A marketer's dream: ON24 sees virtual events sticking around post-pandemic

The company's chief marketing officer, Steve Daheb, says that virtual events are here to stay. They afford a trove of data about customers that real events don't provide, and allow for year-round enagement beyond the few days of a live event.

Following a report of better-than-expected results, by webinar publishing platform ON24, the company's chief marketing officer, Steve Daheb, spoke with ZDNet to explain how virtual events are here to stay.  

"What people are finding is, it's going to be digital first," said Daheb. "Just because the benefits are irrefutable: people are generaing more pipeline, they're closing them at higher rates, they're closing them with a larger average deal size," said Daheb. 

That means digital, virtual events could become an ever-more-prevalent affair, and in fact, the equation may be flipped: live events may become an "augment" to a kind of constant campaign of digital engagement.

"I talked to a CMO who said, We'll keep doing these big, virtual conferences, but we might augment them; we'll do a small roundtable in New York City, one in San Francisco, get people together."

"Like a lot of things that were more analog and have moved to cloud, people are just finding this is a better way to do things."

ON24 offers a variety of packages for live or on-demand webinars, as well as interactive tools to engage with the audience, and data packages that allow sales and marketing teams to reflect upon how audiences engage with the webinar.

A reason virtual events will continue, and perhaps be an even more regular fixture, is how much data conference organizers can gain from them, said Daheb. 

"It really is about collecting more data about the person and serving their needs," said Daheb, in an interview on Microsoft Teams. "A typical webinar might be fifty minutes, which is a lot of engagement time, and we're collecting 20 different buying signals," said Daheb. "It could be content they downloaded, it could be sessions they attended, or they signed up for a free trial." Such data can immediately feed a CRM system, said Daheb.

The real world isn't as rich from a data standpoint, he said. 

"Physical events are great, but you don't collect a lot of data," observed Daheb. "You plan for months for a big event at Moscone [Center, San Francisco], and that's it." Other outbound marketing approaches such as digital e-marketing, or content syndication with a click, said Daheb, have equally limited results. 

"There's not much more you discover about the buyer." The wealth of data that can be gathered from the Webinar is "why I'm so excited about this.

In addition, said Daheb, the relationship with participants in the virtual event can be extended beyond the initial event by directing that individual to ancillary content. 

"Somebody can spend fifty minutes on a webinar, and then you can push them to something that comes like Netflix, that is curated for you, that has content that you're interested in, and you can binge on it at your pace, which is a lot of how digital marketing and buying happens today." 

In its first quarterly report since coming public February 3rd, ON24's Q4 report offered revenue and profit that beat Wall Street's expectations. The company's outlook for the quarter and the year was higher as well. 

The report sent ON24 shares up 3% in late trading. The stock is down 22% from its first-day close of $70.82. 

CEO and founder Sharat Sharan remarked that 2020 had been "a transformative year for ON24's customers as we helped them accelerate their digital engagement initiatives."

"I'm proud of the ON24 team for their tremendous focus and execution," said Sharan. 

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"Our holistic approach to B2B engagement brings together the digital experiences, data, and seamless integrations companies need to convert prospects into customers. 

"Looking ahead, we're uniquely positioned to help companies across ever industry shift the way they do business in a digital-first hybrid world."

Revenue in the three months ended in December rose 123%, year over year, to $53.3 million, yielding a net profit of 57 cents a share.

Analysts had been modeling $52 million and 53 cents per share.

The company said its annualized recurring revenue, or ARR, doubled, year-over-year, to $153.4 million.

The company said its cash from operations rose to $10.7 million from $4.3 million in the year-earlier period.

For the current quarter, the company sees revenue of $48.5 million to $49 million, and EPS in a range of breakeven to 1 cent per share. That compares to consensus for $47 million and a 2-cent loss per share.

For the full year, the company sees revenue in a range of $205.5 million to $208.5 million, and a net loss of 7 cents to 14 cents. That compares to consensus of $205 million and a 15-cent loss per share.