WebEx Sponsors Conversations — Without Meddling In Them

Every brand marketer, these days, wants his or her brand to be “part of the conversation.” Last month’s launch of editorial voice posts on a handful of FM sites, and HP’s sponsorship of the series, reminded me to review data from WebEx’s sponsorship of several editorial audiocasts earlier in Q2.

Sponsored editorial webcasts raise the same questions as does HP’s un-meddling sponsorship of the voice posts: When it’s your advertising money, why fund editorial projects over which you have no influence? When there are ample opportunities for advertorials about your own company and products, why pay to sponsor content that isn’t a direct plug for you?

The WebEx experience provides one answer. As part of a paid sponsorship arrangement with several FM sites (John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing, John Battelle’s Searchblog, and others), WebEx asked authors if they’d host one thread of their conversations-in-progress — their on-going, organic, editorial conversations — on a live, webinar platform. In other words, WebEx was not involved in the content, just the format. WebEx provided the technology platform and bought co-branded ads on each site inviting readers to join the events. In John Jantsch’s case, he picked as a topic “Feeding the Small Business Ecosystem” and blogged an invitation to his readers to join the live discussion. Battelle invited his readers to help him pick the topic (fifteen of his readers volunteered ideas here), then reminded them to tune in,
and finally thanked them (and WebEx!) for making the event a success.

Why would WebEx do this, pony up sponsorship dollars but give up control of the message? Well, they recognized that it’s easier to join an organic conversation than to create a new one, especially if your expertise is in software, not conversation-starting. So they tracked down their customers (business professionals) and found them already engaged in a variety of conversations — at sites like Duct Tape Marketing and Searchblog — on topics of their own choosing. When WebEx paid to sponsor a new technology platform on which to host those same conversations, they found themselves, obviously, sponsoring web events that their customers wanted to join, so the ad units promoting the events delivered click-through rates on the high end of the spectrum.

The campaign succeeded in another way, too. Since the authors of these sites signed up to host the events, they had skin — or at least some ego — in the game. Above and beyond the promotional units WebEx bought to promote the events, the authors used editorial real-estate to encourage their readers to tune in. To be clear, the authors were not obligated to talk about the WebEx brand or services. And these editorial plugs didn’t say anything nice about WebEx or their products (other than “thanks, WebEx” in cases where the authors opted to say so) — that, or course, would jeopardize their journalistic cred — but they did drive more business professionals to the events, where each one gave the WebEx platform a test drive.

In the case of the Duct Tape Marketing webcast, in fact, 93% of the traffic to the registration page got there by way of the editorial promotions versus the ad units.

Update 9/19: Here’s a screenshot of Searchblog with a co-branded ad from WebEx.

WebEx ad on Searchblog

  1. # Jonathan Trenn said: August 13th, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    Chas

    Interesting reading and excellent example of how conversational marketing can work. A few questions…

    What role did the reader/audience play? Did they get involved? Or did they more or less experience the event? Was WebEx able to follow up? If they were, did they?

    Any post-event feedback?

    One reason why I ask the above is that this type of marketing seems to develop trust, but I’m wondering if it did that through customer observation or participation.\

    Thanks

    Jonathan

  2. # Chas said: August 14th, 2007 at 11:26 am

    Jonathan–

    In the case of the Searchblog webcast, Battelle invited his readers to post comments on the topics they wanted him to address (here). The webcasts themselves were also open audio conversations, so participants could comment and pose questions in real time. Participants also gave feedback after the events, too (here’s Battelle’s), so the audiences at these sites were very much involved. And the fact that WebEx underwrote the events — but quite clearly left the editorial decision-making to the authors and their readers — likely won them significant credibility with these audiences. I can’t share specific data on the conversion of customers on the WebEx side, but we’re working on WebEx on future events, so I’m guessing this approach is working for them too!

    Thanks!

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