The continued presence of COVID-19 has complicated business-to-education (B2E) marketers’ plans with respect to conferences and events. Traditionally a key opportunity to build brand awareness, collect sales leads, network and learn about the industry, education conferences have long played an important role in B2E marketing.
Our annual survey suggests that, while this is still largely true, education marketers also have mixed feelings about the return of in-person events this year.
A slight majority (52 percent) of respondents said conferences were important to their plans this year. However, 24 percent felt the opposite—and 9 percent gave conferences a “1” on a five-point scale of importance.
Download the Report: 2022 Education Marketing Trends & Insights
While 68 percent of B2E marketers said they were excited about the return of in-person education conferences this year and 35 percent said they were “very excited,” 21 percent were unsure and 11 percent disagreed. “I’m still worried about COVD and colleagues feeling comfortable,” said one respondent.
Virtual conferences receive mixed reviews
As conferences welcome back attendees in person, organizers are taking different approaches with respect to virtual options. Some are offering only a limited number of sessions online. Others are promising a more fully hybrid experience.
Our survey suggests that most B2E marketers believe virtual education conferences aren’t a good substitute for in-person events. Three out of five respondents (61 percent) said they took part in virtual conferences as a sponsor or exhibitor in 2021. Of those who did, 71 percent said the experience didn’t meet their marketing goals or expectations.
“Virtual booths feel quite ineffective for meeting and conversing with partners,” one respondent said. Another noted: “[There were] lots of attendees, [but] no conversion or traction afterwards. [It was] difficult to build rapport effectively.”
Not everyone was unhappy with virtual conferences. “We raised brand awareness, increased sales and found new partners,” one respondent shared.
Top education conference goals
Among marketers who do plan to attend education conferences in 2022, the No. 1 goal is lead generation, followed closely by building brand awareness. Other goals include networking, finding new business partners and gathering market information. Sixty-three percent of education marketers plan to exhibit at conferences this year, and 34 percent plan to be a conference sponsor.
As reported by EdWeek Market Brief, strong attendance at SXSWedu signals the return of in-person events in 2022:
“One of the biggest signs of the reemergence of in-person events arrived this week at SXSWedu, which attracted participants from throughout the education ecosystem, even though attendance by some accounts appeared to be lighter than in pre-pandemic years. […] This comes as COVID-19 cases are declining and as restrictions, including requirements to mask indoors, are being eased across the country. And as district officials and education companies alike signal that they’re ready to get back to their previously regular routines of handshaking, elbow-rubbing, and face-to-face conversations at live events.”
If you’re planning to exhibit at in-person events this year, this advice from Matt Gambino, founder of PROPEL Skills Development, on how to encourage more booth traffic and how to have more productive conversations with prospects may be helpful.
A firm with extensive experience in education marketing communications—like CB&A—can also help you arrange meetings with the press and potential business partners or influencers. And be sure to check out our 2022 report for more insights on the state of B2E marketing this year.