The pandemic led to a 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.
While event organizers are looking forward to moving back to in-person events, we need to look back at 2020-2021 and what the transition to virtual events 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 to host engaging events that kept them afloat, and in many cases, caused them or their brand to grow. However, the question that has been left unanswered is monetization and standalone viability. In a nutshell, were virtual events able to deliver on their 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 the virtual format led to a significant decrease in investments from potential sponsors and exhibitors, lowering of 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, the cost of organising virtual events is nowhere close to the costs incurred in using physical venues, and the associated costs of travelling, hospitality and a barrage of other costs. But let’s get back to the question of ROI.
The concept of virtual events was new for many event planners in 2020 and the same goes for 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. For example, 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’s Starline experiment), making people question the ROI of this event format. However, the virtual event world is fairly new to the party, and its outcome with take another 12 months for experts to analyze. Meanwhile, virtual events have 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.
More concretely, some of the primary goals for businesses paying for events include to promote their products & services, and to develop customer relations. In most cases, virtual events clearly address 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. Regardless, the world of virtual 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 it 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 events or just starting up, 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 continual participation is the total unique leads generated, brand promotion and engagement activities, speaking session attendance and ratings, website traffic, attendee takeaway and more. You then need to convert these 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 the 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 which 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 due to lack of clarity. It would help them clearly understand your event format and how it could unlock potential ROI. Make sure you walk them through the event format, journey and the relation to the metrics.
Here is an 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. Marketing timeline for virtual events can vary between 6 weeks – 8 weeks, depending on the budgets and campaigns you undertake. Below are pointers that can help you create your event marketing plan:
- Event website, promotional brochure, videos, flyers 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 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 to your partners how they can 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 understanding your partner/sponsor’s marketing goals and budgets, the duration of the event, key topics to include in the agenda, the subject matter expert the 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, and help you to gather important metrics and an understanding of 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 events continue to have some level of restriction in various geographies, you might be considering a fully virtual event or a hybrid option. With so many virtual platforms available in the market now, it can be quite confusing deciding on which one to use and why. It all boils down to your priority and audience type. We have seen planners prioritize one of more of these 6 core focus: pricing, design, simplicity, ease-of-use, complex use case and uniqueness. It’s important for you to define your (or your team’s) priority; it would help narrow down the options and prevent you from getting lost in the ocean of competing 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 understand the setup, and to get familiar with the tools to ensure you feel some sense of comfort using it. Moving platforms, while possible, can be a bit of a headache as it would eat into your time, which can be spent on building your event and marketing activities. (However, ask the new platform and the old on how you can port all your data)
Here is a breakdown of one event platform and its focus/goals: FLOOR
- Claims to be an all-in-one virtual event platform that can be used for events of all shape, size 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 a virtual event is accessible for anyone who intends 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 good virtual event platform offers one-to-one meetings via a private lounge facility, group meeting rooms, shares digital handouts and runs product demo videos, thus attracting the right target audience to their virtual booths. However, 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 events is that as a planner you have insight on 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 open 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 which 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 phase, “seeing is believing” fits right in!
Recognition is a way to build credibility and trust, and 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 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, while the actual meeting happens during the event.
Virtual platforms allow attendees to fill in their interests and preferences when they set up their event profile. This can help generate network recommendations based on the information supplied so you can connect them to relevant exhibitors and sponsors pre-event, and during the event, and then share details post-event.
Generate A Report After Event Execution
Data, Data, Data! Often talked about but easily forgotten.
Data is often easily forgotten because it’s not the data that’s important per se, but the insights it is hiding. 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 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. (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 it to the ROI generated. They can also reflect on areas which 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 an excel with a list of data points you can get and should track. Use the ones which are relevant for you.
FLOOR (a product of 10Times) is an all-in-one event technology platform designed to help you 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 which 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 raising. 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-on-one communication via its lounge facility.
One can create and monetize virtual event sponsorships by offering virtual booths, sponsored rich content and demo sessions, and by organizing one-on-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 provide 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 on the FLOOR platform. You can add speaker details, attendee profiles, exhibitor information and sessions, thus 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. REQUEST DEMO