Webinars vs. Virtual Experiences: Which is the Right Format for Your Next Online Event?

by Debra Andrews | June 16, 2022

Way back before Zoom fatigue was a phenomenon, we all flocked to video conferencing tools like fish to water. When WebEx came on the scene in the mid-1990s, I was excited about all the marketing opportunities I could envision for a new platform that enabled participants to interact with a presenter online through a web-based seminar (aka webinar).

Now, many people view webinars as ho-hum. Maybe it’s because we’re spending a lot of time conducting meetings online in lieu of interacting in person or via the good old phone.

Webinars still serve a purpose when it comes to facilitating online interaction with a group, but they’re not the only game in town. Robust technology platforms now support virtual events that create entirely immersive, multi-dimensional experiences.

So how do you know which format is best for your next online event? First, you need to understand their important distinctions.

The Webinar: Structured, Brief, One-Dimensional

At its core, a webinar mimics an in-person PowerPoint presentation.

  • It’s led by one person or a panel, sharing information with a small group, about a relatively narrow subject.
  • It tends to run for a short duration, usually 60 or 90 minutes.
  • You can ask the webinar presenter questions—though you’re often limited to a designated Q&A period—but you can’t interact much with your fellow attendees.
  • Instead of everyone convening in a physical room, they come together online via platforms like Zoom or Teams.

A webinar is less about bringing people together to engage with each other and more about imparting new information in a forum that’s mostly one-way. There’s no customization or personalization; everyone has the same experience at the same time. And the data analytics available are relatively limited. You can get an attendee roster, view a history of how long attendees remained logged in, and download the chat thread, but that’s about it.

The Virtual Experience: Flexible, Longer, Multi-Dimensional

A virtual experience is much broader in nature than a webinar in just about every respect, to replicate an in-person experience more closely.

  • It’s a multi-dimensional event that focuses less on imparting knowledge and information about a single topic and instead allows presenters, attendees, and sponsors to engage with each other about a broader area of interest.
  • It tends to run for longer durations—spanning hours or even multiple days.
  • Like a webinar, it brings people together online, but using much more robust specialty platforms uniquely designed for virtual experiences, like Glisser.

Virtual events tend to be highly customizable, often allowing each participant to personalize the experience based on their needs and preferences. With lots of content formats to choose from—like gamification, virtual demos, live chats, live social feeds, live streaming, and more, often happening concurrently—there’s usually no shortage of engagement options for attendees to choose from, which helps build relationships that last long after the event concludes. And with a broader set of analytics gathered and tracked, it’s possible to get much deeper insights on attendees than you can with a webinar.

Why the Rise in Virtual Events?

As digital marketing evolved, B2B companies became eager to go beyond the natural limitations of webinars and achieve entirely different levels of online engagement. Thankfully, the enabling infrastructure was evolving in lockstep.

The infrastructure to support more immersive experiences among organizations, buyers, and partners was beginning to take shape over the last several years. Then when the pandemic abruptly halted in-person trade shows and conferences in 2020—and B2B companies scrambled to salvage these critical sales-boosting events—technology providers stepped up their game and accelerated the build-out of their online event platforms.

That’s when the concept of virtual experiences really started to take off. B2B companies began hosting a whole range of dynamic virtual events and full-blown online conference. At first, they thought, “If we build it, will they come?” The answer was a resounding “yes.”

Now, even with COVID restrictions greatly eased in most areas of the world, virtual experiences are thriving as prime opportunities to engage with B2B buyers in whole new ways we probably couldn’t conceive just five years ago.

Which is Best for Your Next Event?

When it comes to deciding between a webinar and a virtual experience for your next online B2B event, let your objective be your guide.

  • Looking to inform your current customers about an important feature for a product they already know and use? A webinar may be all you need.
  • Ready to launch a new, groundbreaking product to an entirely new target audience or geographic market? Then you might want to consider a virtual event.
  • Need to demo new functionality available with your latest upgrade? A webinar might do the trick.
  • Want to get customers and prospects buzzing about your brand? Sounds like the job of a virtual experience.

Choosing the best format and platform for your online B2B events is critical to ensuring a successful experience for your customers, prospects, and partners. That’s why leading B2B companies turn to the strategic marketing professionals at Marketri to help them navigate the nuances of creating effective online experiences.

Want to learn how you can turn your next online event into more of a virtual experience? Contact Marketri today or go here for more information on how Marketri and Glisser can elevate your next online event.