Coronavirus has rightfully pulled the plug on the 2020 conference circuit, and while some are touting virtual replacements as a sales and marketing salvation, in reality, there is no single replacement for real-world events. This is the time to embrace integration, create comprehensive, compelling and even longer-lasting campaigns that surpass single executions and reach audiences at a new scale.

A hard reset on objectives

The cancellation of conferences worldwide is your opportunity to reassess. Rather than looking for a direct replacement, ask yourself: Were you exhibiting out of habit, or was there a real, tangible and measurable outcome of our conference participation?

All too often, regular routines of roadshows and roundtables become just that – regular. Smart marketers should focus on outcomes, rather than the outputs, and ask if those things are even possible in the world of webinars alone, or desirable when the audience is third-party and rented rather than owned

Every company, conference and marcomms program is different. Conferences could be about pitching products and demos, building industry profile and thought leadership, getting close to the competition or running recruitment, networking and talent development.

What’s universal, however, is that a conference is almost certainly not the only way you achieve these things throughout the year.

You already do everything the virtual conference could. Always-on advertising, nurture streams and ABM strategies mean marketing no longer marches to the beat of an annual calendar or the schedule of singular events. And while your leadership won’t be presenting to a ballroom full of their peers any time soon, that doesn’t mean thought leadership should stop. It means it needs to get better.

In the absence of in-person events, you’ll need to reach your audience across multiple channels and touchpoints. More importantly, you’ll need to do so with authenticity, clear value and purpose. Online marketing is about to get noisier than ever. This is your chance to rise above it.

Think audience-first and channel-native

Your goal should be to understand your audience, refine a clear point of view and align it with their needs. Listen to online conversations. Analyze search volumes. Pay attention to your media relationships, and those of your agencies. This is not the time for predictable think-pieces or commonplace opinions. Say something that’ll stop followers in their feeds. Earn that click.

And do it in places your audience already is already congregating. Embrace social, video and put executives forward just as you would at a conference. Video, livestreams, podcasts and heartfelt, emotive writing can emulate some of the emotional connections found at physical events. Handshakes might be off the table, but we can still convey personality and warmth through rich media.

And don’t post just once. Optimize content by channel, from feed-friendly cut-downs of video for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to square or vertical crops for Instagram and TikTok. First-person recaps of third-person blog posts work well on LinkedIn. Instagram requires special attention, and is unforgiving of cross-posted imagery. Presenting a native appearance on each platform is the difference between social pros and social no-nos.

Crucially, none of your content should ever stand alone. Dynamic, well-hosted livestreams and webcasts can engage your audience, but if they’re not advertised ahead of time, that audience may not exist.

Likewise, live-clipping and quote cards extend webinar content to regular social networks, and when the show is over and the spotlight begins to cool, a recap blog post should cater to those looking for answers through search, or without the time to watch videos.

Wrap everything in paid awareness, and you’ve got the makings of a solid, integrated approach. And don’t forget about PR. The media can get value from this content too. Q&As make a great background for briefings, and audience participation shows immutable social proof, maximizing value for earned opportunities.

Invoke the wisdom of crowds

Invest in employee advocacy. This works year-round, but with swathes of office workers logging on remotely, there’s no better time to tap into skyrocketing social media usage.

LinkedIn Employee Notifications make distributing content to employees incredibly easy, while third-party platforms can extend to Facebook and Twitter, encouraging discussion and tapping your employees’ networks to boost organic reach. It’s the online equivalent of conference small talk, and engages your workforce in championing the brand’s proudest moments.

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention influencers. Those high-profile socialites can turbo-charge awareness and participation across almost any platform. They take time to identify, vet, onboard and engage but those investing the time and budget into getting it right now will see dividends long after this nightmarish conference season is over.

Integrate, align, reinforce and repeat

However you shape your integrated approach, make the most of the channels your brand already has. This is the time to draw everything together and double down on what’s working, rather than reinvent a perfectly good wheel.

Budgets earmarked for travel and conferences could fuel all this and more, but remember that reach is worthless without relevance, and no amount of paid spend or influencer relationships can make up for poor messaging or me-too content.

Your efforts should be integrated, objectives tightly aligned and each should reinforce some aspect of the other. While no one has been through this kind of crisis before, these sorts of tactics, integrations and optimizations are well tested. The cancellation of 2020’s conference circuit might be unprecedented, but we have all the tools we need to succeed, as long as we put them together the right way.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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