Reinventing the webinar post lockdown

After lockdown caused a mad scramble for webinars, strategist Natalie Plowman discusses how to turn yours from an afterthought to a flagship brand.

Hands up if you attended a webinar in lockdown? 

If your answer to that is a guttural grunt and a roll of the eyes, the answer is probably yes.

As Covid marched across the country, event after event was cancelled. In their place, webinars became the hot ticket for marketers wishing to place their people in front of clients and prospects. Companies scrambled to establish their own or piggyback on virtual events. 

But, as lockdown fatigue set in, so did webinar fatigue. 

Self improvement is a worthy thing. The appetite for upskilling and staying relevant did not diminish with lockdown. However, the enthusiasm for watching people talk on a screen for long periods of time certainly did. There is Bridgerton to watch for that.

Marketers’ quick fix quickly became a burden. Finding speakers, topics and eyeballs is no mean feat in a crowded market. Doing so in a fatigued market is even tougher. With the promise of lockdown lifting looming on the horizon, is it time to drop the webinar? The data would suggest not. 

In our recent B2B marketing 2021. Solved. report, just under one third (28%) of B2B marketers said they see interactive tools and webinars as a priority in the next 12 months. A further 30% of B2B marketers said that they want to take more risks by being bolder with their creative campaigns. 

Let’s be realistic, in-person events are unlikely to come back in the short term. The relatively low-cost of webinars make them a low-risk alternative. Perhaps it is time to inject some showbusiness into the proverbial webinar arm. Put them front and centre. Treat them as a flagship brand as opposed to an afterthought.

Drawing on alan’s experience of webinar production, here are my thoughts on the key factors to consider when building your own webinar series. It’s showtime.

Give credibility to your campaign

Consider how a webinar can support your campaign. I have found that they provide the perfect augmentation to research. Webinars bring research to life by adding a qualitative layer. The right panelists can give real-life context. What better way to lend gravitas to your data than by having an industry figurehead discuss and qualify the outcomes? 

Our clients have recently used this approach to add a qualitative layer to their research into sustainability in corporate travel. We worked with them to create a Corporate Travel Sustainability Index. At the heart of the project, sat a detailed piece of research, investigating the sustainability of corporate travel through three dimensions: people, planet and profit. We held a webinar for each. The webinars sat alongside an interactive tool that allowed users to benchmark themselves against the report’s findings. The three-pronged campaign covered off the stats, the context and where the prospect sat in the mix.

Live vs Recorded

A few butterflies in the stomach can be a good thing. Live webinars force panelists to bring their A-game. Yes, there may be the occasional glitch or stumble, but conversation will be dynamic. There should be a greater emphasis on production values when pre-recording a webinar. Have a branded intro video. Play music while people wait for the ‘show’ to start. Build excitement. Remember, live recordings can be repackaged as a standalone piece of content.   

Most importantly, make sure panelists attend the Q&A afterwards. Certain webinar technology is better than others at facilitating this. We suggest finding one that allows viewers to still see panelists’ faces, regardless of whether the session was live or pre-recorded.

Choosing your panel

Think about how Graham Norton builds his panel of guests. Each week there will be a couple of big hitters, your Tom Hanks and Meryl Streeps, if you will. These are perennial draws. In the B2B world there are certain brands that will always draw a crowd. The brands that you yourself would want to watch. But, don’t be afraid to add a couple of lesser known players into the mix. The Lee Mack of the group can add a bit of perspective by representing your audience.

Panel diversity is another key factor. Build in time to make sure your panel is representative of the wider community you are serving. That means having a balance of genders and ethnicities. Your audience wants to see themselves reflected on the panel. Diverse panels lead to dynamic conversations.

Choosing a topic

Don’t be afraid to discuss topics that fall outside of your company remit. These may be pertinent to the industry at that specific moment in time. The default is to only talk about your product range. Give your audience credit. They know when they are being sold to. Instead, offer them your expertise and perspective. Don’t be afraid of having an opinion. The resulting discussion could even highlight new product opportunities.

Selecting a host

Graham Norton has a team of researchers who interview his guests in advance. Each week he is armed with the information he needs to guide conversation. Something he does effortlessly. In the same vein, it is worth investing in an external host. 

We recommend using someone with broadcast experience. Like Norton, they can bring people in and steer conversation. Their independence also allows them to push a panelist and draw out the interesting nuggets a layman may not feel confident in doing. It takes a brave salesman to grill their client in front of an audience.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Preparation is key. Interview each panelist in advance, agree talking points and know their boundaries of conversation. A dress rehearsal is a nice way to introduce everyone. Make sure speakers are set up to speak. We recommend headphones to ensure consistency in volume and background noise levels. Neutral backgrounds are another top tip. Nobody wants to be overshadowed by the bookshelf behind them. And filters are a definite no, no.

Injecting some showbiz

Let’s be fair. Webinars have to compete with work screen time, family zoom calls and the odd Friday night quiz (collective groan). There has to be a compelling case for someone to sit back down in front of their screen.

Repositioning webinars as a show could be the way forward. It was an approach we adopted for our own webinar The CMO Show where we interview marketing leaders. Shows are about entertainment. That good old razzle dazzle. Elevate your webinar from the mundane to the rarefied air of a panel show with big name brands and quality production.

Don’t let this be the end of an era. Like the panel show, webinars don’t go out of fashion. You just need to add a little showbiz. 

Fancy finding out more about how you can revitalise your webinar programme? Contact us on 020 3877 3800 or email to speak to one of our specialists.

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