Virtual Events

Connecting with Customers in the Time of COVID-19

by Jenna Sindle

It’s no longer hyperbole to say we’re living through unprecedented times; from the mass cancelations of conferences to mandated telework life, COVID-19 has completely upended business – and life – as usual. And yet, in many ways, things in the corporate world are still ticking along. Companies still need to engage their customers and prospects are likely using this quieter time to educate themselves about new solutions. But for many marketers, their go-to ways for connecting engagement to demand – conferences, shows, and lunch-and-learn sessions – are no longer part of their toolkit.

What remains is the opportunity to meet with prospects and customers where they are – online. Digital marketing has never been so important when it comes to connecting engagement to demand. However, with everyone moving online, how can you make sure your content stands out from not only from other marketing content but also the COVID-19 news cycle and social chatter.

There’s been an interesting string of conversations among the Strategic Communications Group, Inc. (Strategic) team and on Twitter about the best ways to use digital marketing tools to keep educating and connecting with customers and prospects. The most obvious strategy is to make in-person events online events.

Obviously, this is more challenging for mass events like HIMSS, than it is for a more intimate event like a lunch-and-learn. In fact, when HIMSS announced its cancelation, the amazing healthcare IT community sprang to action on Twitter with a hashtag (#virtualHIMSS20) to document the conference and share information. But even being able to use the hashtag as a way to search for some of the insight and ideas that would have been shared falls short for a couple of reasons.

The most important one is that the hashtag doesn’t really encapsulate the thought leadership that would have been shared at the conference. While there are posts that break through the noise with there is simply a lot of noise to cut through both on the hashtag and also because of COVID-19-driven healthcare news. Moreover, a tweet to a solution page or landing page doesn’t quite meet the thirst for knowledge that healthcare IT leaders have as they drive change and deliver success for their healthcare system in this new data-driven age.

Equally, streaming smaller events online, particularly if it’s a livestream, create challenges all of their own. Getting mindshare while everyone is coping with shifting to full-time telework, organizing online learning for their kids, and worrying about everything from aged parents to toilet paper supplies is the first problem to overcome. But then, there’s also the challenge of capturing an event that is a moment in time and finding ways to extend the investment in that one event so that the moment in time is useful for much, much longer.

This is where digital marketing strategies become essential to continue to drive connections with customers in the age of COVID-19. A smart strategy starts with focusing on thought leadership over product details and meeting the customer or prospect with a problem solving mentality. From there, look to content distribution platforms to help take what would have been an in-person event virtual or extend the life of an existing online investment even further. However, what’s probably the best digital marketing strategy for right now is to capture the thought leadership presentation that would have been the cornerstone of your event and turn it into compelling content that can be shared with an engaged community of readers either directly or via syndication. In this way, content isn’t only available immediately but will be around – and in active circulation – for the long term.

While we hope all areas of life will be back to normal quickly, it’s already apparent that many things will change permanently because of COVID-19. In fact, there’s a growing sentiment that COVID-19 might be the end of the in-person conference entirely. Whether or not this is another instance of hyperbole, it’s a concrete reminder that now is the time to take a look at digital marketing options and start evaluating the best strategies for connecting with customers in the age of COVID-19 and beyond.