"We're seeing a lot of organizations think differently about the data they're collecting as they are looking to hybrid. It's an excellent way for organizations to reach broader audiences, collect more data on their audiences, and create more content to accelerate wherever they are in the customer journey.
We can create or capture those behavioral metrics and the trends that we're seeing across the client base. We can recommend and provide some tangible metrics regarding how they compare to some of the other events that we're seeing. That's powerful. It helps us advise our client base about what they should be expecting, especially as we go into hybrid.
There's always a qualitative component to it where there may be a couple of caveats and what might look different. It helps gauge what good looks like for engagement, what you expect, and how you use that to optimize and raise the bar on your events.”
- Ashleigh Cook, SVP of Marketing, RainFocus
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From Revenue Rhino, I'm Brad Hammond, and this is The Lifelong Customer Podcast. We're interviewing successful sales and marketing leaders in discussing ways in which they're building lifelong relationships with their customer.
Brad Hammond: 0:19
Welcome to The LifeLong Customer Podcast. I'm your host, Brad Hammond.
Ice Artificio: 0:23
And I'm your co-host, Ice Artificio.
Brad Hammond: 0:26
Today, we have Ashleigh Cook from RainFocus. Ashleigh, it’s really nice to have you on.
Ashleigh Cook: 0:31
Hi, Brad. Hi, Ice. So nice to meet you and be with you here today. Really excited.
Brad Hammond: 0:35
Ice Artificio: 0:37
Yeah. Absolutely. We've had the pleasure of having Brian a couple months back and really excited to have me on because I know it's different perspectives and new things to learn. And before we get started with anything, we'd love to know more about yourself, your marketing journey, how you got here.
Ashleigh Cook: 0:52
Sure. So I joined RainFocus back in early 2020, right as the pandemic and COVID was really accelerating. So it was an interesting time just to be at RainFocus in terms of being able to work with many clients to pivot their physical events to a virtual format.
Prior to RainFocus, I was in the research and advisory space. So I work for SiriusDecisions and Forrester, mainly focused on services to empower sales, marketing and product leaders. So I ran many of the marketing programs to really help with acquisition, enrichment within the install base, and then retention programs there. So I spent the majority of my career running marketing programs around that, and now really excited to be practicing, you know, what we had preached out to the industry for so many years within RainFocus.
Ice Artificio: 1:47
That's great. I think it's really great to put things you learn in theory to practice. And if it works, all the better, right? You’re in RainFocus, and you're doing all these things. What would you say the marketing space looks like now, especially with COVID?
Ashleigh Cook: 2:03
Yeah, so it's been really interesting. So at RainFocus, we conduct an annual survey each year, really, to get a gauge from the industry in terms of what the future of events looks like. And one of the really interesting things that we found at the beginning of the year is we surveyed enterprise organizations, and they indicated that they expect events and marketing teams to work more closely together.
So 59% of the enterprise organizations indicated that they expect to work more closely with their events and marketing peers over the coming years than ever before. So that's a really exciting finding. And another 30% indicated that they expect to work about roughly the same with the team. So I think that's really encouraging for industry overall. What we found- and organizations have shared this with us that there's more content in data available with the move to virtual events. And being able to harness that behavioral data and being able to leverage that content for other purposes, there's more of that available than ever before.
And we're really seeing a lot of organizations think differently about the data they're collecting, thinking differently about the content they're collecting, and thinking through, how do we weave this into what we know about this account? What we know about these buyers or these members of the buying groups? And how do we really harness that data and content to accelerate where they are in their customer journey? So I think it's a really exciting opportunity for this space. And now, as organizations are looking to hybrid, I think it's just a great way for organizations to reach broader audiences, collect more data on their audiences and more content to be able to accelerate wherever they are in the customer journey.
Brad Hammond: 3:59
That's really cool. I kind of like to opens up today's topic, which really is, you know, events-based marketing. So obviously, you know, RainFocus, you guys are right in the center of a lot of events and in, you know, enabling those. So what do you see? What’s your vision for the future as we think about, you know, the rest of this year and going into next year? Obviously, you got into that a little bit. But what should marketers like be thinking about when it comes to events today? And what's your vision? What do you think's going to happen, you know, these last three months of the year and going into next?
Ashleigh Cook: 4:38
Sure, so a little bit about RainFocus for those who may not be familiar with who we are. So we are an event management and marketing software company. And so we're focused really on empowering individuals to create meaningful hybrid in-person and virtual experiences. And how we do that is we help organizations with everything from registration to streamlining content management, exhibitor activation, and all the way through to on-site services. So we're helping a lot of enterprise organizations be able to plan, deliver and measure the experiences that they're creating with their end users and the audiences.
And I think one of the really powerful things and the unique vantage point that we have here at RainFocus is we have the ability, or we're working with a lot of- some of the leading and most innovative brands in the world. So they're running events from anywhere between, you know, 50 to 100 people all the way up to 700,000 people that they're engaging in these experiences. And so what we're able- yeah, it's really, really powerful.
And within that, what we can see is, we have the ability to create or really capture what are those behavioral metrics and what are the trends that we're seeing across the client base. So it helps us see things like what is the average number of sessions that organizations attend, or particular individuals attend events that are based on different session types, based on different delivery formats, different focus areas. So it really helps us advise our own client base in terms of what they should be expecting, especially as we go into hybrid.
I think one of the uncertain factors for many organizations is what does good look like? And what should I expect in terms of session engagement and number of sessions attended, the dwell time that they should be expecting in this kind of new norm. So we're able to advise and provide just some tangible metrics in terms of how they compare to some of the other events that we're seeing. So I think that's really powerful.
Again, there's always that qualitative component to it, where there may be a couple of caveats what might look different there, but it really helps provide a gauge in terms of what does good look like for engagement, what should you be expecting, and how do you use that to optimize and raise the bar on your events.
Brad Hammond: 7:15
Yeah, totally. I like that distinction of like, in-person, hybrid, and virtual. And I feel like, you know, a lot of marketers out there obviously know what in-person looks like. And then I think everyone's shifted over to virtual. And you know, whether ready or not, it’s like let's try this out. And now, correct me if I'm wrong, I feel like a lot of organizations are trying to figure out what is their hybrid event strategy right now. How does that look like? And, you know, that's kind of a big focus. Would you say that's correct? And that's like, where a lot of the focus is today, on most hybrid events?
Ashleigh Cook: 7:52
Yeah, we are seeing a lot of organizations, you know, as they go forward. And I think what organizations need to think about is, from a hybrid strategy component, really taking a step back and not just jumping into hybrid just for the fun of it. You got to step back and think about what are the goals that you're looking to achieve? Who are the core audiences who you're looking to attract or engage as part of your overall hybrid event? Or we're seeing a lot of organizations think about hybrid more holistically as a full portfolio decision.
So they may not say, hey, it's not just a hybrid event, but I'm thinking about my portfolio as a hybrid event program in order to achieve the goals with the audiences that I'm looking to engage throughout their buyer’s journey or their customer journey. So we're looking- we're seeing a lot of organizations think about that a bit differently. And a couple of the benefits is it really enables organizations to really extend the value of the events that they are creating. Or, you know, we find that events tend to be that trigger point for a lot of, you know, a milestone within the customer journey for many organizations. It's also a milestone in terms of a very large content factory where folks are creating content to better- that's immersive, that's engaging for their audiences.
And so organizations are thinking about for my flagship event, how do I leverage some of that existing content for other events that I have as part of the program? Or how do I use some of the content or test it out with some of this smaller, maybe events that I'm running and use that to better inform, you know, what content I will offer in my flagship conference, right? So based on some of those learnings.
So we're seeing it work a couple of different ways. And again, I think, for hybrid audiences, many organizations are looking at hybrid events. And, you know, there's been so many benefits with virtual in terms of building the brand awareness for organizations, being able to reach a broader base that typically may not attend their events previously. So this is a great opportunity to engage them earlier on, build that awareness, focus on education, thought leadership, all of those key things, and potentially convert them into an in-person attendee down the line. And then for those focused on in-person, you know, that's a great mechanism as we're seeing for client engagement, for- as a retention mechanism to build those relationships with those core audiences.
So I think overall, organizations just look at hybrid strategy a bit differently. And it really needs to be framed around the goals that they're looking to achieve for the audiences at the touch point that they are in their customer journey. And so I think it's a wonderful opportunity for the industry.
Brad Hammond: 10:56
Yeah, I love that. And if I'm a marketer out there, and you know, I'm thinking about what is our strategy, you know, both for Q4 and then you know, starting Q1. I’m looking at my budget. I'm trying to, like, figure out what do we do when it comes to our events? What are some of those goals I should be thinking about? What are the things I need to be considering? What's the things like- what's mission critical that should be on top of mind and consider?
Ashleigh Cook: 11:23
Yeah, a couple of the things would be to take a step back and think about the audiences that you're looking to engage, how they typically have engaged in the past, as well as what content really resonates with them. So we're seeing a lot of organizations, as the best practice within the industry, start to combine more of the behavioral analytics that they're seeing from their .com platform and all of the content engagement that they're seeing on the web properties, and being able to connect that with the overall event, right?
So previously, as an industry, events were kind of run on an island, right, separate, you know, content, pulling that in, I think, the opportunity that we've had, especially having more marketing IT, marketing tech, marketing data, and the CMO would become more entrenched and more involved in the event decision process, is that there's the ability to merge the behavioral data, as well as the content to think about what behavioral data do I use from the .com properties to inform what I'm going to offer as part of my event program? And how do I use what I'm learning in the event program to better learn or serve up? What is the next best action for this particular individual and their customer journey based on what we've learned about them at the event? So it works both ways. But it's really how do you merge the data and the content to be able to serve, you know, real time personalized and engaging experiences for customers and buyers regardless, you know, wherever they are, in their journey.
Brad Hammond: 13:05
I love that. If that's the case, who needs to have a seat at the table? Who do I need to rope in, in order to connect all this up?
Ashleigh Cook: 13:13
Sure. So we're seeing a lot of organizations and again, traditionally, what we had seen as the target buyers for event technology and software may have been a focus within the events team. So the Events Director, Registration Manager, Content Manager, Exhibitor Manager, some tech roles in there as well, in terms of being able to facilitate that decision-making process. What we're seeing now is we're seeing the CMO get involved, Head of Digital Strategy, Head of MarTech, data analytics, because they're coming to the table and saying, hey, there's a treasure trove of data available from these events. And we have a treasure trove of data available from the .com properties and everything that we're running across, you know, organic and paid channels there. How do we kind of merge the two and ensure that they're working in tandem with one another? So again, that it's serving the next best action for that customer, that buyer, in their journey, as opposed to kind of taking them back to the start.
So it's, how do you create real time tailored experiences for the buyer? So meeting them wherever they are. That could be digital, could be in-person at the event. And how do you really use that to engage them and advance them in their journey with your brand?
Brad Hammond: 14:33
Totally. Yeah, I love that. So roping in some new roles and people that traditionally might not have been involved. And, you know, you get everyone, you know, talking about or the event strategy, and each brings their experience from their different area. What's a good framework or way to facilitate these conversations on should, you know, you just go by, you know, person by person, and, you know, talk about the status of everything there? Or is there like- I don’t know, do you guys have a general framework you give to organizations to follows as you're thinking of strategy? Or where do you start with that?
Ashleigh Cook: 15:08
You know, I think it depends for a lot of organizations. And, you know, to make changes, you know, this is a broader digital transformation that we're seeing within organizations that are really leading the charge here. We are seeing a lot of Head of Digital Strategy, customer experience, analytics, and IT titles that are really helping to lead the change management within their organizations, especially, you know, in supporting the CMO to drive that transformation.
We're seeing organizations really treat it differently. Many of the enterprise organizations have demand centers, which are focused on building out the best practices and the standards for how this data is used, how the content is repurposed, and streamed out to the regions, and how, you know, the organization and the workflow and processes really flow together. So it really varies by organization. But we are working with a number of enterprise organizations currently to help build out what does the best in class framework look like for that? What should be the industry standard to really help advance the industry here?
Brad Hammond: 16:13
Totally. And when would it be appropriate for an organization to reopen the third party like yourself to kind of help with all of this. Is that like- if we're right from the start, we're seeing organizations that open a third party are more successful or, hey, get these or that ducks in a row and in line before you kind of approach that?
Ashleigh Cook: 16:37
Yeah, so for a lot of organizations, just knowing what the event strategy looks like and what goals you're looking to achieve before, you know, moving forward with a third-party provider, such as RainFocus in terms of building out the, you know, your event plans with that.
So as, you know, event marketing and management software provider, one of the key things is, we really look to, you know, our client organizations or prospective client organizations early in the conversations to better understand what are the end goals or the, you know, the goals that the organization is looking to achieve. And when we think about, you know, the goals from the start and what an organization is looking to achieve, you know, RainFocus is an insight-driven platform. So that really enables us to think very prescriptively about, you know, based on the goals, how do we want to measure? How do we track that? And how do we ensure that, you know, that we're moving the needle on your event strategy that we are accelerating an event and marketing success for your organization?
So I think coming to the table with what are the goals you're looking to achieve with your particular event program. How do you want to unify that data with your marketing tech stack? What are the data pieces that are important to you to drive and track to those goals that you need to show as measurable outcomes to the business? And I think coming to the table with that just helps us be more collaborative partners from the beginning, and ensures that we're able to deliver and enable your organization to be successful.
Brad Hammond: 18:18
I love that. Well, as we're wrapping up here, what final advice do you have for other marketers out there when it comes to their event strategy?
Ashleigh Cook: 18:26
Yeah, I'd say there's limitless opportunities in terms of, you know, events out there. And I think just framing it up around, again, the data and the content, there's more available today than ever before. I think for many organizations, ensuring that, that doesn't go to waste, and that you're able to use that data and that content to serve up, you know, appropriate content that is personalized, tailored, meaningful to a buyer or a customer in their journey. That's so key in being able to trigger- not only does that look like where they are for the touch point in their journey, but what is the next best action? What action do you want them to take next? And how do you surface those insights to your sales team or the folks that, you know, reaching out to ensure that their follow up and their next best action is tailored as well. I think there's a lot of opportunity there for organizations.
Brad Hammond: 19:25
I love that. Well, thank you so much for joining the podcasts and sharing all your wisdom, insights, and advice here. I really appreciate it.
Ashleigh Cook: 19:32
Okay, thank you very much, Brad. Thank you, Ice.
Ice Artificio: 19:33