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How We Built BigMarker and Where We're Going Next

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An interview with Justin Brown, Head of Product and COO of BigMarker.

You can send people all the push notifications, paid ads and promotional emails you want. But if you want people to invest their dollars and time in you, you can't talk at them. You have to talk with them.

BigMarker is about talking with your customers: empowering interactive conversation with audiences of any size. By engaging with you, asking questions, and being included in your organization’s conversation, your prospects and customers will become loyal advocates with you on your mission.

Since we began in 2012, we've grown from a webinar platform to a full-service online event solution hosting 1.5 million digital gatherings per year—and growing. We don't have all the answers, but we have developed a blueprint for building online communities that lead to long-term conversions. One that's fully branded, replicable and customizable to your business needs.

So we sat down with Justin Brown, our Head of Product and COO, to learn more about the company's evolution. With that, we discuss how the world's difference-makers are using online events to grow—and how they can maintain their edge in 2021 and beyond.

Q: When was BigMarker established and what were your goals? What gap were you hoping to fill in the marketplace? 

Back in 2011, my cofounder (Zhu-Song Mei) and I really saw interactive as the Next Big Thing. We saw that there were these meeting tools and training tools for large companies and enterprise clients, like Skype or Webex, and that was it. Those tools were great for internal meetings, but they weren’t audience-facing on a large scale. 

At the same time, we also saw that times were changing. Marketers were talking at their audiences instead of with them—and customers were tired of it. They wanted to be involved in the conversation instead of upsold and sold at. So we wanted to build a technology that would help turn dull monologues into engaging conversations that activate audiences and build stronger relationships.

We built BigMarker from that standpoint—creating more accessible 3-D experiences on the web that help companies captivate broad audiences while also generating leads and building their long-term sales pipelines. 

Q: In the last ten years, BigMarker has also developed a virtual event solution serving millions of guests each day. How has your mission changed in response? 

Fast forward to today, we’ve been consistent with that mission—and also doubled down on it. The companies that we serve want a virtual event platform that’s truly customizable, so that they can engage their audience in a way that’s on-brand for them and an experience that they want to create.

Flexibility is a huge part of that. We adopted this motto of "Let’s build your dream event" and through customizations and white labeling, helping customers bring their imagination to life. We make sure we’re focused strategically on not providing a one size fits all platform, so we can empower companies to create these interactive experiences that impact their audiences and bottom line. That emphasis on creativity manifests itself in the partnerships we take on with our customers.

Our customers tend to be innovative—keen on creating new kinds of experiences in the digital interactive world. We partner with them to create new experiences that haven’t been done before. That’s the work we really love and where we specialize. 

Q: What industries do you serve and who are your current customers/personas? What are some good use cases? 

Our users are heads of marketing in tech services, financial services, health care, insurance, professional services but also product companies. Our past customers range from Fortune 500 companies like McDonald’s and Google, to startups like Waze, to Stanford University, so there’s a lot of variety, but the common denominator is that our customers tend to be innovative. 

Our product also has a lot of use cases beyond webinars. Meetingspaces, our small meeting rooms, are good for team or sales meetings. We use automated, evergreen and on-demand webinars for employee onboarding and training. And virtual events, combined with our integrations and analytics suite, help companies generate demand and identify their most promising leads.

Q: You emphasized that your typical customers tend to be innovative. Do you have any examples of creative uses of your product? 

In our virtual events, we’ve really rethought the exhibitor experience. Exhibitors can literally double an event’s budget, but broadly in the industry, exhibitor booths for virtual events are limited—usually just a static landing page with a banner and a video and maybe a lead form if they were feeling extra spicy. 

We took a different approach where we built immersive, 3D experiences where attendees can walk around and interact with content in new ways. Exhibitors can show multiple videos and multimedia content, provide 3D and VR experiences. They can also interact through live chat and live video chat and breakout sessions, then trigger offers and giveaways to encourage attendees to follow up.

This offers attendees more flexibility in how they interact with exhibitors, which makes them more likely to engage and follow up, which gives the exhibitors more ROI from participating in  virtual events. 

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges virtual event hosts face in keeping audiences engaged? How is BigMarker addressing these, either through product updates or programming?

All of our features—content delivery, immersive features, networking, sponsor and exhibitor booths—need to respond to one question: Why do people actually make the decision to pay for a ticket and why do they take time from their day to attend?

Sure, you go for the content, but also because of who you can connect with. Events curate an audience of like-minded people who are diverse enough to have a variety of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, so people can make connections that lead to new jobs or even new companies. Those chance happenings and connections are as, if not more, important than the content of an event. That’s the reference point that we have. 

So while we have a lot of engagement features that encourage guests to interact with each other and with presenters during sessions—live chats, Q&A, polls, screen sharing and whiteboards—for us, that’s just step one. 

We also need to add the overarching event experience. For us, that comes down to: 

  1. Putting out compelling content, then using our interface to present it as cohesively and seamlessly as possible. 
  2. Networking, both in public chats and one-on-one video calls. 
  3. Providing access to exhibitors and to the offers and opportunities they present.
  4. Offering unique opportunities that can only be found at events, like product demonstrations, live roundtables, and more. 

Q: We all know that one of the biggest advantages of going to an in-person gathering is networking. What does the virtual networking experience look like on BigMarker? 

We all know that one of the top benefits of attending events is networking, and we've seen how hard it is to create meaningful networking opportunities at virtual events. It's just not the same. 

But over the past year, we've seen tens of thousands of companies create virtual networking opportunities that attendees truly love. On the platform, attendees can fill out Virtual Business Cards populated with their professional bios, social media and calendar links. Days before the event, they can log onto the event site and search for people with relevant expertise and experiences. 

That paves the way for them to connect more meaningfully and more quickly right away, with less of the awkwardness that comes from making friends online. 

And as virtual conferences have picked up more steam, we’ve also been starting to develop new matchmaking and speed networking and “business Tinder”.

Q: Traditionally, marketers have leaned on events for new leads and business. What best practices do you recommend for people hosting virtual events for demand generation? 

The name of the game is speed and strategy, so that your audience can follow up in a way that’s quick and convenient for them. Here’s what we’ve seen work for our customers: 

  • Integrate your virtual event platform with your MAS, CRM and email tools, so your brand new leads are automatically pushed to your sales team right after the event ends, and they can move to convert leads right away.
  • Trigger offers for discounts or free trials during sessions themselves. On BigMarker, these usually appear as pop-ups on screen. The moment you’ve sparked their interest, audiences can click the offer and redeem it. 
  • Convert your event content to on-demand webinars, then host them on your website for a few months after your event. This way, your audience can pick up anything they missed while you can pull new attendees/leads with minimal extra effort. 

Q: Looking ahead to 2021 and the eventual return to IRL events, hybrid events are poised to become very popular. Can you tell us about BigMarker’s approach to hybrid events? 

We’ve been doing hybrid events since 2012. Historically, that meant live-streaming so people at home could watch too. Now it’s about cultivating an experience where attendees can connect with sponsors, hosts, other attendees whether they’re at the venue or at home. We want to create a more immersive and full featured experience that’s consistent regardless of the channel.

10 years ago, the big buzzword was “multichannel marketing”, the idea that marketers are engaging with their customers and attendees will have the same positive customer experience, regardless of whether they’re buying in the physical store or on the company website. We take that approach with our hybrid events. If we have magic that we create in a venue, how are we creating that in digital spaces?

A lot of it comes down to customization. Because we’re able to customize the platform and create entirely off-the-shelf features, we can create these deeper, more connected and fully branded experiences in a way that resonates with people long after they long off. Now and in the future, we’re excited to innovate in response to our customers’ changing needs and our own technology. 

Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies are leveraging online events to drive business results? BigMarker's team of Account Executives are here to help. Contact us at sales@bigmarker.com to get started or schedule a demo! 

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