Podcast: What's The Future of B2B Events

Shahin Hoda 18  mins read Updated: March 11th, 2024

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What You Need to Know About the Future of B2B Events

Episode’s topic: What You Need to Know About the Future of B2B Events

In this episode, host Shahin Hoda chats with Iris Luo, APAC Marketing Lead at Zoom, about the current state of virtual B2B events and what marketers can do to better leverage tools such as Zoom while taking their traditional physical events online.

Iris advises marketers to decide on the experience they want to create for their audience before going into the features of the solution being used for the delivery. She also talks about hybrid events and the need to bridge the online and onsite community gap from an experience standpoint.

This episode’s guest:

What You Need to Know About the Future of B2B Events w/ Iris Luo

Iris Luo, APAC Marketing Lead at Zoom

Iris is an experienced IT marketer who is passionate about transforming Australian businesses using emerging technologies and innovative ideas. She is the Marketing lead for Zoom and looks after its APAC region. 

Iris has been associated with multiple global brands such as Salesforce, DocuSign and VMware in various product marketing, campaign management, and marketing specialist roles throughout her professional career. 

Connect with her on LinkedIn

Conversation segments on this episode:

  • [01:36] Meetings or Webinar? – The question every marketer is asking.
  • [03:13] Solution led versus the experience-led approach.
  • [03:37] What is an Experience led strategy?
  • [05:34] The problem with a solution led approach.
  • [08:58] Thinking about hybrid events – the Gap between the onsite and online community.
  • [13:05] Marketers should design their events so that online joiners don't feel that they are "tier-2 citizens".
  • [13:53] Zoom's Smart Gallery feature.
  • [16:07] Why increasing the production level of webinars might not be sufficient?
  • [21:42] Zoom's marketplace platform enabling people to organise events and monetise them.
  • [24:50] Advice for B2B marketers - Always start with your audience's needs.
  • [27:30] Exciting thing about B2B Marketing.

Resources mentioned on this episode:

About the Growth Colony Podcast

On this podcast, you'll be hearing from B2B founders, CMOs, marketing & sales leaders about their successes, failures, what is working for them today in the B2B marketing world and everything in between.

Hosted by Shahin Hoda & Alexander Hipwell, from xGrowth

Get in touch!

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Episode Full Transcript:

[00:16] Shahin Hoda Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode. I'm Shahin Hoda with xGrowth. And today, I'm talking to Iris Lou, APAC Marketing Lead at Zoom about how events and webinars are going to change in 2021. And how should marketers adapt? Now, this is going to be a pretty interesting conversation not only because Iris is from Zoom, a company that's gone from barely known to a pretty much a household brand, but also because of Iris' experience. I mean, she has 10 years of experience in the B2B it marketing space. And in addition to Zoom, she's worked at companies like Salesforce, VMware, DocuSign, you name it, she's worked at some of the giants in the B2B tech space. On that note, let's dive in. Iris. Thanks for joining us.

[01:00] Iris Lou Thank you for having me.

[01:01] Shahin Hoda Absolute pleasure. Absolute pleasure. Iris, let's dive right into the topic. And the first question I want to ask you is, when it comes to virtual events, right? What are you seeing right now, in the marketing space? What do you see marketers doing right now?

[01:17] Iris Lou You know, at Zoom, we actually help a lot of event organisers basically turn their events into the virtual tune in, basically, throughout the course of 2020. And what I'm seeing is that a majority of the conversations that I'm having with marketers out there, typically they start with a question like, should I use the meetings' format or the webinars' format? That's two solutions supposedly included in a Zoom platform. And the difference is meeting is more I think a lot of people have used it because of the COVID situation in 2020 is the two-way conversation. Or you can have you know, as many as up to 1000 participants into a meeting. 

[01:21] Iris Lou Everyone can show their face, they can talk, they can mute or unmute themselves, they can show the camera feed or not show the camera feed, or to their own choice. It's a multi-way conversation versus webinars, it's a slightly different format. It's more, you know, you've got your panellists, you get hosts, and you've got your participants. Participants can only hear the contents from the panellist, they can't really change the audio settings or video settings, they're mainly sitting there at the receiving part of the content from a virtual event format, I say. 

[02:35] Iris Lou Normally the conversation we have with marketers right now, however, regardless, you know, if they go with the meeting format virtual events, which enables multi-direction conversations, or the webinar format of the event, which is more a one-way communication. And you can definitely, you know, still get questions from the Q&A sections, etc, but so far, but more towards the one-way broadcasting format of events. Regardless of which format they go for what I am seeing marketers are doing right now for their virtual events, if they are going after a solution led planning format. So they think about which solutions I want to go after. And then I'm going to plan my events or my contents accordingly, in terms of what the capability that the solution can provide. Versus I think, versus a more experience-led thinking.

[03:38] Shahin Hoda What do you mean by experienced led? Let's explore that a little bit.

[03:41] Iris Lou Sure. So I think the ideal way of thinking about a virtual event is, you know, now I have this event that I will be delivered in a digital way through the internet. And I believe the first thing a marketer should be thinking is, what sort of experience I am creating for my audience. What're the unique values or, you know, propositions I'm bringing into my events. And from there, once you have that, kind of like, for the experience you would like to create for your audience, and then you can start getting into the, you know, search of what the solution can deliver, or what the solution combinations can deliver, in order to achieve that result. But what I'm seeing right now, in the market, majority of marketers are thinking is, what solutions I can do, and then I'll create the experience based on the solution I choose instead of the other way around.

[04:40] Shahin Hoda Yeah, I feel like there is a little bit of, you know, it's hard to think outside of the box. I feel right now, right? You'd like, we have this, this concept, this notion of what a webinar is or what an online experience is, and it's really hard to go outside of that and be like, you know, is there anything else? Now I've had this problem as well. And we've, you know, we've talked about it at our own agency in terms of like, how can we go beyond that? So tell me one of the things that, actually, let me ask this, what do you think is wrong with that? Like, what are the challenges that you're seeing right now? Because of marketers looking at, hey, what's the solution? And therefore, what can fit in that frame? What are some of the issues with that?

[05:30] Iris Lou I think if you go if you're when you design your event, and then you start with the solution decision, and then immediately you limit yourself in terms of the experience you can create. I'm going with this particular virtual platform, and this is what I can deliver, and then you design a whole event based on the capability solution can provide. While if you do the experience led process, then you know, exactly, then you will have a clear idea in terms of you know, from the contents I'm planning to deliver, from the speakers I'm planning to invite, and from the experience I want to deliver, then you have your core values sitting, you know, in the middle of the planet, and that's the backbone of the event, right?

[06:14] Iris Lou And then you can explore a solution, or there are integrations, you know, there's a lot of companies that actually can deliver with maybe a unique combination of different solutions to help you deliver that specific thing. And then that's what I believe, I think off the record, we'll just talk a little bit about after 2020, everyone's a little bit webinar out? You know, it's not, I wouldn't call that the most engaging experience, I think the majority of people are craving for the difference. And then how do you create a unique differentiator for your own event? How do you stand out for all the webinars happening out there. 

[06:50] Iris Lou And if everyone's thinking about it, you know, there's five different webinar solutions out there, and I'm going to plan my events based on their capability. And very easily you get into a me-like, they-like sort of experience. I think that's one thing. And then I think, the other thing I'm seeing is when you say, you know, sitting, you know, limited self in the box in the way that what I'm seeing in you know, with my fellow marketers, is, you know, a lot of us are very, very experienced, including myself very, experienced event planners, and we have our ways of organising my 5000 people in-person events in, I'm based in Sydney. So ICC: the convention centre. 

[07:41] Iris Lou And what I'm seeing right now, a lot of times, they're often, these experienced, super-experienced marketers, and event organisers, they are trying to replicate whatever they've been working in the past in the physical context into a virtual path. You know, I used to be an expert and I'm gonna try to move the expert into a virtual format. And then this is my overall, you know, every key component I used to deliver in my physical event, I'm going to try my best to convert it into a virtual format. While it's, you know, all in goodwill I think we need to accept that. We need to accept that, you know, the virtual experience is going to be different compared to a physical event experience, and rethink the whole, you know, accept what the difference is going to be, and then redesign a whole virtual experience. I think that's the key to success.

[08:36] Shahin Hoda Now, one of the things that you talk about, which is a nice segway from what is going wrong to welcome people could potentially think about and adapt their events is our hybrid events, right? What are your thoughts on hybrid events being the next thing?

[08:56] Iris Lou Well, I think a hybrid event is an inevitable trend in this market. Like we need to start thinking about a hybrid now. We need to start, I think people, I think hybrid events are going to unlock so many potentials for the event space, you know, all the way from inviting oversea or renowned international speakers into your event, and that can be done in a more cost-effective way. And also getting your assets into delegates event participants from different parts of the world. 

[09:29] Iris Lou It's really the hybrid format really going to extend the reach of that event in a physical event can do but what, when we're talking about hybrid events, right now, when I talk to my marketing peers right now, I think, very often that I have seen, they think about hybrid events as seeing a way that I will have a physical presence at the venue somewhere with a group of people that will be attending these events physically. And then I will have a virtual component to it, then you know, the content will be broadcasted through certain channels into, you know.

[10:14] Iris Lou All these different vehicles and reach people whoever is going to watch those parts, watch those contents online. What I'm seeing is a gap, then if we follow that model, then you have a community who is physically on-site. And then you've got a community who is consuming those contents online. My question will be in order to get to a true definition of hybrid events? Should we have two communities? One on side, one online? Or should we have one community that you know, everyone can talk to each other regardless where they are? And what's the true definition of a hybrid event?

[10:53] Shahin Hoda So how would you approach it? I'm super curious as well. So what would be and I've heard this definition that you talked about, what would be your approach? Or, you know, or maybe, have you seen anyone doing it really well? Or yeah, what are you, what kind of direction would you give someone who's like, yeah, you know, I don't want to do that kind of hybrid event but I want to do something that gives a true experience, or the audience really experienced something unique? How should marketers think about it and approach it?

[11:27] Iris Lou So I think there are a couple of things that marketers should be thinking about when it comes to planning a hybrid event. And then, to answer your question, I think it's a little bit too early, to really give a good example of a hybrid event that, given that, you know, we are in Australia, and we are ahead of everybody still, and events are just coming back, right? So it's still early days. I will be curious to see marketers and event planners that are doing hybrid events in 2021. I think there'll be some that, definitely going to be some innovative things that happen there that, you know, I'm looking forward to seeing it. 

[12:03] Iris Lou But I think the first thing goes back to my point, the first, the most important thing is to form that one community, regardless if they are joining the event, physically, or they're joining the event virtually. And then so basically, if there's a gap, the two groups are not talking to each other, how do you bridge that? Technology is definitely the answer to it. But in terms of how you do actually think about facilitated conversations between the two groups or even your renowned international speakers? How do you actually get them to talk to maybe beyond that one way delivery of a presentation or a keynote? 

[12:39] Iris Lou How do you facilitate a two-way conversation between international speakers versus you know, with an onsite audience with the online audience? How do you make your onsite audience talk to your online audience? How do you make that one community instead of two separate ones? I think that's the first thing that every event organiser should be thinking about? And then the other thing is, how do you design the experience? So your online delegates don't feel like they're the tier-two citizen, right? You know, I'm only getting the next best experience. Interestingly, not so much related to the event space. 

[13:20] Iris Lou But at Zoom, we are thinking exactly the same thing for all the remote workers. So what we're trying to do, because we believe in the more business working context, we believe that hybrid work model is going to be the future. And what we are doing right now to improve our platform and our technology is we don't want our remote worker to feel like they're tier two, you know. If you'.dialing in into meetings from home, well, you have, for example, you know, this is actually one of our recent features we just announced called smart gallery. 

[13:27] Iris Lou So basically what it is, is, if I'm working from home, for example, and I'm dialling in to join in meetings with a group of my colleagues that's sitting in the, in the meeting room, in the office, traditionally that what I would see on my camera is going to be you know, a feed into the, in the meeting room, with maybe five of my colleagues sitting there. And what smart gallery does right now is they put in additional cameras there and then capture individuals' face, 

[14:26] Shahin Hoda Right 

[14:27] Iris Lou Within the same meeting room, and then they push it basically, this individual video feeds into everybody's face, and then presents it to me in a gallery. So the whole purpose of doing that is, so I don't feel like I'm a second-tier citizen. Just because I'm working from home that I have the urge to know, next time when I have a meeting like this, I should be sitting in the same room with everyone else. And I think I will go back to the event planning. It's the same mindset everyone should have. 

[14:58] Iris Lou So if I'm joining virtually, that I don't feel like I'm only getting the second-best experience, of course, that you need to, I think one should also accept that the onsite and online experience is going to be different. But how do you create that unique value or the unique experience, I guess what I'm trying to say is maybe your virtual event experience going to be definitely going to be different from your physical event experience, but they will have its own benefits, its own uniqueness, that I will still, you know, I will recognise that and I will accept it, I don't feel like I'm not, you know, if the physical you know, if the people who is attending the event physically is getting 95%.

[15:42] Shahin Hoda And then yeah, the other ones are getting five.

[15:44] Iris Lou I'm getting, yeah, and I'm getting, you know, 20. So I think that's what we need to think about. And then the other thing is, I think, you know, especially when it comes towards the end of 2020, a lot of event experience, event organisers are kind of getting more sophisticated into the virtual event, but we've seen a step putting a lot more focus on the production level of their virtual events. So instead of you know, presenting getting a percent from their living rooms, or the dining tables, or their studies, they're hiring professional, you know, AV crew, bringing speakers into a studio doing professional filming. But when it comes to delivery, although the production level's really high, the presentation on delivery or the live stream is going to look extremely sophisticated, there's still one-way communication. 

[16:42] Iris Lou You know, we do this great quality content, and then you basically broadcast it out by a virtual format, and then if you do it that way, then then you immediately put yourself not only in competition with other virtual events but also with TV shows, podcast, because you know, what, unique from an events perspective is the conversation, it's a connection, it's two-way communication, in my opinion. And if you're only focusing on the quality of the production, and they're not thinking about how to facilitate that true value that event would typically bring, and then then you actually get yourself into a greater competitive landscape with other likewise, you know, one-way broadcasting content.

[17:30] Shahin Hoda Yeah, right. Right. I mean, look, a lot of the points you, the solid points, I mean, you know, going back to the analogy that you gave about somebody attending a meeting, five people in one room, and then there's John, who, you know, Johnny's logging in from home or Johnny's logging from a different location. And it's like, at the beginning, it's like, alright, let somebody sorts out the laptop, and here we go. Johnny's here, let's put him there. And in the end, when the meeting is over. everybody's like, oh, Johnny, I forgot you were even there. You have any questions, right? 

[18:08] Shahin Hoda And, and you're right, I totally can see the same thing happening in virtual, where you have that group that is attending, and then the online people are afterthoughts. They're really not, nobody's really like, oh, yeah, they're also their way for our online audiences. That's such an interesting point of marketers, thinking about how that could change. And then the second point, your interaction. That's a big one. That's a big one. 

[18:39] Shahin Hoda And I think, you know, I don't know how much time you've had or you had a chance to explore the clubhouse. The clubhouse app, where there's a lot of interaction, I mean, they're, they're blowing up in the US, and, and there was a lot of noise about it. It's a voice-only social media, where, you know, B2B companies are jumping on and it's, there's a lot of interaction, there tons of interaction. Everybody can raise their hand and you can jump in and have a conversation so that that level of taking into consideration the level of interaction, I feel like it's quite an important point.

[19:18] Iris Lou And I think, I think the interaction, you know, and the connections, it's one of the, you know, it's probably a part of the big reasons that people go to events. And if virtual events are losing that component, and you know, me watching webinars as is no, it has no difference between, you know, listening to a podcast, if I'm not having the interactions. That's, I guess that's the point I was trying to make here. 

[19:44] Shahin Hoda Yeah. Love it.

[19:45] Iris Lou And if we're losing unique competitiveness, of actually having events than your competitors, or in a sudden just, you know, tripled.

[19:54] Shahin Hoda Very true. Very true. It's a tough challenge. It's a tough challenge. So we talked about a lot of different points. The last thing I also wanted to find out is, you know, what are some of the exciting initiatives you talked about at Zoom that the, forget the name right now that the gallery option for, you know, happening during meetings? What are some of the cool initiatives that are coming up at Zoom that you can talk about?

[20:18] Iris Lou Well, actually, I'm really excited to let you know that, you know, last year towards the end of last year, at our annual flagship event Zoomtopia, we announced our OnZoom platform, that's basically a marketplace for an immersive experience. So I think throughout the 2020 timeframe June lockdown, what we have seen is a lot of people that start to utilise them to continue their business to stay connected. And at the back of it, I think what happened is they realised that utilising technology like Zoom, what they can do is they can really extend their reach. 

[20:58] Iris Lou You know, say, if I am a yoga instructor, and I used to run a class for 20-30-40 people in my studio, but if I move it online, that all the sudden, my audience reach can go way beyond my suburbs, I can go to different countries, different cities, everyone can join in a low-cost way. And they at the conference still can be delivered easily and effectively. So we see that as an opportunity to really help our community to connect and survive and thrive. 

[21:33] Iris Lou And that's why we are expanding this, basically announced this on Zoom solution is basically a comprehensive solution for zoom uses to create, to host events like a fitness class, concert, stand up communities, shows, music lessons, cooking lessons, on the Zoom meetings platform. So you can basically if you're a Zoom user, what you can do is you can schedule and host events. And then you can listen, sell tickets, and then we have on zoom as a marketplace platform to really help you host your events and then extend your reach into whoever's interested in certain topics that you're hosting.

[22:13] Shahin Hoda I love it. I love it. I mean, we're a big fan of Zoom, I think we've been a zoom customer since either mid-2017 or 2018. And I remember back then I would say to our accountant, let's jump on zoom. She's like, I'll drive to your office. I'm like, no, don't drive to our office, just jump on Zoom. She said what is Zoom? And then, you know, a month into the pandemic, I'm like, hey, can we, now we're in lockdown, can we, how do you want to do it? She's like, yeah, we'll do it over Zoom. I'm like, oh, my goodness, you're like sending me invites now. 

[22:51] Shahin Hoda So it is fascinating how Zoom completely took over in this period. And also, you're right. I mean, the adoption, I mean, even for us, we were half remote, before COVID went full remote after COVID. And we have customers as an agency, you know, it's not too hard. We're not, we don't, we're not really bound to a physical location but we had constantly had a lot of customers in Melbourne. Now our majority of our customers are across Australia in the US. And yes, we had that before but also from the other side, the acceptance has gone up. So it's a fascinating change in the market. 

[23:30] Shahin Hoda And, and the thing it's for, even though it comes with its hardships, it's for the best. Now, before we wrap up, I have a couple of rapid questions I want to ask Iris. And you know, we can keep these short. If you want to give it a long answer, that's fine as well. But Shall we smash through them? Let's do it. Alright, first rapid question. What is one resource? It could be a book, blog podcast or a talk, whatever it is that fundamentally changes the way you work or live, what comes to mind?

[24:02] Iris Lou First thing comes to mind, it's probably more on the personal life note is this TED talk by Brené Brown, called The Power of Vulnerability. 

[24:12] Shahin Hoda Brené Brown. Yes, she's a gold mine. A lot of insights. And she's killing it with her book.

[24:18] Iris Lou Indeed, indeed. Also listened to her podcast.

[24:22] Shahin Hoda Yeah, Dare to Lead, she's gold. 

[24:26] Shahin Hoda Yeah. Okay. Question number two, yeah what was that? Did you want to say something else?

[24:30] Iris Lou Yeah. So basically, you know, that's basically a video clip or presentation, a TED talk, you know, that fundamentally changed the way I live.

[24:39] Shahin Hoda I love it. I love it. 

[24:40] Iris Lou And how I see the world so if you haven't watched it, go and watch it. 

[24:44] Shahin Hoda We'll add the link in the show notes. Okay, number two, if you could give only one advice to B2B marketers, what would it be? 

[24:52] Iris Lou Always starts with your audience needs.

[24:55] Shahin Hoda I love it. Number three, what are the influencers that you follow in the marketing space.

[25:01] Iris Lou I follow quite a lot, you know, as a marketer, I think we're naturally, always in active service, but I would say, if there's one person that I'm going to name here, it's going to be Rachel Botsman.

[25:13] Shahin Hoda Rachel, who's that? What is the last thing? 

[25:15] Iris Lou Botsman B-O-T-S-M-A-N. So she's the author of two books I read. The first one is What's Mine Is Yours. So she talks about, you know, the share-economy, or what they call the collaborative consumption. Basically, you know, that the fundamental principle behind a business like Uber, or Airbnb. When you have a car that you drive every day to work with only you sitting there, while everybody has a car with three empty seats, that is not being utilised.

[25:49] Iris Lou And then she believes the future is really a consolidated resource into you know, in their best-optimised consumption. That's what she was talking about in that book. And then, later on, I think, around 2018, she'll release another book, called Who Can You Trust? And that's, it's interesting, I think, a topic that, you know, we live in a time, I think trust is so hard to build. You know, we don't trust a lot of people. I wouldn't say, you know, to on behalf of me, but I think we live in a society that a lot of people don't trust the authority, don't trust the government, don't trust the newspaper, the media, there's a lot of businesses.

[26:31] Shahin Hoda Businesses that they interact with.

[26:32] Iris Lou Yeah, exactly. But in the meanwhile, you can easily step into a total stranger's car, and let someone you know, let someone drive you to a destination. That's a level of trust. So in that book, she talks about the relationship between technology and trust. And how do we form it and I think that's, you know, as a B2B marketer, that's extremely important to understand how technology can potentially facilitate trust and how people actually build trust and what the technology roles play there. So interesting books to read.

[27:06] Shahin Hoda I love that I'm gonna check her book out. I mean, you know, it's not, it doesn't happen, but I haven't heard of her and I'm definitely gonna do some research on her. But uh, you know, that's a topic I'm very fascinated about trust economy, trust as a currency. You know, it's definitely a very topical issue. And I'll definitely check that out. Thanks for that recommendation. I got one last question. And that is what's something that excites you about B2B today.

[27:33] Iris Lou I think, as you know, working in the B2B industry, as well as working in as a marketer, I think, never ever that we live in a time that we have reached data to help us, to guide us, in terms of making decisions, and we have the technology to utilising those data's to have a personalised conversation at scale. And the possibility of that is huge. You know, I think we're only scratching the surface right now, in terms of building those personalised journeys for individuals or businesses based on their unique needs. There's a lot more we can do there. And I am really looking forward to seeing you know, looking forward to a time that we will review the full potential.

[28:23] Shahin Hoda That's so true. That's so true. I mean, we're, we do a lot of ABM campaigns and especially when you come down, you know, when you come to personalised campaigns, it's that the intent data that's in the market now, and all the things that come with personalisation, it's a fascinating space. I love that you said that. Well, Iris, thank you very much. That has been an awesome conversation. If anybody wants to reach out or know more, what's the best way for them to do so?

[28:52] Iris Lou I would definitely leave my LinkedIn profile link here.

[28:55] Shahin Hoda Hit you on LinkedIn.

[28:57] Iris Lou Hit me on LinkedIn.

[28:58] Shahin Hoda Sounds good. Iris, thanks a lot.

[29:07] Iris Lou Thank you.

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