whether for in-person or virtual events. We can blame it on the potential audience being busy, but it seems the genesis of this phenomenon was the eruption of free online events at the start of the pandemic.

    Marketers trained people to expect free recordings for signing up. In most cases, the recordings will never be seen/heard, as people have intentions but never discipline themselves to following through. Thus, signups may produce leads, but audience mindsets are no more enlightened and the relationship hasn’t really progressed. As a content creator, it’s exhausting. As a unique thought leader, it’s insulting. As an entrepreneur, it’s not a good investment of precious energy when RSVP means nothing.

    What worries me more is how this behavior is shaping our society’s integrity. the EX and CX conundrums seem to be calling out for the opposite: say what you mean, do what you say, give a heads-up on changes, demonstrate mutual respect, build trust and relationship strength. Marketers can re-assess engagement techniques to stop the madness and re-establish trust.

    Small-bite clips and short text summaries are probably the best outcomes of webinar content’s usefulness toward business growth. Thanks for your list of recommendations.

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