Launching a Year-Round digital B2B Marketplace and Community: Strategic Considerations
Just as the B2B buyer journey rapidly moves online, B2B trade show, association, and other industry event organizers are making permanent plans to provide digital complements to their live events. But even as they explore new types of engagement for sponsors, exhibitors, and audience members, many organizers haven’t considered the full value that new digital environments offer and most don’t fully appreciate what is required to succeed.
Additionally, organizers have become overwhelmed by digital platform options. Many platforms offer support for only short-term, standalone, or hybrid digital events; others promise year-round engagement, but don’t demonstrate how to succeed on this front.
No matter the case, B2B organizers need to improve how they facilitate engagement between the members in their industry. The question, then, is this: Should organizers simply launch standalone or hybrid digital events to augment their live event experiences? Or, should they think longer term and more strategically, by launching permanent, year-round digital environments for community engagement?
The Problem with Standalone “Digital Events”
Certainly, standalone digital events and even hybrid digital events that complement traditional in-person events can add value. But surveys suggest there is much room for improvement: “69 percent of exhibitors rate digital events as only fair or poor... [and] 63 percent of exhibitors said digital events do not meet their goals,” PCMA reported in February 2021.
As we’ve indicated previously, one lesson from the pandemic is certain—digital events cannot simply emulate or become tangential to live events; they must take full advantage of possibilities that are uniquely digital instead. Organizers therefore must consider if their digital efforts are truly adding value to their communities, and whether they are thinking broadly enough about their approach. A lack of willingness to pilot and think beyond simply supplementing the live event may lead to narrow thinking that causes them to fall behind.
Launching a Year-Round Digital Environment
According to a 2019 ECEF Pulse survey, nearly half of event executives (49 percent) now consider year-round digital platforms as the most disruptive technology in their industry—up from 34 percent the previous year. At the core of this disruption is the fact that, by their nature, digital environments are not limited by time (event days) and geography like those of physical events. Instead, they allow audiences and exhibitors to connect, engage, and transact at any time and from anywhere. This a clear advantage over the live event, given that business doesn’t simply end after an event’s three-day period.
There are many advantages to running a year-round digital marketplace and community. But organizers must ask themselves, “Is a year-round digital environment worth the investment?” Here we outline the key opportunities and requirement to consider when evaluating this initiative:
Opportunity #1: Extend Value Beyond the Standalone Event
Live events are important and valuable. There is no replacement for participants meeting face to face and interacting with products live. However, business does not end once the 3 or 4 day event ends. The need to discover, learn, network and engage is year round. However, with the setup of discrete live events, event organizers are not currently positioned to deliver value beyond the event. Therefore, offering the value of a 365 digital experience positions the organizer as the place to do business anytime and anyplace.
For example, after the Specialty Food Association (SFA) partnered with Balluun, they extended their Specialty Food Live 2020! digital event to a year-round model. This enabled their community to discover and engage year round, while further strengthening their position in the marketplace.
Opportunity #2: Build a Lasting Community
Organizers can strengthen their brand leadership via their online destination, reinforcing their brand as the key player that brings their industry together. Leading platforms can seamlessly integrate with organizers’ existing CRM and other enterprise software with minimal effort, allowing them to engage community members in targeted and compelling ways not possible in person or via traditional digital channels, such as email.
Another advantage: community content. Today, 62 percent of online event attendees report they come for content and learning, PCMA reports. In addition to creating a B2B e-directory and business network for participants, organizers can provide educational resources in unique and permanent formats unachievable at live events.
Opportunity #3: Special Features and Financial Benefits
One of the advantages to offering a year-round digital experience is the ability to deliver new experiences and features that drive value, and therefore enable monetization and revenue beyond the live event.
Digital platforms with a marketplace offer organizers the ability to deliver useful “digital first” capabilities such as targeted webinars, lead generation, data powered matchmaking, and buyer insights. These offerings deliver significant value and allow organizers to drive new revenue from year-round virtual events, advertising, lead generation solutions, hosted buyer programs, sponsored product showcases and other.
Organizers can also transform what it means to be an “attendee”. That means enabling subscription-based membership models and providing member-only access to unique digital deals, learning opportunities, and micro-events of all types. Such was the case with NHS Connects (Hardware community) which enabled their VIP buyer Wayfair, to network and meet with a curated set of suppliers via their digital marketplace, driving real value for both Wayfair and NHS Connects.
Key Requirement: Investment for Year-Round Operations
Organizers hoping to evolve their business models to include a year-round digital marketplace and community must consider the commitment and resourcing required to support this new business. Too many organizers look to leverage the existing live events team to also manage the digital operations. The challenge here is that it takes time and focus to support the needs of the digital business. It also requires some comfort with digital platforms and technology. And to offer compelling year-round experiences, a content team is likely needed to deliver some level of programming throughout the year. Therefore, organizers must be willing to fund additional resources to support, operate, market, and innovate their digital experiences.
If this is too much to do in-house, it is worth discussing with your platform provider if they can provide a service that leverages their experience to support strategic planning, system configuration, and execution.
The choice of platform is also very important. Choose a platform that is easy to learn, feature rich and highly configurable. The ability to configure the experience to the needs of your industry and business model eliminates the costly and timely custom work that can often complicate the launch and operation of a new digital business.
Make the Right Choice
At a fundamental level, all event organizers have a similar value proposition—bringing key parties together to discover, learn, and transact. They have built a community of relationships and as a result, an organizer is better positioned to adopt a year-round digital environment than any other party in their industry.
Don’t miss your opportunity to make the right choice now. If you’d like to launch your own year-round digital marketplace and community, Balluun can help make sure you get off to the right start. Contact us to learn more about the advantages of digital environments or discover our own audience engagement solution for organizers today and associations today.