Webcasts Mature as Marketing Tool

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No wonder online marketers are having trouble sleeping. The turbulent market and the emergence of new Internet marketing technologies often leave marketers under more pressure to find new ways to sustain sales leads while having to stay on top of the evolving online marketing technologies that are coming out faster than you can say "banner ad click-through."


Meanwhile, online tools continue to mature at a fast pace, leaving media buyers and advertisers unsure of how to approach an interactive media mix. One such medium that is establishing itself as a bona fide sales tool is the business-to-business Webcast.


Webcasting already presents a compelling marketing opportunity for businesses. It couples the immersive nature of television with the interactivity of the Web to create a highly cost-effective way for businesses to reach target customers. Nonetheless, many marketers remain tentative about Webcasting, just as they were about the advent of television advertising decades ago.


This skepticism can be attributed to the many myths linked to Webcasting as well as the stigma associated with online advertising. Many marketers may think that Webcasting is not a cost-effective approach, a necessary tool for targeted marketing, suitable for a business of their size or convenient for their audience.


And don't forget the biggest myth: "It's online advertising, so it's gotta be risky, right?" Wrong. Webcasting is emerging as a critical component of many companies' BTB marketing arsenals. In the past year, corporate giants such as Microsoft, IBM, Dell, Nortel, Intel, Compaq and Sprint have embraced event Webcasting as an interactive marketing tool.


In terms of establishing deeper customer relationships, TV has become one of the most creative, captivating and effective advertising mediums for many companies. Webcasts represent the next wave. However, many people still sense that Webcasts must be monumental events and, thus, are not a reasonable choice for everyday media planning. In fact, growing numbers of marketers have achieved tremendous success - generating publicity, producing qualified leads and lowering their cost per lead. Every day, more marketers are discovering that streaming media is a cost-effective marketing vehicle, allowing them to establish tighter, more valuable relationships with their customers.


New data illustrate that Webcasting is growing at a significant clip. According to a Streaming Media Market Overview prepared by IDG this year, streaming media will become a more than $2.8 billion market by 2005. Gartner Inc. predicts that by 2004, 90 percent of global businesses will use Webcasting regularly to broadcast live events such as shareholder meetings, product launches and CEO addresses. Advertising agencies are also recognizing the benefits of Webcasting. Arbitron Internet Information Services reports that 69 percent of agencies use Webcasts or plan to use them again this year. With 81 percent of ad executives agreeing that Webcasting will grow significantly over the next three years, 96 percent plan to spend as much or more ad dollars on Webcasts in the near future.


Look before you leap. Despite the similarities in content and effectiveness, there is an underlying difference between Webcasting and an in-person gathering. With a trade show or a seminar, when it's over, it's over. Webcasts are different, as these sales tools can be accessed on demand for many months after the taping.


Event Webcasting represents a compelling way to reach a targeted audience via a constantly available, uninterrupted marketing channel. The medium also reduces many obstacles common to in-person seminars or meetings and, most importantly, is more convenient for attendees.


Economic conditions have forced most businesses to reduce spending and streamline travel costs. Webcasting enables companies to reduce travel expenditures related to trade shows, speaking events, conferences and seminars. Because of the preparation involved, traditional face-to-face event planning takes months. Each day that your audience remains uninformed about your offerings is another day of lost revenue. Depending on the complexity of the production, complete turnkey Webcasts can be rolled out within a few weeks.


Rather than the hidden costs associated with many marketing outreach programs, Webcasts contain hidden benefits. Feedback is crucial to a business' success. During Webcasts, audience participation is sought through interactive polls and phone-in or e-mail questions, which can be addressed by the featured guest or moderator. This two-way communication is an invaluable tool for consumers and businesses. Webcasts also allow businesses to track viewers in greater detail, allowing for more targeted follow-up outreach.


Marketers have been reluctant to use Webcasting in part because of bandwidth issues. But in BTB, this is rapidly becoming a nonissue. In a recent study by Jupiter Media Metrix, broadband access soared 134 percent in the past year. There is no longer a fear that a message will not reach the target; most corporations can participate in Webcasts without facing bandwidth constraints.


A company's ability to reach its intended audience is amplified by the on-demand accessibility Webcasting provides. Audiences can be reached when it is convenient for them; on-demand availability is offered almost immediately after the event.


Be smart. If you choose to make Webcasting part of your marketing plan, there are a few things to keep in mind:


• Take advantage of the unique aspects of the medium. During Webcasts, users register, interact with polls and phone in or e-mail questions. Use this information to follow up on qualified leads, generate reports and build or expand your database. This is where Webcasting greatly enhances the sales lead process.


• Engage the audience. To keep viewers interested and prevent them from being distracted by e-mail or phone calls, they must be stimulated by the Webcast. Choose a moderator or presenter who has superior presentation skills. Speaking to a camera is not the same as speaking to a live audience behind the comfort of a podium. Remember, just as with television, Webcast viewers are always just a click away from tuning out.


• Demand more. The success of your Webcast depends on what platform you choose. It's crucial to choose a firm that is experienced and specializes in virtual events. Viewers are more engaged when productions combine multiple features, such as streaming audio, video, interactive audience polling and other multimedia functions that can be provided by an experienced producer.


Whether your goal is increased brand awareness, lead generation or information dissemination, Webcasting continues to gain momentum as a cost-effective way to communicate with your target audiences.
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