From Athens to Singapore, the list of conferences and trade shows impacted by concerns about COVID-19 is growing by the day.

Unfortunately, for much of the shipping industry, events are a critical element of the marketing mix. But since the future remains uncertain, many sponsors, exhibitors and delegates have been forced to explore alternative means of achieving their objectives in the weeks and months ahead.

Christy Ferguson, a research director at Gartner, stressed the importance of contingency planning in a recent blog post about mitigating risk and preserving the bottom line amid the rising tide of conference cancellations that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

“Teams must be prepared to quickly pivot marketing strategy and build campaigns to address this shift,” she said. “Due to the fluid nature of the current environment, it’s necessary to build contingency plans for the foreseeable future. Marketers that have these contingency plans in place are less likely to experience disruptions to their awareness, demand generation and product launch efforts.”

Tips for overcoming conference cancellations

If you planned to exhibit at an event that’s been cancelled or postponed, or have concerns about an upcoming trade show, Ferguson offers these tips:

  • Activate your SDRs and sales teams to reach buyers who have scheduled meetings in advance with you and offer to travel to meet them in their offices. If travel is a concern, conduct web meetings. Keep in mind that other exhibitors will be doing this as well. So, timing is crucial. For the best results, ensure that this outreach happens within 24 hours of cancellation.
  • Shift or increase spend in digital advertising to promote product launches that were planned as part of the event. Use paid social to directly target buyers who had meetings or are on your account-based marketing lists.
  • Direct your PR firm to expand media engagement strategies—especially if product launches were planned during the event. If necessary, shift budget to PR to accommodate this effort.
  • Develop webinar content that conveys the key messages you planned to share at the trade show—including speaking sessions and in-booth presentations. The folks who would be attending at the trade show will be in front of their computers, after all.

Bottom line? Thinking outside of the box can help you drive business during the current conference cancellation era.

Content marketing to the rescue

Let’s be honest: There’s no substitute for a face-to-face conversation. In the maritime sector, handshakes still mean something. Events provide participants with access to a wide, captive audience of clients and prospects in an environment that promotes meaningful discussions.

Events provide participants with access to a wide, captive audience of clients and prospects in an environment that promotes meaningful discussions. That’s difficult to replicate online. But not impossible.

That’s difficult to replicate online. But not impossible.

In fact, companies that rely on events to build brand awareness, launch new products, demonstrate thought leadership, network with clients and generate new leads can achieve these same objectives with content marketing, which encompasses a variety of proven tactics to establish meaningful digital connections with decision makers.

There’s been a lot of hype around content marketing, native advertising and sponsored content in recent years. However, these same terms—and their many derivatives—are also the source of much confusion in the maritime industry.

So, before we move on, let’s review some of the basics.

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is a strategic approach to attracting and retaining customers. The term encompasses both the production and distribution of text, images, video and/or audio material that is informative, educational or entertaining.

Like all marketing strategies, the goal is to drive a desired action—like purchasing a product or service. The key difference between content marketing and traditional advertising is that the former tends to be audience-focused. It lacks a hard sell but is closely aligned with the company’s sales funnel.

NATIVE ADVERTISING & SPONSORED CONTENT DEFINED

NATIVE ADVERTISING is a content marketing tactic. It refers to paid media placements that resemble content produced by the platform where they reside. In its truest form, native ads and native content mirror the publication’s style and tone. It also provides the kind of information that a typical reader expects to find on the site. Native content doesn’t promote products or services directly.

SPONSORED CONTENT is a type of native advertising, a form of paid distribution. The label enables readers to distinguish between editorial content produced by the publisher and content created by, or on behalf of, advertisers. Synonyms include “branded content” among many others.

Sponsored content represents a unique opportunity for a publication’s advertising partners to expand their reach and engage with readers in familiar, trusted environment where said readers are primed to consume relevant, informative material about their industry.

Like other forms of content marketing, the objectives of both native and traditional ads are often one in the same but the latter is unique in that the underlying asset must strike a balance between what the advertising wants to say and what their target audience wants to read.

As noted in our recent content marketing primer for the shipping industry, by producing timely, compelling content that has real value—and serving it up on a regular basis, without asking for anything in return—companies establish themselves as trusted thought leaders while generating brand awareness that, over time, helps create a loyal audience of followers who turn to them when they’re looking for products and services that solve their problems.

Whether it’s a long-form article about market trends, customer case study, video interview with a top executive, product demo, podcast or webinar, content takes many different forms. Choosing the right one depends on your particular objectives.

Some are more effective than others. But, at the end of the day, substance is far more important than form.

It’s all about quality

The cornerstone of a successful content marketing campaign is quality. Equally important is sharing that content with the right people in the right place at the right time.

There are countless distribution channels—online and in print. But most fall within one of three categories: owned, earned or paid.

USING VIDEO TO EFFECTIVELY MARKET TO THE MARITIME SECTOR

Video marketing has the power to transform your business—particularly when it’s part of a larger content marketing initiative that also includes other time-tested tactics, like display ads and conference sponsorships.

By developing buyer personas, mapping your buyer’s journey and creating video content that meets their needs at each stage, you can generate more leads and ultimately win more customers. If you want to learn more about how to leverage video, check this out.

Blogs, email newsletters, corporate websites and social media are examples of owned content distribution options. Earned media includes op-eds, guest articles, unsolicited news coverage and shares on social media. Native advertising and sponsored content placements with trade publications, online or in print, are a form of paid distribution.

Owned media is an effective, affordable distribution option that’s critical for all content marketing initiatives.

The reach is limited to a company’s existing network of contacts, however. As such, a growing number of companies impacted by trade shows that have been canceled or postponed over coronavirus concerns are turning to news platforms like TradeWinds to distribute content on their behalf, in the news river, at the bottom of articles, on social media and other places where decision makers are primed to engage with compelling content.

The power of a partner

Anyone can create content. Social media, blogs and email marketing make sharing content faster, easier and cheaper than ever before.

Producing content that’s unique, creative, compelling and drives action—and getting the right people to engage with it—is a different story.

As more and more marketers produce and distribute content, it becomes harder and harder to rise above all the noise. Collaborating with publishers your target audience relies on for industry news, analysis and commentary can help you overcome this hurdle.

About the Author

Aaron Paul Kelley is the Content Marketing Manager at NHST Global Publications, the publisher of Upstream, Recharge, TradeWinds and IntraFish Media. In this role the former journalist helps companies leverage branded content and native ads to establish meaningful connections with elusive audiences in the oil & gas, renewable energy, maritime shipping and seafood industries.

TradeWinds is among the growing number of publishers that are equipped to produce branded content from scratch—or fine-tune an asset that you’ve already produced. Those with dedicated content marketing teams can also provide practical, data-driven guidance that ensure their advertising partners are achieving KPIs and maximising ROI.

Contact TradeWinds today to learn more about how your organisation can invest in content marketing to drive business you planned on generating at conferences.