Selecting the right content for your Customer Education experiences is a common challenge. This article will help ask a few questions to help determine which modality is best for your situation. In many cases, people use webinars as their default method for communicating with learners. This is common when you are starting out and don’t know what content to make.
Let’s start by asking: Why aren’t webinars universally effective?
When are webinars not an effective training method?
Many webinars aren’t effective because the information they provide isn’t aligned to the expectations of the audience. Information that is repeatable and urgent, for example, can be delivered in a self service video or article. Information that is complex or nuanced, by comparison, is better suited for webinars.
I will use an example to illustrate this concept. Recently, I wanted to assess a highly regarded enterprise SaaS tool that is relatively expensive for my budget, but also transformative for how my department functioned. I jumped feet-first into their sales funnel and the very first thing I was asked to do was sign up for a webinar.
Here are some details about the experience:
The earliest available spot was one week away (session was open to unlimited attendees)
The presenter kicked off by saying, “I will not be taking any questions”
The webinar was scheduled for one hour and ended after 35 minutes
There was no description of what the webinar should accomplish
I was not given any instructions on what to do afterward (other than to email the presenter if I did in fact have questions)
As a potential customer, my goal was to gather information to determine fit with need. Therefore, I expected the vendor to do one of two things: Lead me to the information I needed to make that decision, assuming they were confident they understood my needs, or engage with me to better understand my needs.
They did neither. The webinar was a static body of knowledge rather than a mechanism to help move me along my purchase decision.
So how should we determine when a webinar is the right choice, versus making a video or a blended learning experience? I will describe three key questions to consider:
Is the information you’re sharing standardized or variable?
Is the information urgent?
Does the follow-on action make sense?
1. What type of information is good for a webinar?
Webinars work well for delivering information that is variable or requires discussion. If the information you are sharing is standardized, it likely makes more sense to produce a self-serve video or article that can be consumed quickly.
Let me use a hypothetical example to illustrate information that is standardized:
When you go to a restaurant they provide you with a menu. The menu describes what food you can order. If a restaurant insisted on having a server recite the full menu to you out loud every time you dined, you’d probably find a different restaurant. In this case, the restaurant knows what information you will find valuable and delivers it to you in a self-serve format.
But what if you have imperfect knowledge of what information the learner needs? If you’re a restaurant, maybe your menu defines the available dishes, but you know customers will have lots of questions about specific ingredients or cooking styles that are unfamiliar to them. This is where a live experience fits better. You don’t know what information is needed so interacting with a server gives you flexibility to listen, learn, and be more responsive.
Let’s translate this back to webinars. Webinars provide a sandbox in which meaningful conversations can occur.
So some good rules of thumb are:
If you have very specific value propositions to express, it’s better to refine your ideal messaging and share via video, email, etc.
Keep the messaging in videos or email controlled and precise
Use a webinar when you want to have an engaged conversation
Another note about information sharing in repeated webinars that you should consider: Despite the content being the same every time, the presenter and audience will always be different. Even with the most polished webinar presenter (and many are not as polished as they think) it simply isn’t possible to nail precise messaging every time across multiple presenters and multiple sessions.
The summary here is: standardize what you can outside the webinar and concentrate on the opportunities to drive engaged conversation within the webinar. If your webinar ends early and no one has questions or the audience isn’t asking for more, you didn’t drive as much engagement as you should have. Maybe that content could have been a video.
2. How does your customer want to engage with you online?
Webinars are a great way to engage with customers however, because they are scheduled, your audience doesn’t get immediate benefit from them. When people have an urgent need for structured information, I recommend using a different format than a webinar.
Today more than ever people crave instant gratification. Remember when I said I had to wait a whole week for the product webinar? Guess what I spent that week doing? That’s right, researching competitors’ products.
When choosing your content strategy, ask yourself about the urgency of the information from your customer’s perspective.
For existing products, the person likely wants information right now so they can move forward with their work. Or they are considering buying this solution and are comparing options. Here a video makes more sense.
For pre-release content, people just want to learn about what’s coming, so they are likely willing to wait a little for a webinar to take place. Here a webinar is more acceptable.
Not sure how your customers want to engage? Review the questions asked about existing products during webinars and in post-webinar surveys and see what category they fall into:
“I’ve tried to do XYZ and it’s not working.” - This is likely time sensitive and blocking their work. Technical documentation or a support ticket is the right fix, not a webinar.
“How do I create an XYZ in the product?” - There’s likely a single right answer to this. Written or video technical documentation should exist for this.
“How would I configure XYZ in the product based on the types of customers I serve?” - The answer likely depends on a lot of variables that can change customer to customer. It’s possible a support ticket could get the job done, but this feels like a good interaction to have live during a webinar where you can not only provide an answer, but demonstrate the heuristic for deriving that answer.
The substance of the questions will tell you if the attendees are getting the experience and content they expected.
3. What action do you want webinar attendees to take?
The third thing to consider when developing a webinar is whether your follow-on action makes sense for the experience. Audience engagement happens because you plan for it; it’s not just a fun surprise in the moment. The action you want people to take during or following your webinar should make sense for the context.
Your Call to Action (CTA) is the starting point from which to work backwards and build the rest of the webinar around. If a lot of people are not responding to your CTA, it could be that their learning needs are too diverse. Your marketing team either deserves high praise for getting so many people in the door… or some constructive criticism about focusing their promotion messaging more clearly around content expectations. One option is multiple webinars designed for different outcomes. The underlying content may be very similar, but they can be positioned to address the specific needs of more unique audiences.
Not everyone who attends your webinar will be part of your target audience, and that’s okay. The trick is to stay disciplined and not expand your content’s scope just to accommodate them. Use webinar interactions to qualify how many attendees you expect to engage with your CTA.
Recommendations on how to evaluate the effectiveness, not just the response rate, of your CTA:
If the outcome is starting a product trial, how many attendees are decision makers not already in trial who meet key user criteria?
If the outcome is feature adoption, which learners have not already adopted?
If the outcome is a meeting with an account rep, do they come to that meeting informed and engaged in the agenda?
When should you use Blended Learning?
In this article, I have discussed three questions to ask when you consider making a webinar or a recorded asset like a video or article. However, there is a third option to consider beyond live vs recorded information. Let’s consider the use of Blended Learning in your training environment.
The story so far: webinars exist to drive a CTA, and they do so via engagement with participants. So how do you foster that, and what do you do with all the stuff you used to stick in your webinar? This is where blended learning comes into play. It frees you from compromise by combining the right content in the right modality into the most effective learning experience.
Perhaps you start by sharing a video upon webinar registration so that everyone is on the same page regarding the core topics involved. Then you host the webinar to discuss more in depth. You end with a CTA to meet one on one with an account rep, and also by sharing a PDF resource designed to help attendees put what they learned into action. The options are limitless. Design it, try it, check your outcomes, and refine.
You’ll face many questions along the way. For example:
Do I make my video a required prerequisite to ensure the audience is up to speed, but risk some people dropping out?
How do I serve content to people through my webinar registration flow?
How do I tell what actions my learners have taken outside of the webinar?
Rarely is there one best answer to questions like these. Instead, identify the option that is best for you based on your current priorities and available resources. You can always adapt later when circumstances change. What’s important is that you get a blended format in place right away so that you can recognize two big benefits. First, by offering your learners multiple formats to learn from, you’re increasing the chance that at least one of them will resonate. Second, You’re giving yourself a much better opportunity to measure progress toward your desired outcomes. Let’s wrap up by exploring that idea.
A webinar on its own is one data point. You can’t draw many inferences from that. But in a blended format with 3-4 touch points you can better triangulate each learner’s position on their journey (since most people rely on GPS these days you’ll have to trust me that that comparison is very apt). You might look for associations like:
Are learners who watch your pre-video more likely to ask questions during the webinar?
Are learners who ask questions more likely to reach the end outcome you want?
Does talking to their account rep after the webinar make it more likely the outcome will be reached? Is that true independent of whether the learner watched the pre-video or asked questions during the webinar?
Now you’re segmenting the audience based on the customer’s preferred engagement method! That means you can meet them in their learning happy place rather than forcing them to tolerate a one size fits all experience. Ready to take more control over how you reach business outcomes with learning content? Pilot a blended learning experience the next time the idea of hosting a webinar strikes your fancy.