Technology marketing leaders discuss how the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted the sector's events plans and its appetite for big gatherings
Technology marketing leaders discuss how the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted the sector's events plans and its appetite for big gatherings. Technology marketing leaders have revealed how they and their organisations have responded to the global pandemic, read about their strategic change of direction here.
The pandemic has been a proving ground for virtual events with many seeing them come of age. Rancher Labs already hosted about 100 events last year and will do "much more" in the virtual space through 2020. The firm is operating under the assumption that there will be zero face-to-face events for it this year.
"Virtual events are challenging because the easy thing to do is one-way communication, and what people love about live events is all of the potential for interactive learning," said OutSystems' Grieve. "Sometimes that comes in the form of discussions or roundtables, other times that comes in the form of networking or one-to-one conversations. So, the big focus for us is creating opportunities for those real-world things to happen in virtual scenarios."
Colt's Mizutani said the lens through which event goals are viewed has been altered.
"It's been important not just to convert all the events we had planned to virtual events just because they can no longer happen physically. When thinking about events now, we need to think about two things: how our world has changed and, therefore, what information does the audience value the most now. With significant numbers of our customers now connecting to their corporate network from remote environments, the role of network security and the cloud services that are enabling this shift to working from home are rightly top of mind.
"We also need to be conscious of the fact that so many people are time-poor right now ... and if we are taking up time in their diaries, we really need to add value and understand that time is at an even bigger premium these days."
At HiveIO, Yama Habibzai said he is using the term "the new virtual economy" as a persistent trend that will extend beyond the pandemic, citing IBM data that more than half of those surveyed said they want to work remotely in the future.
WekaIO's Murphy argued that tactics have to be adapted.
"There is real value from in-person interaction in the field and it is always easier for a potential customer to find you on a tradeshow floor versus a virtual tradeshow. With the virtual events, there is much more effort spent prior to the show marketing your presence and getting customers to interact and see a product demo virtually."
New budgets, new priorities
Everyone agreed that both budgets and priorities had had to be revised with many welcoming the money back that had been set aside for splashy events.
Colt's Mizutani said:
"I don't think there's a marketer out there at the moment who hasn't looked into this and started to shift the way they invest. In terms of budget, there's obviously a shift from real to virtual events, and we're also shifting budget towards data analytics and AI because that helps us understand the commercial, technical and geographical impact of COVID on every single Colt customer and prospect. But we're also looking at how we can better optimise the team to support our current priorities. As an example, our regional marketing team is supporting our communications function to get out information to our customers in their local languages."
Will we ever be the same again?
Fairly early into the pandemic, the consensus view was that technology marketing is not witnessing a blip or hiatus but a profound change.
"Nothing goes back to the previous status, as I strongly believe that the only constant in life is change," stated Colt's Mizutani. "It's very unlikely that tech marketing will be the same or go back to pre-COVID days. We are already seeing many enterprises saying that they are going to allow their workforces to work from home for the rest of the year and beyond, and I believe we are all now seeing the great potential of remote work and how it can shake up what we do. It's incredibly likely that this period will change how we all live and work going forward."
HiveIO's Habibzai expects other changes.
"I believe we will see more restrictions around how we interact with people, how we travel, how we communicate face to face, and how we do simple things like handshakes, which will become part of the future marketing dynamic. Together, these paradigm shifts will put significant pressure on the way we market."
WekaIO's Murphy on the other hand can see some sort of bounce-back.
"I think events will come back - at some point. If you remember post 9/11 and post-2008 market crisis, all the events went dark and then came back as strong as ever. However, I think the shift in priorities may linger [and] I think a focus on SEO and SEM will stay strong as well as prioritising producing high-value web content."
A fresh pair of eyes
How has the pandemic changed views of the marketing function and the CMO role? Colt's Mizutani believes it's hard not to have been changed:
"For me, ensuring our employees' wellbeing has become critically important. To prioritise this, I need to ensure I am engaging with my team members, bringing them together to form one global team by empowering them and encouraging them in this new environment."
HiveIO's Habibzai said:
"The new virtual economy puts even more pressure on the marketer to understand the world today, and as early as next month, all while predicting where the puck will settle, so as to ensure the right investments for the business fall into place. This is no small feat."
WekaIO's Muphy believes that digital activities are being viewed in a new light.
"Now, as we sit in utterly new reality, those who may not pay as close attention are seeing the impacts of our digital efforts such as PR and earned media attention. When your presence in the field is no longer based on face-to-face understandings, the hard work being done through all other means really shines for those who aren't usually focused on marketing."
Rancher's Smails said that marketers' skills in communicating are more important than ever to bring teams together.
"Community and communication have always been part of my role as CMO, and, as so much of the bedrock of day-to-day life has been disrupted, they've never been more important. People crave interaction, support and validation. It's in our DNA and it can weigh heavily on people working in isolated environments."
Tears and hopes
It may be that it's only in years' time that we put the experience of marketing technology through the pandemic into perspective. The changes have been so rapid, so emotionally troubling and so intellectually and logistically challenging that many marketers report experiencing a blurring of the senses.
A veteran CMO told me he had "blubbed like a baby" at times and is struggling to watch movies with emotional themes. Another said she had taken refuge in reading comic novels and high-intensity exercise.
"I think it's anything that gets you through at the moment, whether that's a cocktail, baking banana bread or Zoom quizzes with the team," she added. "We're all going through it right now, but I tell my team it's going to be alright and we look out for each other because that's what teams do."
OutSystems' Grieve muses, "In some ways, it's hard to remember pre-COVID days…"