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Automated Doesn't Mean Autopilot, and Other Lessons in Marketing to Humans

Published: December 24, 2017       Updated: July 13, 2024

4 min read

I was in a Facebook group for digital marketers the other day when the following question was posed to the group: "What automated webinar platform do you recommend? I'm considering Stealth & EverWebinar."

The question set off quite a debate. An excerpt from the exchange:

I’d really be skeptical with these. They can seem very sleazy if not done appropriately and with the right intentions. At the end of the day if you’re trying to convince people they are attending a live webinar when it’s really a recording, it’s not authentic and smart people will see right through it ...

Totally agree! Sell it as a recording and you get just about as much value ...

Now that we have morals and values out of the way, does anyone have actual experience with an actual tool or should we discuss net neutrality and how AI will impact minimum wage earners?

I used EverWebinar. Thought it was sleazy and misleading. Never went back ...

Why is it misleading to say “Hey, register for the replay of my webinar and pick from one of three replay times below”?

If that’s what you’re going to do, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.  It's when you trick people into thinking it’s actually live, or you’re uploading fake chat transcripts to pop up at different times, things like that which I just don’t agree with.

Too Human or Not Human Enough?

Probably a lot of you didn't realize there was such a thing as "automated webinars." There's a good reason for that; the marketers who use them often don't want you to know they aren't live webinars. They want you to believe that the automated event is an actual interactive human experience.

Or as EverWebinar says in its PPC ads: "Is it Live -- Or is it EverWebinar?"

Live webinars are one of the most effective marketing and sales tools out there today, with conversion rates as high as 40 percent.  If you use a premium live webinar platform such as ON24, they also can be one of the best ways to actively benchmark your marketing messages and to engage with your customers and prospects in real time. The data that can come from a lively webinar presentation and discussion far outstrips what you can get from poring over Google Analytics.

But hosting a live webinar requires things from you, the marketer, in return:

  1. You need an engaging topic;
  2. You need a strong, knowledgeable presenter or moderator; and
  3. You need to attract an audience.

All of these requirements are equally important, but the third one is what terrifies many marketers. Because few things will look worse to your boss than investing money, time and effort into a webinar or webinar program and then failing to attract attendees. It's like throwing a party where no one comes; no one wants to be that guy.

That makes the "automated webinar" a quick and painless way to attempt to spark engagement with your prospects -- with no risk, right?

More like no pain, no gain. Because those "risk-free" webinars actually carry with them a far graver and longer-lasting danger than the temporary embarrassment of poor attendance.

"Viewers Are Catching On"

I watched a YouTube review of EverWebinar that listed pros and cons of the software but concluded with a warning: "Viewers are catching on."

As the reviewer, Jason Whaling, put it: "This whole 'fake' webinar thing is starting to become a joke."

"Fake" is the operative word here. Across our culture, Americans are increasingly attuned to authentic vs. "fake" experiences. More and more people understand that "reality TV" isn't real. They debate whether the news reporting we see is real or "fake news." They out brands on social media that make misleading claims or business decisions that seem to conflict with their stated values. There is an increasing cynicism among consumers, as well as a longing to buy products from companies that value authenticity.

Why is authenticity so important to consumers, including B2B buyers? Because if I can't trust how your brand markets to me, I won't trust your product or service claims, either. If you are open and honest with me in your marketing, on the other hand, I am far more likely to believe your selling proposition.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't use automation in your marketing, of course. On the contrary, it means that you must invest in leveraging automation as a vehicle to get to know your customers better. To make your marketing not B2C or B2B but H2H -- human to human.

As Joe Hyland, CMO of ON24, puts it: "It’s time for marketers to stop fooling ourselves that simply adopting automation technologies is enough to engage the modern buyer. We have to redefine engagement by the quality, not just the quantity, of our interactions and the level of customer intelligence they provide."

TL;DR -- Automate, yes. Autopilot, no.

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