Question of ROI For Events & Online Communities

 The pandemic led to massive economic disruption and loss of business revenue across industries, more so in the in-person events industry that contributes over a trillion dollars to the global economy. Moreover, as COVID-19 continues to spread in waves in 2021, it’s time to realise that we are living in uncertain times. Many pandemics have come in the past, and unfortunately more might happen in future; the elephant in the room is answering the question of how event planners can hedge for such a future and ensure events remain a viable industry in the coming years, resistant to disruptions caused by limitations on human physical interactions.

In the article below, we discuss the subject matter from on event perspective; an event is synonymous to building a community with a focus or goal.

 

 The Question of ROI for Sponsors & Exhibitors with Virtual event and online community

While event organizers are looking forward to moving back to in-person, we need to look back at 2020-2021 and what the virtual transition brought with it. Was it all a waste or was there more to a channel that was widely adopted by users all over the world? What’s clear is that virtual events expanded across borders and was attended by over a billion professionals by rough estimates. Millions of professionals learnt how to use the virtual medium and host engaging events that kept them afloat and in many cases grow.

However, the question that has been left unanswered is monetization and stand-alone viability. Was virtual able to deliver on the ROI promise to event partners, sponsors and exhibitors?

Giving a black-n-white verdict would be highly unfair at this point. It is no secret that Virtual format led to a significant decrease in investments from potential sponsors and exhibitors, lowering of the ticket price for event delegates and overall loss of revenue. However, the silver lining is the similar reduction in the input cost required to host such events. With platforms available from free to just $1 per attendee, it is nowhere close to the costs incurred in using the physical venue, travel, hospitality and a barrage of other costs. But let’s get back to the question of ROI. 

The concept of virtual was new for many event planners in 2020 and the same goes with the sponsors or exhibitors. The metrics for in-person events took many centuries to get defined and was still primarily based on feelings rather than hard numbers in most cases. Try asking a sponsor or an exhibitor the exact ROI they get from an in-person event; most likely you would get some vague answer. Virtual events don’t offer the tangible-touchy experience like a physical or face-to-face connection yet (read about Google Starline experiment), making people question the ROI of this event format. But, the same yardstick cannot be used for two different beasts. Virtual has to be looked at from its own merits and metrics. And more than anything, the sponsors and exhibitors need time to see the result of the output and then put a judgement on the outcome. 

Primary goals for businesses paying for events is to promote products & services, develop customer relations. In most cases virtual clearly addresses these needs, leaving little room for ambiguity, unlike physical experiences. As a paying customer you know exactly what you got: numbers of eyeballs, interactions, leads and hopefully $ in business in coming years (as business leads take time to convert). This cold-cut clarity which should be a huge advantage does get overshadowed by other channels which claim to deliver the same result, such as digital ads. But, events need to soul-search on its strength of bringing the right people together, at the right time and drive relevant engagement. None of this is possible with Google search ads but is definitely true for both physical and digital formats of any event. 

If you are an organiser or a company looking to continue with virtual or start for the first time, here are a few ideas that will make it easier to convince prospective sponsors or exhibitors to invest in your next virtual event or pay a premium for your hybrid model (which includes in-person and online):

Clarity on the Metrics:

Event organizers often host recurring events biannually, annually or biennially. Look at the past events partners (sponsors & exhibitors) and the package they bought to evaluate their KPIs and return on investment delivered. Some essential data you can gather to access and ensure their continued participation in the total unique leads generated, brand promotion and engagement activities, speaking session attendance and ratings, website traffic, attendee takeaway or more. Convert these analytics numbers (easily available with virtual platforms), to actual dollar outcomes. This will enable your event partners to clearly visualize the outcome of their investment and potential for future engagement. 

Some event planners do not want to touch this topic of showing clear metrics, but in today’s digital dominated world, there is no escaping this. You either clearly show the ROI or run the risk of losing the client to a channel that gives more clarity (remember that all marketing managers are being put to the task of justifying every dollar spent). 

Once you have your metrics clearly formulated and presented, this would become a magnet for you to attract new sponsors and exhibitors who may be interested to participate but were earlier sitting on the periphery. It would help them clearly understand your event format and how it unlock potential ROI. Make sure you walk them through the event format, journey and relation to the metrics. 

Here is a excel sheet for options for monetization. Use this as a checklist for what you are offering or plan to offer. Get a metric against each. 

Plan Your Event Promotion Strategy Well in Advance 

Let’s say you have an amazing event idea in mind. Event marketing strategy plays an important role in achieving revenue goals and intended success. Once your event marketing budgets and activities are defined with the potential turnaround time you will be able to engage with potential sponsors and exhibitors for your show. The marketing timeline for virtual events can vary between 6weeks – 8weeks depending upon the budgets and campaigns you undertake. Below are pointers that can help you create your event marketing plan:

  • Event website, promotional brochure, videos, flyer and partner proposal
  • Email Campaigns like teasers, early-bird discount offers, speaker announcements, partner announcements, attendee engagement and networking activities promotion
  • Social media announcements
  • Paid advertising and SEO activities
  • Blog, guest post and press releases
  • Influencer marketing, media partner promotion
  • Adding the event to listing sites and forums
  • Past edition event report and success metrics

Each marketing activity is a touchpoint or real-estate to drive value for your sponsors & exhibitors. Make sure to put these channels to good use and also to explicitly show your partners how they gain from this. 

Conduct Surveys and Polls to Understand Your Target Market

Even for an event organizer, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered to understand their attendees, sponsors and partners. Eliminate the guesswork by conducting audience-centric surveys and polls. They can come in handy while you create the event format and theme. You can get clarity on various subjects like an understanding partner/sponsor marketing goals and budgets, the duration of the event, key topics to include in the agenda, the subject matter expert audience would love to hear from, key challenges and solutions of the industry segment you plan to organize the event for and more. 

Surveys and polls are a great way to engage with your audience in advance, gathering important metrics and understanding how you can deliver the expected ROI. It is an essential way to build trust and relevance with your community.  

Choose the Right Platform and Stay Consistent 

While in-person continue to have some level of restriction in various geographies, you might be considering a fully virtual or a hybrid option. With so many virtual platforms available in the market now, it can be quite confusing on which one to use and why. It all boils down to your priority and audience type. We have seen planners prioritize one or more of these: pricing, design, simplicity, ease-of-use, complex use case and uniqueness. It’s important for you to define your (your team) priority; it would help narrow down the options and not get lost in the ocean of competing for feature-rich platforms. 

Once you have identified your priority, it’s time to pick the platform that best suits your event needs. Remember, no matter which platform you choose, it would take some time commitment to understanding the setup, get familiar with the tools to ensure you have a sense of comfort in using it. Moving platforms, while possible, can be a little bit of a task as it would eat into your time, which can be spent on building your event and marketing activities. 

Here is a breakdown of one-platform and its focus/goals: FLOOR

  • claims to be an all-in-one virtual event platform that can be used for events of all shapes, sizes and form
  • Focus is on keeping the end-user experience seamless, without pretending to be 3D
  • Believes in not forcing users to use laptops, thus mobile accessibility is a big focus
  • Offers over 100 unique features to deliver on core functions like conferencing, engagement, custom branding and monetization
  • Can address more complex functions like matchmaking and meeting setup, but would require time commitment from a planner 
  • Overall, has kept the platform highly reasonable at $1-2 per user, to ensure virtual is accessible for anyone who is bringing a community together 

If you are considering any platform, here is an excel sheet with a feature list to start comparing. 

Virtual Booth Personalization for Event Sponsors and Exhibitors

Like any physical event, the product display area is one of the key highlights of the show. The exhibit booth is essential to drive engagements, power new business and build long term connections. Offering virtual booth personalization and branding enables exhibitors/sponsors to showcase products and services to the audience. They can share information about their services and strike need-based conversations with attendees pre, during and post-event. A right virtual event platform offers one-to-one meetings via private lounge facility, group meeting rooms, share digital handouts and run product demo videos attracting the right target audience to their virtual booths. Make sure the exhibitors/sponsors don’t just sell. Let them conduct online raffles, quiz contents, conduct brainstorming sessions or even present case studies to get the attention of a prospective client. These activities help generate a great ROI.

Overall, the biggest advantage of virtual is that as a planner you have insight into the data and the outcome. You can control the traffic in real-time and drive business to those booths where the footfall is lower. Lastly, post-event, you can encourage the partners to follow up and not leave money on the table (the best part, all of this can be automated. You simply have to keep your eyes own to opportunities that can help your community). 

Organize Award Ceremonies Alongside Your Conference or Exhibition

Participating in awards can be a great way to position a brand as the leader in the space. Exhibitors/sponsors are always keen to enter into awards that can help showcase their products to their target audience in a premium way. Give them an opportunity to enter relevant categories of the awards and let your attendees vote for their most preferred supplier. Host a felicitation ceremony alongside your event and acknowledge the winners. This will definitely amplify the organization’s brand position and give them more visibility. The phrase, “seeing is believing” fits right in!

Recognition is a way to build credibility and trust. Cracking the code online could give your event a big boost. 

Matchmaking = Match Them + Make Them Network!

Like any in-person event, networking activities and sessions are crucial for the event’s success. So now you have your target audience split into attendees, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors. While hosting a virtual event you will need to create multiple sessions for all of them to mingle with each other. To deliver a great ROI to your sponsors/exhibitors it is advisable to conduct networking breaks, luncheons and after event gatherings (Yes, these can happen virtually, but you just need to set the tone right and put the right people together). 

Matchmaking is usually a machine-learning or AI driven algorithm that learns your user interest and based on preset logic, recommends people to connect and meet. Usually, the matching happens pre-event and actual meetings during the event. 

Virtual platforms allow attendees to fill in their interests and preferences when they set up their event profiles. This can help generate network recommendations based on the information supplied so you can connect them to relevant exhibitors and sponsors pre-event, during the event and share details post-event.

Generate A Report After Event Execution 

Data, Data, Data! Often talked about but easily forgotten.

Well, this is because it’s not the data but the insights it hides. If data is the fuel, the insight is the Mercedes, which the world sees. Therefore,  Once you conclude your virtual event, it is imperative to analyse the results of the show. This is important to both understand what went well, what needs improvement, and also to share with your partners. 

Generate a detailed report with statistics like the number of visitors and their profile, speakers along with audience ratings, number of leads generated for exhibitors and sponsors, website traffic analysis, social media stats on likes, shares and follows, key highlights on networking activities, number of meetings conducted online etc. (well the list is long). 

Share the post-event report with your sponsors/exhibitors to evaluate metrics and KPIs that were established in initial discussions and match them to the ROI generated. They can also reflect on areas that can be improved upon, set future goals and empower informed decisions This report can also be helpful for the next edition of your event to lure in prospective partners and attendees. 

Here is a excel with a list of data points you can get and should track. Use the ones which are relevant for you.

ABOUT FLOOR

FLOOR (a product of 10Times) is an all-in-one event technology platform to organize online and hybrid summits, exhibitions and content-led thought leadership programs. It enables event professionals to create and manage virtual sessions be it live streams or pre-recorded videos with HD quality that are accessible on any device. 

This virtual event platform works for both virtual and hybrid event formats allowing organizers to drive audience engagement by way of discussions, Q&A, polls and hand raise. With this single dashboard, you can create, produce and host a wide range of events with options for keynote / plenary sessions, training sessions, presentations, exhibit halls, and networking opportunities. Whether it is a webinar or an event with multiple tracks and sessions the Floor virtual venue enables live chats, both for groups and for private one-to-one communication via its lounge facility. 

One can create and monetize virtual event sponsorships by offering virtual booths, sponsored rich content and demo sessions, organizing one-to-one virtual meetings and online branding. This immersive virtual technology provides a safe and digital real-time correspondence between singular and multiple parties without compromising on the privacy and ethical concerns of the end-user. Additionally, the FLOOR virtual event platform provides full control, all edits updates instantly and allows the one-click registration process. The AI-driven metrics provides actionable data to organizers so that they can devise a powerful pre-event marketing plan to drive more event attendees. One can send time-bound announcements, notifications and reminders to all attendees. You can add speaker details, attendee profiles, exhibitor information and sessions allowing the participants to plan their day accordingly. 

FLOOR has assisted 1000s of event organizers globally to make use of opportunities unlocked by technology. Let us show you how FLOOR can help you drive great ROIs for your event partners. 

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