I generally react in one of three ways when something says that it wants to provide value to me:
- I walk toward it, enthusiastically
- I don't do anything
- I actively go in the opposite direction
Sure, there's some overlap between one and two, but getting into three's territory is absolute: the thing you want to give me looks too much like something else that didn't go so well, so I'll start looking for other negative things with a very cynical bias.
A very good example of this that I think many folks can relate to are perfume sales representatives that you find in many department stores; they're near the fragrance section and they're usually holding a bottle of cologne or perfume. When you walk by, these representatives will offer you a spritz, or a testing strip for you to smell.
When I see these folks, I'm sorry to report, I look for another way through the store even if it means going up an escalator and back down at another entrance. That's a very irrational reaction for me to have, because I do like some fragrances and one of those amazing people is probably holding something that I'd really like. But that's not how my mind works when I'm approaching them because I've had too many bad experiences with sensory overload and overly-pushy representatives.
That's what webinars have become when it comes to how I react to reading or hearing the word. The average webinar shows me a top-of-the-line Tesla as a vision of what I can build while actually trying to sell me Capsela. Or, attending means I'm going to get my inbox pummeled by you and your co-marketing cohorts for the next three months. I even did a short Twitter survey to get people's reaction to the word, and got back some interesting responses:
Something involving stuffy old guys in expensive suits
.. Well, that's not as bad as stuffy old guys in inexpensive suits, I guess, but it's not the mental image you want your marketing efforts to inherit from the word.
Bad audio. Some person using the wrong type of mic trying to explain/show things while sounding like being in a tunnel.
.. In fairness, that's almost every Zoom call with more than two participants in the last 18 months, but it does point out that even when we pick the right venue, we often execute them in an excruciatingly mediocre way. Why can't we just have nice things? Well, we can, but we're using them the wrong way.
The root of it is that software engineers don't respond very well to typical marketing channels, and marketers are constantly looking for ways to get broad concepts that are normally expressed in white papers and pamphlets in front of developers, who hate white papers, in hopes that developers gain interest and put these things in front of actual decision makers. Yeah, none of that is ideal. What we end up with are webinars that are effectively animated white papers. That's why fewer and fewer sign up for them, and that's why they don't work very well.
So, what do we do? Well, the solution has two prongs. First, we need webinars! We need this interactive space where someone demonstrates a thing, and people can ask questions and participate. While these have incredible marketing value, they're only effective if they're actually educational. Let's stop pushing CIO magazine fodder as an interactive white paper as a learning opportunity and go back to doing what actually made webinars successful - live demonstrations of a learnable skill. But we have new and better technology, we call them live streams and they're incredibly powerful things.
The second thing we need to do is understand that our marketing needs to change. The way software is purchased is rapidly changing with product-led freemium models, why isn't marketing catching up? We should be better storytellers; how can one developer in an organization bring about change that leads to your product being adopted? What's the pain? What are the barriers? Who is facilitating communities where folks work together on these kinds of frustrations? What are you doing to target and incentivize user interviews? You can and should be engaging with these folks about these problems, but in a very specific way where a very specific solution is demonstrated to meet a very specific pain.
I wish webinars were originally designed to work in reverse, where a bunch of developers would come together and say "We'd really love to see [company] show us what [feature] is good for." And then, and only then, would the Webinar be created and the company invited to attend. This brings me to my third (and final) point for this rant - ask your users what they'd like to hear more from you. Ask them to tell you their story. Ask them how you could have been a better hero for them sooner.
That's how you're going to get good ideas for growth and engagement. And, I just realized, this is something of a white paper itself, but at least it's self-deprecating, and didn't mention ROI until the very end :)