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Break Free B2B Marketing: “Webinerd” Mark Bornstein of ON24 on Dialing In Digital Experiences

Like many other digital experiences, the webinar has traditionally been viewed as a means to an end: Create something that seems valuable to your audience, and use it as a vehicle to acquire contact information for lead generation purposes.

But marketers like Mark Bornstein take a different angle: What if we view the webinar itself as an end — an extremely valuable marketing tool on its own? What if we’re just muddying it up with all these mandatory form-fills and sales-y follow-ups?

“You need the name once, you need the demographic information one time,” he observes. “But why do we keep putting forms together again and again? What matters is the experience.”

“Why do we keep putting lead gen forms together again and again? What matters is the experience.” — @4markb on #BreakFreeB2B #DigitalExperiences Click To Tweet

Mark elaborates: “It’s the experience you give, it’s the way you’re able to connect and interact with audiences that matters. Because that’s where you’re going to get the real data. That’s where you’re going to learn a lot about them.”

Although he is a proud marketer, and VP of Marketing for the webinar solution provider ON24, this self-professed “webinerd,” Mark urges his fellow practitioners to develop a new mindset by moving away from traditional terminologies: “It’s not about marketing anymore. It’s about connecting people to your brand. It’s relationship-building.”

The days of dry, facelessly narrated slide presentations are gone, he argues. We need to dial in and focus on human connections through authenticity, empathy, and compassion. We need to learn more about our customers than how we can contact them with follow-up promotional materials.

At a time where physical events and meetings are off the table, achieving these connections in the digital space via experiential marketing has never been more vital. In his 25-minute conversation with TopRank Marketing’s Susan Misukanis at B2B Marketing Exchange in February, Mark shared a wealth of insights, which have only become more useful and valuable in the weeks and months since.

Break Free B2B Interview with Mark Bornstein

If you’re interested in checking out a particular portion of the discussion, you can find a quick general outline below, as well as a few excerpts that stood out to us.

  • 0:45 – Mark’s experience making webinars, and his view on lead gen
  • 2:00 – Have we reached the end of MQLs?
  • 3:15 – What is an experience and what makes a good one?
  • 5:00 – Examples of companies that are getting digital experiences right
  • 7:45 – What role will technology play in experiences going forward?
  • 10:00 – Are brands becoming more open to moving outside the box?
  • 12:00 – Finding and positioning your brand’s narrative
  • 13:30 – Getting back to opt-in marketing fundamentals
  • 16:00 – Where Mark sees the industry going in 2-3 years
  • 17:30 – Who is poised to win in the short-term (SMB/verticals vs. enterprise)?
  • 20:15 – The value of compassion, empathy and connection
  • 24:15 – How can B2B marketers break free?

Susan: So you talk about an experience … Can you take it a level deeper? What is an experience?

Mark: Well, let me tell you about my world. So in the world of webinars, if you think about what a webinar was even a few years ago — and maybe in some cases still now — the webinar was a talking PowerPoint. Just a headless voice, you didn’t see anybody. You just heard somebody going through the slides in a droll way and it wasn’t branded and it was just boring. And maybe a lot of webinars still are kind of boring. But the fact of the matter is, what we see companies doing now is they’re creating serialized programming. They’re creating these really cool almost TV-like viewing experiences, where it’s a show and there’s hosts and the formats are changing. There’s panel discussions and coffee talks and chat shows and new style formats. So companies that are trying to own thought leadership, to establish a voice, to be the company that people go to — they’re not going to do that through giving a webinar on, you know, here’s our content. Here’s our slide presentation. They’re doing it by building experiences. And I think a really great experience has a few of the following qualities: It should be completely branded. It should be interactive. I always say give yourself the “what can they do?” test. When somebody is experiencing your content, is this all they can do? They’re reading your ebook or watching your video … is that it? An experience is a place where people can ask questions, or they can chat, or they can tweet, or they can download content. They can click on CTAs. You want to create an environment where people are doing stuff, and it’s a multi-touch content experience. And so it’s a different thing today.

“Companies that are trying to own thought leadership, they’re not going to do that through giving a webinar that’s a slide presentation. They're doing it by building experiences.” — @4markb on #BreakFreeB2B #DigitalExperiences Click To Tweet

Susan: We keep hearing that marketing is moving toward AI and tech — in a few years, it’ll all be bot-driven. How do you reconcile that with your vision?

Mark: One of the things that drives me crazy about marketing in general is that we as marketers are very interesting creatures, in the sense that we’re always willing to try new things. But we also get into habits we can’t break. And a lot of the technologies — whether it’s automation, or artificial intelligence, predictive analytics — all these amazing technologies that have been created to scale our marketing in ways like never before? Well, we are acting like this technology that was created to get people to our marketing has now become our marketing. So you need to look at, you know, artificial intelligence tells us out of this vast infinite number of people who we should be targeting, and maybe some of the topics we should be talking about. We can get a lot of great information. Automation allows us to scale that up in a lot of different ways. But ultimately, there is a moment of engagement. There still is that human engagement. And so all of that technology can inform, but ultimately, what really has to drive that engagement is the conversation that you have with them and the experience that you can deliver.”

“We are acting like this technology that was created to get people to our marketing has now become our marketing.” — @4markb on #BreakFreeB2B #DigitalExperiences Click To Tweet

Susan: You tweet a lot about marketers not asking for proper permission to opt in. So maybe our prospective buyer has a need, but getting that opt-in and going about it the right way, that’s a big hurdle.

Mark: It is. I mean, if you’re a marketer in the U.K., you know what this pain feels like. I think especially in the U.S., but really around the globe, marketers are not ready. I don’t think they’re taking this seriously enough. You know, privacy legislation is in the U.S. now, but it’s mostly based on privacy protections. It’s not based on opt-ins and that sort of thing yet. It is coming. It is going to happen very soon, people. And so we need to prepare for this, which means we need to build our marketing around this idea of people opting in. So how do we do this? We have to be able to produce streams of programming that people will want to subscribe to, right? It’s no longer about nurtures, it’s no longer about ‘can you come to my event’ or ‘will you come to this one-off virtual experience or webinar,’ whatever it is. We need to find ways to get people who want our marketing to opt into our marketing. At a time when all of this digital noise is scaring them away. We need to bring them back in through more authentic, more human, more experiential marketing. We’re going to get them there.”

Stay tuned to the TopRank Marketing Blog and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more Break Free B2B interviews. Here are a few interviews to whet your appetite:

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