Last month, MarketingSherpa's newsletter featured a story highlighting research they did in partnership with KnowledgeStorm. They published an article with the title of "White Papers vs Webcasts: What Prospects Prefer - New Data." That article is available on their site to members of the service. You can sign up for a free 7-day membership if you want to take a look. The story indicated that there was more information to follow in the full report available on KnowledgeStorm, so I held off on commentary until I had a chance to look at the source document. Parts I and II of the report are now posted on KnowledgeStorm and you can read them with a free registration on that site.
The study was run as an online survey for technology buyers and technology providers. KnowledgeStorm collected nearly 4,000 responses from their registrant base. That's a very impressive sample size. Respondents could classify themselves as B-to-B marketers or as business consumers of technology solutions.
The newsletter article made several interesting statements about the results of their survey. I want to focus on an apparent disconnect between the emphasis that marketers and purchasers place upon webcasts. In Part I of the report, marketers were asked "What types of content do you use or sponsor in your marketing programs? (Check all that apply)" 63% included Webcasts in their response. Technology buyers had a slightly different question: "What types of content do you most frequently consume/read? (Check all that apply)" Only 33% included Webcasts in their response.
In Part II of the report, the questions changed a bit to focus on registration. Marketers were asked "From the following list, please check which content types you would deem worthy of requiring registration to gain access (Check all that apply)". 77% included Webcasts in their answers. Technology buyers saw: "From the following list, please check which content types you are typically willing to register for (Check all that apply)". Only 31% included Webcasts.
Does this mean that webcasts are not useful marketing tools and that corporate marketing departments have been wasting their time and money on them? I don't think so.
I'll start by saying that I wish the general question about types of content had been framed differently. For a marketer, the question was simply whether they ever included a webcast as part of their overall marketing mix. I'm a little surprised the numbers weren't higher, but certainly it is no surprise that a majority of companies use webcasts somewhere. End-users got a much different question that could bias their response. By asking what they most frequently consume/read, it puts a different spin on the issue. Again, I am not surprised that webcasts are less frequently consumed than white papers and other written documents. It is hard to guess what respondents may have thought about when answering that question, but it is unlikely they repeatedly reference the same webcast (in the way they might re-read case studies and white papers) or even view a number of webcasts from the same company. I would be hard pressed to say a webcast is a "most frequent" kind of content channel. So the disconnect in the numbers there is in line with the different questions.
The second question, about registration, is much more telling. In this case, the questions for providers and consumers match up nicely and there is a significant disconnect. Marketers tend to overuse webcasts as carrots and demand that their audience cough up registration information (sometimes quite lengthy) before even seeing what the company is offering. It is a bad practice to demand something of your potential customer on a first visit before you have given him/her something of value. You are asking them to make the first offer in the negotiation. They have already clicked through to your landing page and indicated some willingness to give up their valuable time. In their minds, they have given you something and it's your turn. When you hit them with a request for all their vital information and they know that they are going to be "hounded" by a sales person, it doesn't make them very willing to take that next step. Especially if your registration includes obvious sales qualification questions like "Size of Budget" and "Implementation Timeframe."
My recommendation for dealing with this problem flies in the face of common practices and causes great gnashing of teeth from corporate marketers. Stop measuring the success of your marketing webinars based on the number of raw leads you can collect up front. Make your introductory marketing presentation easy to attend and non-threatening. I actually prefer to treat a public marketing webinar in the same way that I would treat a broadcast ad... give the audience the content for free as an education and awareness builder. Invite interested people to find out more by taking next steps that require sharing their information. They might request a download or a demo or a document. Now you've given them something of value first and they are more willing to respond with their information. Yes, you get far fewer names on your list. But the ones that make it are the ones your sales people want. If you are absolutely dead set on requiring registration up front to fill out your lead generation quota, keep it to an absolute minimum... Name, company, and email. That's all you need in order to contact the person and start a follow-up conversation.
The second thing that comes to mind is the problem of perceived quality and value. Technology buyers have become unwilling to register for webcasts because they feel that the odds of receiving value are too low. In other words, too many of us are making lousy presentations and we're teaching audiences that this is what they can expect. What goes into a lousy presentation? Poor speaking techniques, poor content organization, content that doesn't match the publicized information, poor slide design, poor time management, and many other factors (for a great list that transfers nicely from the world of live presentations, check out Sue Pelletier's "Top 10 Reasons To Bolt").
This problem goes right along with the marketing trap I mentioned previously. If you are only concerned about collecting lead quantity from your registration pages, it doesn't really matter what garbage you include in the presentation itself. You've already got what you came for. Spend your time on marketing and promoting the event and make the delivery of the information a low-priority afterthought. Cynical? It's more common than you might think. Presenters don't rehearse, slides are put together at the last minute, and audiences get a "books on tape" delivery where they see pages of bullet point text read to them in a bored voice. As a marketer, your short term goals are achieved. You get your large number of names that you can pass on to the sales team. And guess what the sales team finds? Angry and disinterested people who don't want to follow up because they were not respected on their first exposure to the company.
The solution to this problem goes without saying. Pay attention to the quality of your delivered content. Spend the time to create, practice, and deliver something that will enthuse and persuade your audience. Want more information on what you need to concentrate on? Watch my four-minute presentation on Webinar Basics. You don't even need to register first!
If we start improving the quality of our web seminars and make them easier to get to, guess what's going to happen to the results of that first survey question? Webcasts will be used more frequently as a trusted and valuable information source. What a concept.