Art & Science of Webinars: Production and Promotion with Darius Eslami

Listen to our customer and guest Darius Eslami of VMware Carbon Black share his tips and techniques for webinar development and production, proven from the trial and error through producing up to two webinars a week. In this Art & Science of Webinars webinar, we cover webinar tips and tricks that we’ve gleaned through promoting over 1,000 webinars for our customers. In addition, Darius speaks to his proven tactics for: 

  • Promotion Time Frames 
  • Creating the Best Webinar Content
  • Subject Lines, Titles and Landing Pages
  • The Power of Dry Runs
  • Ensuring Time for Q&A

Tom: And so, the agenda in more detail, we’re gonna talk about today’s the webinar information source, which are the experiences of our customers whom we promoted about 126 webinars with last year. We’re gonna touch upon the COVID-19 effect, the interesting effect in terms of webinar demand increase, why webinars are considered the number one form of quality leads by our customers? The importance of choosing the formats that you choose and the topics that you choose, and then we’re gonna get into the data of actually what that customer’s data says about the best way to promote webinars.

We’re gonna touch on attention science, which is really fundamental to driving engagement for the webinar, how to multiply your webinar ROI, you’re putting a lot of time and effort into creating this webinar, you personally have a lot on the line and so you wanna make sure you get the most ROI possible. And we’re gonna close by the most often asked question of us, which is, what is the best webinar promotion email subject line of all times?

And so, again, the source of information or the real-world experiences of our customers, we’ve got feedback from them on the performance of these webinars. And then what we did is we did a drill-down and we interviewed the customers that just had the most astounding results. And the results or their techniques are really into two areas, the science, which is measuring things and optimizing them and the art with some mind-blowing, amazing, creative, out of the box ideas that worked.

Interesting topic, everybody’s business has a different effect, COVID-19 has a different effect on their business. From what we’ve seen, it’s booming for our webinar businesses and there’s a few reasons for that. So, kind of, briefly touch upon the timeline. All through the second week of February, we experienced what we’d call normal year to year growth in customer demand for us promoting their webinars. And then it’s interesting, Sean, the president and founder, who’s on the call as well, and I spent a week at RSA, a security conference, and we started to notice a lower level of foot traffic, not a lot but a little bit lower.

And that’s sort of we started to see the webinar demand grow a little bit from there but when it really started kicking in was when there was mass cancellation of events a little bit more. I think this is a kind of a good proxy for social proof, the NBA suspension of the season that, “Hey, wow, this is real.” And then, of course, a little bit more intensity when everybody realizes these stay in place edicts. And so, now we think we’re at, for the time being, a new normal. And so, why is this? Well, one, I think it’s pretty obvious, it was a big shift from expensive physical events to nimble virtual events.

So, there was a lot of money available in budgets because these events are super expensive. We have customers that spend up to a quarter-million dollars on an event, depending, but also I think the realization that many prospects have higher attention availability depending on the business they’re in the industry, they’re in your customers, things may be a little slower for them. You know, you may have noticed maybe there’s not so many POCs going on right now or things like that or budget’s a little bit frozen, but what’s the upside of that? The silver lining is they have more time to learn a higher attention availability.

And there is an interesting poll that kind of correlates to that, “USA Today,” that three out of every five Americans are using the extra time that they have on learning and self-improvement and we think that’s a driver that we’re seeing here as well. And so again, data source for this, our customer set, our customers range from small startups through SMBs to very, very large enterprises, the likes of a VMware, as an example, and our customers selling to all different types of market spaces represented by our community. And a key about our community, our 2 million-plus strong community, that these are people that respect our brands so they respond to our customers’ offers.

Talk a little bit about our customers’ webinar frequency, again, these are the webinars that we promoted for them last year plus feedback on them on just the number they did in total. So, you can see that a small percentage of them are very high frequency about a webinar week. And a very interesting discussion here in a little bit about volume versus quality is always an interesting debate, Darius is gonna touch on that a little bit. And then you could see at the other end of the spectrum, well, there’s ones that do one a year, and those are mainly new companies that are just out of stealth mode shifting spend from product development a little bit more towards marketing and sales and they’re dipping their toe in the water and trying their first webinar.

We’re happy to have helped them with those. Number of customer attendees, well, it ranges from, you know, we help customers that have webinars, that have 200, I should say 2,500 plus attendees, some cases up to 10,000 and on the other end of the spectrum, and there’s nothing wrong with this. We have customers that have, you know, in the 100 to 50 range. And there’s some interesting statistics we’ll get into that sometimes smaller can be better at focusing on niche topics, we’ll touch on that to get the highest quality audience. So, there’s a balance between all of this.

And so, we asked our customers, what is the best way to develop quality leads? And overwhelmingly, our customers say webinars. And some of the reasons why they say it’s the best way to establish trust and authority, the most effective way to secure attention for a productive amount of time, and that’s for sure. And lastly, what’s across the entire journey? There’s webinar content for every stage, for awareness, for consideration, and for decision stage as well.

And I apologize on the title, this is supposed to say “Webinar Durations,” or “Webinar Formats,” I should say. So, the number one format, highest producing format is the thought leaderships plus case study. And that goes with a corollary, which is if your story describes their problem, they’ll automatically assume you have the best solution, so you don’t have to talk about your solution and you see we’re not doing that today. So, second was instructional and best practices webinars followed by demos. And I think a key point here is the worst tend to be product pitches or talking about your technology rather than what it enables.

And then another point is focus webinars performed better than more general topic webinars, example would be use case-specific, they tend to have the highest lead conversion, and so webinars duration. I apologize for this typo here. So, number one is, and still number one, but not really trending up or down is the 45-minute format. We’re seeing a big trend up in the 30-minute format with the realization that people schedule on 30-minute boundaries, not 60-minute boundaries typically. And we’re seeing a downward trend in the 60-minute format based on people’s attention span.

So, very interesting, we’re seeing an emerging format, it’s actually…we call it the 20-minute format but we’re starting to see some 10-minute ones as well as an emerging format. Now, there’s limited data to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of these formats. So, what is the motivation is, you know, obviously people have attention span decline in the era of social media and always on mobile. So, our concern is that there’s a perception of limited value, “Hey, what can I really learn in 20 minutes?” So, these are being tested more and more by our customers in the [inaudible 00:09:21] to get some solid data [inaudible 00:09:23] how they are performing, we’ll let you know. And so, with that, I’d like to introduce Darius Eslami, the manager of marketing programs at VMware Carbon Black. Darius?

Darius: Thank you, Tom. And thank you everyone for joining today. Yeah, I just wanted to sort of talk a little bit sort of about myself and sort of about the journey that we’ve had with webinars and some sort of best practices that we’ve found. So, as Tom introduced, I’m the manager of marketing programs at VMware Carbon Black in the security division. And I’ve been part of the organization for about four years and in the DemandGen team for about a year and a half.

And for most of that, we’re structured based on the funnel. And if you’re unfamiliar with the funnel, sort of those top of funnel, which is really all about lead generation, it goes middle of the funnel, you’re talking more specifically about industries, maybe introducing your product, and then bottom of the funnels really when you’re sort of closing those deals and working more sales support. So, sitting at top of funnel, a huge tactic, one that, you know, maybe we were overzealous on is webinars.

So, as Tom kinda mentioned earlier, I’d say a year ago where we were from today, we were almost a little too aggressive and too trigger-happy when someone said the word webinar, we would run minimum one a week, you know, running, possibly two, even three. So, not only did we over time sort of discover a lot of that burnout was happening, but our audience sort of weaned out and it was really tough to generate buzz and interest, let alone quality interests.

So, gradually as we sort of noted this, we sort of began to peel back and focus more on that quality, so we were focusing in more on, you know, the topics that we’re running, leaning in more on strategic promotions, that’s sort of where we’ve leveraged virtual intelligence being smarter with some of our own database tactics and just really getting better at targeting engaged community members. And the funny thing sort of happened is we were so focused on really wanting to sort of peel back and draw people in with less content that was more resonant that we almost went in the total reverse in the opposite direction. So, there wasn’t necessarily enough content to sort of satiate the crowd.

That sort of leads me to my first point is sort of a sweet spot that we found in a webinar tip is when it comes to promotions, three to four weeks out is generally how much time you wanna give yourself, if it’s more than that, I think you sort of run the risk of somebody signing up or debating whether to say sign up. You know, oftentimes, I could say, “I don’t really know what I’m gonna do a week from now, let alone six weeks from now.” So, we’ve found through trial and error and a lot of testing over the last year-plus that about three to four weeks is a sweet spot for people to commit to signing up to something that you are promoting and sort of asking their participation in.

And that leads to sort of a bigger theme that we’ve found is that idea of what’s in it for me, right? Like, it’s nothing novel or unique but it’s something I should always have at the forefront of your mind and that goes sort of on by whatever means necessary. Any prospect or customer that you’re trying to reach out to should be able to take away what your topic is about in your webinar, that should be in the subject line of your emails, it should be in the title of your webinar, it should be in the abstract on the landing page, and what we found, whenever applicable, using numbers is a great strategy, it’s a very clear call to action. You know, four tips to secure your cloud environment, somebody looking at that has a very clear intention of what they’re gonna get out of participating with you for 30 or 40 minutes. There’s four things I’m gonna take away from this that I can use to implement or question our own strategy and sort of bring up additional conversations.

Another thing that we’ve sort of have tested on and off, and yeah, again, it boils down to balance, is making sure that you’re doing dry runs. It seems a little silly to have to make this a tip but making sure you’re going through dry runs with webinars particularly your speakers even if they’re in-house, even if it’s a regular occurrence because you never know when there’s technical difficulties, you never know how familiar someone maybe if there’s last-minute changes to the deck. But you also really want that as somebody who’s putting on the webinar to make sure that the content ultimately that your speakers or guest speakers are talking about is relevant and correlating with the message that you’ve shared with your prospects and customers.

And then two more tips that we’ve found through a lot of the trial and error and particularly some are resonant with a lot of the virtual intelligence data from previous webinars that I’ve sat in on and watched. And when it comes time to the format and the style of webinars as Tom mentioned, we’ve experimented a little bit, generally, historically, we’ve had, you know, 60-minute webinars, which is a big ask, particularly in our industry. It’s usually a very dense conversation, very technical conversation even at a thought leadership level, there’s a lot of nuance in sort of the landscape even product agnostic.

So, really communicating to your prospects that, “Hey, this is gonna be a thought leadership piece, you don’t really need to know anything coming into this,” or “We’re gonna be hosting a panel discussion, please come with all your questions ready, it’s gonna be largely dependent on your participation in the Q&A module,” or maybe, “This is just going to be sort of a very informal conversation and more of an interview-style between two speakers and we’ll be glancing at the Q&A throughout to bring up additional topics.”

And sort of my final note that I think you can run into a lot of trouble with if you’re not doing those dry runs is the allowance of Q&A. In any format, you should always want to request feedback as much in a live situation as you’re able to from your audience, so that may be in those dry runs to make sure that, you know, you have those 5 to 10 minutes of questions. We’ve certainly run into situations, particularly in those times when we were running two webinars a week where speakers would have a feeling of continuing to talk or continuing to present, and then ultimately, you run out of you…you not only have no time for questions but you sort of overrun the clock in which case people often can’t even stay till the end.

And if you’re not able to do that which sometimes does happen, as Tom kind of outlined earlier, always make it clear how they can follow up with you. Maybe it is a demo and you’re sort of pushing for more product or solution-oriented information but even if it’s just, you know, giving the public and those who attended access to what your Twitter handle is or where they can find you on LinkedIn even if it’s nothing that you’re capturing data for lead generation purposes just making yourself available to maybe get at those questions that they had their expectations set against but you didn’t have time to get to. So, those are all, kind of, the tips that we’ve found in the last year and it all really boils down to balance and setting up expectations.

Tom: Fantastic, Darius. Thank you very much. And if anybody has a question that you’d like us to ask Darius on your behalf, please use the Q&A function, we’re not gonna have a chance to get those today but we’ll follow up with you. It’s a great way to leverage Darius’s expertise and ours as well. Thank you, Darius.

Darius: Yeah, of course. Thank you.

Tom: Okay. We’re gonna pass on this one question today, just to check a time, this is a great question I was asked on Twitter and it’s something that we call…it’s a good example of what we call a reset, and we’ll talk about that in a moment, we just don’t have time for this one today. So, best time of day is typically either 1:00 or 3:00 p.m. Eastern and the best day is typically Tuesday, second-best, I should say Thursday, second-best, Tuesday, and…let me start all over, second-best is Wednesday, third best is Tuesday. Sorry about that, that was a good test for me there to get that right.

So, webinar promotion, the best day for registrations is the day of the webinar, the best time is actually an hour before. And interesting and it makes sense is that the best webinar registration to conversion to attendance is actually one hour before. And it makes sense because people know with that their schedule is free in that next hour, of course, best promotion day is a Tuesday. And here’s a good tip if you…what you should do how to do if you can, is batch your emails by time zone so that the individual receives the email 8:00 a.m. their time, that’s the best.

And so, there’s really another tip that I think that we found out is there’s not a lot of difference between starting at three weeks out, in six weeks out, I should say three to four weeks out as Darius mentioned versus six weeks out. So, the recommendation is drop the six weeks in to minimize community fatigue. Webinar promotion channels. So, broke this up into three classes, companies that are classically known by analysts firms as leaders, those are followers and those that are emerging in terms of how they promote. And so, leaders have a very strong presence, they’ve got a lot of people, organic traffic to their website, so websites were the number one source but followed closely by email and then a fairly good contribution from social as well, for followers is a little bit different because they’re not getting that traffic from their website.

And so, number one was email by actually a good shot followed by websites and social. And now, for emerging companies, they’ve got very little name recognition or awareness, so most all of it is through email. So, email dominates. One of the things that we heard a few times is interesting data point is that paid LinkedIn disappointed a little bit in terms of the ROI for that which I thought was an interesting comment. And of course, these numbers include partner contribution in models that are hybrid or partner as opposed to direct-only sales models.

Email channels. So, it’s interesting, virtually, everybody also used a third party, and now this data is our customers experience beyond, of course, the ones that we specifically did for them, the questions that they answered, that we asked on this topic, but you could see pretty much everybody also used a third party. So, a couple of things is that what you wanna do is you wanna leverage a third party that has strong brand affinity. What we saw in almost all cases is our customers weren’t really looking for suppression or exclusion lists when they worked with us, their feeling was that if somebody saw this promotion, this email from two trusted sources that were different from each other there, there was more than twice the probability that they would open the email.

And of course, if you need to…seeking that news, which everybody wants to grow their audience, you really need to use a third party because, you know, a few weeks ahead of the webinar when you need more registrations, it’s hard, you know, for you to grow your own lists. So, get that adrenaline shot from a third party. And so, webinar duration, this is one that I found super interesting from one of our customers who’s very good at in terms of instrumenting and measuring everything. This is a customer, it’s not Darius by the way, that does a really, really high volume of webinars as well. And one of the things they saw from sifting through the data that regardless of length, fall off starts at about 22 minutes. And we’re gonna talk about some engagement things you can do to avoid that, and this was measured again by a customer who has good analytics on everything.

And one of the solutions they said, or two of them, were the front end load the most important points but also summarized at that point, at the 20-minute point, what they presented, discussed, and demonstrated so far. And this is true for all except training and instructional webinars where people are required to attend for certification purposes. Talk a little bit about engagement science, so this is interesting study, and this is actually the one data point that did not come from our customers, it’s something I read, people know me for the surveys that I do, and attention is extremely important on surveys as well.

And so, this is a seminal study that showed that in an interactive learning environment, that attentions wanes like every two and a half to three minutes. So, what you wanna do is reset within that time to get their attention back up the peak, there is a few ways you can do that. Our poll question is a great way to wake them up and get them to interact, maybe you tell a funny story. Sometimes, I use a picture of my dog or a stacked photo that looks like my dog if I don’t have a good one in handy, a pop culture reference with customers that use questions like the “Game of Thrones,” or as we attempted to ask if we had more time, trending Twitter questions, when was the last time you took a shower? So, you really want to reset their attention as often as possible after that two-minute waning period.

So, a couple of things, creating a most interesting or out of the box idea and show it at the end keeps people to the end. In today’s webinar, we’re gonna talk about the highest performing webinar email subject title, speaker to speaker, or speaker to moderator interaction works as well. Polls actually work for a few different reasons, one is you get that engagement level but it also reinforces important points and strengthens their recall because you learn better and it imbues that information through the act of, I should say, through acting, but also, it’s great intelligence. Respondents are more likely to be honest and accurate during live polls is great for your follow up with them as well.

Q&A, a couple of thoughts about Q&A is that you need to have questions queued up in case there aren’t that many from an audience if it’s a Q&A centric format, and you want those questions to be the most authentic, they cannot be self-serving, people can see through that super easy and so they need to be authentic. So, what tips that we’ve heard from our customers were, how do you get those authentic questions? Well, ask your salespeople, these are questions that they are asked every day.

And so, increasing your webinar ROI, you know, you put a lot into this webinar, planning it, getting a speaker, developing the slide set, promoting it, and all that. So, you wanna make sure you get the best ROI possible. And some of that ROI will come after the webinar, but in webinar, this is a great tip that we heard not. I would have never had guessed this that the highest content to lead conversion occurs actually in webinars for your typical marketing assets. So, one of the things you can do is you can show the links to the content and the chat window or many webinar platforms have the ability to see those pieces of content below the viewing window.

 Another great tip we had is you wanna mind those chat and Q&A logs, these valuable insights on perceptions, misnomers that people might have that you can put into your FAQ to be mindful of when you’re developing content. So, you can weave in some of the counters to those misnomers or handle them head-on, so this is a great source of intelligence as well. So, by the way, please let us know if you can, the top three takeaways through chat because we’ll be offering that gift card multiplier here at the end.

So, how do you create great content from a webinar to, you know, increase that webinar ROI? So, there’s a couple of thoughts. So, a lot of people talk about creating blog posts from webinar content, it’s a great idea but it really didn’t happen a lot in practice. People had to go back and listen to the whole recording, parse it out. But so, a killer idea that actually several customers are using is storyboard your webinar in the beginning so it can be chunked into segments. So, you can create these three to five-minute snackable segments that they say should be ungated. So, it’s easy to do, it’s highly effective, and it actually works as a series. And so, in a series, there is a high probability if somebody watches us the first section that they’re gonna watch the next segment as well. So, I thought that was a great tip.

And accelerate here we’re running down on time, so webinars replays are another great way to get ROI. The key point here is the highest performers allocated 15% to 20% of the promotional budget to webinar replays, takes a lot of discipline and the confidence that comes from experiencing doing this that helps them understand that you really wanna do that, you don’t wanna put it all with the actual promotion of the live event, you want to save some of that because replays are really effective because they’re typically watched at the highest point of somebody’s interest, so at their learning, at their point of need, so it’s a high intent score.

So, moving quickly. Lastly, simulated live is a great format. One of the number one reasons I should say that people fail to register for a webinar is time conflict. So, the simulated format, it looks exactly like it’s live but it’s a recording but it has live Q&A and live polling. So, it’s an interesting format that we’re seeing a big increase on that we can support you on as well.

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