Webinar Marketing

Webinar vs. Seminar: What's the Difference?

Article Summary

Webinars and seminars are both valuable tools for sharing information, but they serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics. Traditionally, seminars were in-person events focused on knowledge exchange, often in academic or business settings. They were essential for networking and staying updated in a pre-digital era. With the advent of the internet, webinars emerged as online events primarily used for marketing, allowing companies to reach wider audiences without geographical constraints. However, the lines between webinars and seminars have blurred over time, especially as digital transformation accelerated during the pandemic. Today, the primary distinction lies in their purpose: webinars typically have a marketing goal, while seminars aim to educate. Given the evolving digital landscape and the increasing importance of subject matter expertise for B2B buyers, both formats have their place. Companies should choose the appropriate format based on their objectives, whether it's lead generation, sales, or knowledge-sharing.

You’ve probably heard the words “seminar” and “webinar” tossed around interchangeably, and if you’re like most people, you never worried about hashing out their differences. But for marketers, it’s important to know the definitions of these terms and how each can be used for lead generation and to help your business grow.

In this guide, we’ll get to the bottom of the webinar vs. seminar debate. We’ll cover their historical definitions, how they’ve evolved, and how companies can leverage both effectively in their content strategies.

Let’s dive in.

Quick Takeaways

  • Seminars were historically considered in-person events, while webinars emerged with the Internet as a new marketing tool
  • Today, seminars are commonly held online
  • The primary difference between webinars and seminars is purpose: webinars are any event with a marketing goal, while seminars are primarily held to educate audiences
  • Tech companies (and any B2B organization) can leverage seminars to showcase expertise and build trust with their audiences

Webinar vs. Seminar: Defining Each Term

Webinars and seminars have always been different by definition—but those differences have evolved over time (and especially in the past few years), which has made it harder to pinpoint exactly what makes each type of event unique.

Historical Definitions and Purposes

Traditionally, seminars were considered in-person events held for the purpose of exchanging knowledge. Common use cases included educational settings (like higher education), where academics would discuss research topics and ideas, and in business settings where company leaders would talk about relevant trends and events impacting their industries.

In a pre-digital world, where information was not as easily shared or accessible, seminars were considered staple events for staying in-the-know, building relationships, and networking with peers. Of course, the internet upended this model by democratizing information and making it so that professionals no longer needed to lean on a small group of experts to gain knowledge.

Webinars emerged alongside the Internet as a way for companies to share information with important internal and external audiences, but primarily employees, customers, and potential buyers. They brought opportunities for expanding brand reach and capturing new audiences without the barriers of geographic proximity. That said, they were primarily considered to be a marketing tactic, not an educational tool.

How Webinars and Seminars Have Evolved

Today, definitions and use cases for webinars and seminars have evolved. In many ways, they have become more intertwined as B2B buyers have become smarter and more autonomous in their solution research.

Buyers now perform anywhere from 57% to 70% of their research on their own and no longer need sellers to provide basic information like product features or overviews of services—they get that information on their own through websites and online content. Instead, buyers now want access to the kind of knowledge sharing formerly exclusive to internal industry audiences.

At the same time, the business world has gotten drastically more digital—a long-emerging trend that was drastically accelerated by the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and subsequent absence of in-person interaction for nearly two years. The pandemic taught companies that being engaging no longer requires being physically present in the same room.

What Does It All Mean?

The jury is out on hard-and-fast definitions of webinars and seminars, and it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. The term “webinar” itself was a play on “seminar”—basically, a seminar that was held online (although we know their use cases were considered different). That said, seminars were largely considered to be exclusive to in-person formats, which previously drew a clear line between the two.

So which came first—the chicken or the egg? Are webinars a type of seminar, or are seminars a type of webinar?

From our perspective at ActualTech Media, it’s the latter. The term “webinar” encapsulates any type of online, information-sharing event. So—not every webinar is a seminar, but every online seminar is a webinar.

As you might already be thinking though, we’re kind of splitting hairs here. What really matters is understanding the purpose of your event and defining it accordingly to deliver value to your audience.

When Should You Host a Webinar vs. a Seminar?

In short: When your events are product- or company-focused (i.e. the main goal is to generate leads or make sales), you’re hosting a regular webinar. When your goal is to educate audiences and facilitate knowledge-sharing, your event can be positioned as a seminar.

The bigger question, then, is whether you should host seminars at all.

If we consider what buyers now want from the content they engage with and what motivates them to choose specific vendors, the answer is a definite yes.

Industry knowledge and subject matter expertise has risen in importance for B2B buyers when it comes to how they evaluate professional services firms, and it’s rated above all other criteria, according to a recent survey by Hinge Marketing. Buyers want to feel confident that the vendors they work with have the expertise they need.

Industry knowledge and subject matter expertise is the top criteria used by B2B buyers to evaluate professional services firms.

Further, buyers now interact with up to 8 pieces of vendor-created content before making a purchase decision. The takeaway there is that not every webinar (or content asset in general) needs to include a hard sell.

Most B2B sales cycles are a few to several months in length, meaning that making the sale is a long game. Providing subject matter expertise and non-product related knowledge can be a breath of fresh air for potential buyers, a way to keep them interested and engaged, and a way to build their trust in your ability to provide the right solutions.

Showcase Your Expertise with ActualTech Media

The multi-vendor webinars hosted by ActualTech Media are the best of both worlds—they get you in front of the right audiences to build brand awareness and provide a platform for sharing knowledge about hot topics across your industry.

Get in touch with our team to learn more about how we can help you grow your business.