Webinars Go Mainstream — and APIs Go with Them

Today we have a guest post from Melanie Turek. Melanie is Vice President, Research at Frost & Sullivan. She is a renowned expert in unified communications, collaboration, social networking and content-management technologies in the enterprise. For 20 years, Ms. Turek has worked closely with hundreds of vendors and senior IT executives across a range of industries to track and capture the changes and growth in the fast-moving unified communications market. Ms. Turek graduated cum laude with BA in Anthropology from Harvard College. She currently works from her home office in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Frost & Sullivan research clearly shows that webinars are going mainstream. In a recent survey of more than 200 C-level executives, 41 percent reported that web conferencing is used by their organization – higher than any other unified communications and collaboration tool except instant messaging. And more than three-quarters of those respondents report using the technology on a daily or weekly basis.

What that means for marketers is that webinars are a viable alternative to in-person events, since a large percentage of a company’s prospects and customers are familiar with the technology and happy to use it. That’s especially valuable today: In comparison to 2011, marketing budgets are expected to increase moderately, but staffing levels will remain the same, according to a just-released Frost & Sullivan survey of 233 marketing professionals. Needless to say, that puts pressure on marketing teams to do more with less in an increasingly competitive global environment.

Webinars have long been a cost-effective way to get a message out to a large audience; generate and qualify leads; add value and thought leadership to the industry overall; and identify areas of interest or concern within your customer base. But now, thanks to three key trends in the web conferencing industry, webinars are becoming an even more effective part of a broader marketing campaign:

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) make integration with marketing and sales automation easy.

For webinars to deliver the most value to marketers, they must integrate into the company’s overall marketing and sales best practices and processes, which are often determined and monitored by marketing automation software or CRM applications. With open APIs, companies can easily make webinar registration, attendance and participation part of the process – allowing marketers to capture pertinent information about registrants and attendees (including answers to registration questions, as well as live polls and Q&A sessions during the event itself) and automatically incorporate that data into the marketing automation or CRM program for effective follow up and due diligence. What all this means for marketers? No more manual uploads of webinar data.

Webinars are easily customized for niche audiences.

Respondents to our recent marketing survey consider “developing segment-specific campaigns” their strongest demand-generation capability, followed by “refining the value proposition” and “reevaluating and identifying target segments.” Webinars can help in all three of these areas, since they make it very easy to target key audiences with specific topics based on job roles, industry challenges, company size or location and so on. With the freedom to customize content without regard to cost or location, marketers can develop campaigns based on key segments and improve their overall perception in the market by offering value-added content like best practices for specific user groups.

Webinars let marketers target customers’ needs and deepen relationships.

By leveraging new capabilities like video content and social-media integration, marketers can ensure their events meet prospects’ and customers’ expectations. That helps boost attendance numbers and improve content effectiveness, but it also deepens relationships and ensures they last well beyond the life of the live event. Social media and customizable registration pages also let webinar producers collect valuable information from their registrant about their pain points needs in order to address or answer those issues in the live event.