February 24, 2021

I Only Miss Conferences Because of the Food: A Guide to Creating Virtual Experiences During COVID-19

By Zoey Copeland Morck

This post is brought to you by FireMon Marketing Programs Specialist Zoey Copeland Morck. FireMon is an agile Network Security Policy Platform that serves as the answer to enterprise demands for security, speed, and efficiency to address accelerating cloud and digital transformation initiatives.

Here’s what I miss about conferences. The food.

The truth is, I love to eat! And San Francisco, Las Vegas, San Diego, and really all the big conference cities have amazing food. (Sorry, Orlando, not you.) The main reason I look forward to the RSA Conference (an IT security conference) every year is so I can eat lunch at a restaurant called Split Bread every day and just eat two orders of their delicious brussels sprouts.

Of course, conferences are also an escape. 

At home, I see the same person every day, all the time. At work, it’s the same people walking past my desk, chatting with me on Zoom. When I go to a conference, I know that I’m going somewhere different, meeting new people, learning their stories and seeing how I can help. Maybe that place is Las Vegas five times in one year, but it’s five weeks outside of my normal routine, and breaking routines is good for your brain.  

And I’m not that unique or interesting, so I know it has to be the same for most people going to these conferences. It’s not all about that certification or this seminar, it’s about the experience.

How Do We Fill the Gap?

Obviously, there are a ton of webinars and virtual conferences filling the educational and demand gen gap right now. But no matter how much you gamify an event platform or try to push people into breakout rooms, it’s just not the same as being at a conference.

FireMon wanted to do some events that facilitated that human connection we’re all missing out on while we’re stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. As our account-based everything (ABX) program started picking up momentum moving into Q2, it seemed a logical progression to have a series of small events focused on each sales team’s territory.

The easy option, and one that we seriously considered, was a virtual lunch & learn (or a breakfast & learn, to be different.) It seemed simple: send a GrubHub gift card, recycle a webinar deck, and you’re good to go. But, it too felt weak. UberEats’ sales bumped up 10% in just the first week of most states shutting down. Safe to assume our targets are already getting food delivered at least once a week. It’s always cool to get free food (citation: the first paragraph of this article), but it’s not special when it’s the same thing you always get.

So we started to focus on providing a great experience instead. We wanted to do something that most people wouldn’t do normally. Plus, those big tradeshow dollars weren’t going to booth builds and LED wall rentals anymore, so we could get creative.

Nothing Old-Fashioned About It

We decided to host a series of ten “Sips & Security” cocktail classes. They were highly targeted, exclusive events for dedicated security professionals at established companies.

Our business development rep (BDR) team drove attendance with phone calls, personal emails, and LinkedIn invitations. No email blasts this time though. When someone registered, we sent them a Crafted Taste Old-Fashioned Cocktail Kit (bourbon included!) via our Sending Platform partner, Sendoso.

Then, we enlisted the help of an incredible online bartender, Chris Tunstall from A Bar Above. His business is focused on providing world-class bar equipment and education to bartenders from the top-level pros all the way down to casual hobbyists. Together, we planned a one-hour long event where we introduced FireMon, made three excellent cocktails, and learned some neat trivia about the history of cocktails. (And NASCAR! They’re related!)

Chris made a beautiful deck with recipes and ingredient lists for us to use, but we only needed three slides. The rest of the time we encouraged everyone to turn their cameras on and pretend they were in their favorite bar. We talked about FireMon and how we can save you time and money by automating security policy processes, but we kept “shop talk” to five minutes or less.

Afterwards, our BDR team followed up with gift cards (“Next round is on us!”) and personalized emails to schedule follow-up meetings for all that shop talk we skipped during the event.

But How Did It Perform?

As with any event, Sips & Security wasn’t perfect. Cross-state liquor delivery can be tricky, and one event had to be rescheduled due to a breakdown in the registration process, but we still managed 57% conversion from registrant to attendee, which is better than any FireMon-hosted event we’ve done in my almost four years here.

Now that we’re more than eight months out from the event series, I can say that they were an unqualified success. We generally consider an event to achieve ROI if it sources ten dollars of net-new pipeline for every one dollar of spend, which I evaluate at three-month intervals to accommodate our average deal length of six months. Sips & Security beat our ROI goal by 570%.

And most of all, it didn’t feel like a “marketing event.” Marketers are frequently villainized by buyers. Nobody wants to be an email address in a database. The most annoying among them cover their badges at conferences and enter fake contact information to access whitepapers. But I had personal emails from attendees saying our event was “epic,” and, “the best event ever,” and, “please make sure I’m on your mailing list!”

That last note came from a person that had previously unsubscribed, and now he’s requesting that I, someone with the word “marketing” in my email signature, put him back in the dreaded database! Because FireMon showed him how to make the best old-fashioned possible and answered his questions about bourbon recommendations.

When you find the right experience for your target base, make the whole experience about them, and follow up strong and fast, that’s what really closes the gap created by conference cancellations.

Also, please send me your brussels sprouts recipes. Let’s close that gap, too.

For more great virtual event ideas, click here. And to maintain meaningful connections with your buyers and prospects in 2021, register below for our half-day virtual event CONNECTED.

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