It’s a Tuesday. I’m sitting at my desk with my eyes closed and my head in my hands. I’m thinking.
Last week we kicked off our quarterly marketing campaign events in North America. Then came Brazil and India. Last night was Asia Pacific. And at 2:00 am here in Phoenix, Europe will host theirs. Thanks to being digital-first, I can watch all events, either in real-time or on-demand the next morning.
Early data shows we’re trending well. Registrations are above target, attendance leveled off as expected, and event satisfaction is high. All our experiments–a downloadable digital workbook, live debate, and an “Ask the Experts” always-on session had solid engagement. And while we don’t yet know the attributed pipeline and bookings, all indicators are flashing green, green, green.
Yet, here I sit with my head in my hands.
Going digital during the pandemic was a necessity. Staying digital-first in 2022 was a decision. I’d like to say that my crystal ball was glowing red and warned me of all there was yet to come–the war in Ukraine, global inflation, an economic downturn, tech layoffs, expensive and laborious travel, lingering COVID–but no. Our decision was based in part because of our own uncertainty and in part because of our digital success.
And that success continues, although with a lot more adjustment and recalibration. I’ll admit, event design and marketing are harder than they used to be.
Looking back at our campaign events in 2021, we were riding high. Registration to attendee conversion was consistently above 50%, and attendee satisfaction was at an all-time high of 89% across the globe.
I get invited to a lot of virtual events, and this was by far the most valuable and relevant one I have seen in a long time. The whole experience was brilliant and well-rounded. It answered all the business questions in CX that are important right now.” - Zendesk Customer
We’d hit the ground running in Q1 with our annual research campaign, CX Trends. We kept the anchor events simple: mostly live customer panels with some pre-recorded content. This was intentional as we utilized a “follow the sun” model and clustered all global events around a single date. Focused. Impactful. A moment in time. Subsequent activities included smaller user groups, persona events, and virtual whiskey and wine tastings. Ah yes, remember all those drunken pandemic afternoons? All-in-all, a success.
Admittedly, we were heavily focused on vanity metrics at this point. “How many registrations? How many attendees? That’s a good conversion rate!” Goals crushed.
What I’d do differently:
In the second quarter of 2021, I wanted to give our audience something different. We’d had multiple back-to-back research events, and it was time to change up the energy. So we partnered with San Francisco-based Pop Up Magazine to create an experience that more closely emulated the “feel, think, act” model.
The Digital Tipping Point touched on the quarterly themes but never really talked about products. Instead, we discussed the importance of technology during the pandemic and how it influenced the way we communicate with loved ones, customer service, and each other. We recycled some existing Pop-Up stories (the hilarious tale of customers that call the 800# on the back of their liquor bottles or the moving piece about the impact purposeful closed captioning has on the hearing-impaired), had the narrators record them at home, and interjected them with interstitials from Zendesk executives and partners.
We also included an original about how Vimeo technology introduced the power of dance to people quarantined in their homes. “It isn’t healthy to go dark when the world goes dark,” the video begins. “It’s healthier to find the light.” The Vimeo video, like the entire event, acknowledged the fears and apprehension we all encountered during the pandemic and responded with care, optimism, and humor. And our audience responded in kind. Event satisfaction skyrocketed to 94% globally, with an unheard-of 99% in the EMEA market.
Zendesk and Pop Up Magazine did a great job of tying an emotional experience with interesting stories and their service. Gonna be hard to think about Zendesk without this now.” - Zendesk Customer
I wanted to say how wonderful this was. It gave me some great business inspiration but, most of all, a very unexpected emotional boost. Much needed in this time!” - Event Attendee
It was the break we all needed–Zendesk and our audience–and I’m grateful we recognized that.
What I’d do differently:
I wouldn’t do anything differently, but I’d be remiss not to say that not everyone appreciated the risk we took. We got more than a few, “I don’t understand what this has to do with CX.” Or, “what is this crap?” A good reminder that: you can’t please all the people all the time, so make sure your executives and teams are briefed and prepared.
The theme of the second half of the year? TOO MUCH CONTENT. Oof, I literally cringe when I look back at these event agendas, especially Q3’s Agility in Action. Not because we didn’t produce exceptional content but because we produced too much content that neither our regional partners nor our audience knew what to do with.
Somewhere along the way, a bright idea was born. Let’s modularize all our content. BRILLIANT. Let’s create multiple specialized content tracks. Less brilliant. Let’s build a masterclass library of lots and lots of on-demand content ranging from thought leadership to product demos, and everyone that went to the event or didn’t will want to watch and share all this content. Uh, no. Brilliant in theory (maybe). Way less brilliant in reality.
I should also mention that the aforementioned content was all pre-recorded so that we could have it localized for major languages and have it loaded into the content hub for immediate viewing after the event. Our poor small team spent months wrangling speaker schedules and video edits.
By Q4’s CX Maturity event, we knew to scale back on the on-demand content. (Audiences often say that they want more on-demand, but they really want some options, not all the options.) But, we lost the battle with a stakeholder who insisted on a complex system of follow-on webinars targeting personas and segments. Once again, the “extra” content saw limited engagement.
I think the timing of the event with the webinar series could have been improved. Having multiple events led to lower registration numbers for each individually. There were too many competing things for the audience to consume.” - Zendesk Marketer
What I’d do differently:
Back when 2022 was new, we recognized a few key things: big campaign events every quarter with all new content is too much, too much research is too much, and getting back together IRL en masse is too much.
How did we know? We asked. Sure, we pulled a lot of intel from our retro decks and post-event surveys, but we knew there was more to the story. So, in December 2021 and January 2022, we surveyed our event audiences. And what they told us helped shape our year ahead and gave us what we needed to mix it up and keep them engaged. (At least for another year.) But that is a tale for another day.