How do you network when nobody’s running physical events?

Distributech, Intersolar, WindEurope… before coronavirus, marketing in the energy industry was largely an events merry-go-round. Pressing the flesh on the conference floor (or at more select get-togethers such as Financing Wind) was the order of the day. COVID-19 put an abrupt stop to all that, of course.

Even today, as vaccination rates climb and restrictions come down in many global markets, there is reticence in going back to the hurly-burly of in-person events. That’s understandable.

Event organisers know there is unique value in getting people together in person—but they are wary of investing time and effort in physical conferences while there is still a risk that a new coronavirus variant could trigger further restrictions.  

Attendees, meanwhile, have found they can get most of the conference action they need online, without having to spend a minute or a penny on travel and accommodation. This new digital events landscape leaves energy sector marketers with a problem, though.

Despite all the hassle involved, the reason physical events were popular before COVID-19 was because they worked. The chance visits to a booth or stand led to leads. The coffee break conversations translated into deals. These kinds of interactions don’t happen as easily over Zoom or Swapcard.

So, what can you do instead? One strategy is to use the flexibility and cost effectiveness of online meetings to create opportunities that would be hard to secure otherwise.

The certification giant UL, for example, has worked with Tamarindo Group to deliver a series of virtual, invite-only ‘wind investment boardroom’ events with senior renewable energy sector executives.

The events, featuring a maximum of a dozen attendees, feature a moderated discussion, held under the Chatham House Rule, in which participants can exchange views with their peers. But the real value for UL is that it allows the company to connect and correspond with hard-to-reach, senior-level contacts.  

Content marketing

In addition, for many energy sector marketers the coronavirus pandemic has underscored to value of content marketing in delivering leads. People may be staying at home, but that does not mean they have stopped seeking the kind of information that they used to get at conferences.

This information can now be offered digitally in the form of webinars, white papers, blog posts and so on. Content marketing is easy to do in theory: offer something of value to a prospect, deliver it in exchange for an email address, and use that to initiate a conversation online.

In practice, content marketing can fail to meet objectives for several reasons. Something you might feel is of value could in fact hold little appeal to your audience. Poor campaign design might mean your assets aren’t delivered properly or your prospects’ emails aren’t collected. Or you simply might run out of useful content.

But perhaps the biggest challenge with content marketing in 2021 is that everyone is doing it. A typical energy professional might get several webinar invites and blog article alerts a day. You could now spend all your working hours simply consuming commercial thought leadership.  

To overcome this, many marketers see increasing value in partnering with established industry media brands such as A Word About Wind. These brands have earned the trust of their readers and so can serve as a conduit for reaching new prospects. Media brands also have good idea of what kinds of content appeal most.

Media platforms also continue to offer opportunities for advertising, sponsorship and other brand awareness activities—but keep an eye out for new options in a post-COVID context. Podcasts, for example, have soared in popularity in recent years and offer great standout potential for sponsors.

Going social

Finally, an absence of physical connection opportunities increases the importance of online conversations through social media.

LinkedIn and Twitter were already key channels for the exchange of industry information before the pandemic, and in the last 18 months it has become more important than ever to dust off your social media profiles and get posting.

This is especially true of senior execs and brands looking to increase their credibility in the marketplace. An issue for executives particularly is that building a social media profile takes time and effort.

To that end, it can help to outsource day-to-day account management to a dedicated expert who can take care of content curation and message development, creating regular social activity that is tailored to each social media channel and targeted at given energy sector niches and audiences.

What should be clear by now is that there are still plenty of opportunities for customer engagement in a world with fewer physical conferences. However, tapping into them still takes time and effort—potentially as much as you would have spent getting ready for and attending conferences previously.

It also requires a good knowledge of the rapidly changing digital communications landscape. If that is something you are not so hot on, it might pay to get expert help—until physical events come back in full force, that is.

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