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Virtual events: Revenue generating strategies that actually work

VEI Co-Founder Sophie Ahmed explores the different ways event planners can generate revenue from virtual events.

The future of events is year-round communities connected through a blend of ongoing digital and physical experiences.


Virtual, hybrid and physical – these are the adjectives we are using to describe events in 2021. In the near future, they won’t be necessary. Events are events.


For organizers, the challenge will be getting the mix right and ensuring digital events reach their revenue-generating potential.


As you start to sketch your event strategy, begin with the most salient question of all. What purpose do events ultimately serve? Fundamentally, there are two answers. The first objective is to create a marketplace for buyers and sellers to come together, which means events must facilitate business and networking.


The second goal is to create a platform for content to facilitate knowledge, education, sharing of best practices, and creating a vision for the future of that industry together. All events, of any size, sector, and region, are essentially underpinned by these two basic objectives and so are all monetization avenues.


The inventory for physical events typically features income streams from exhibitors, sponsorship, delegates, and digital. For digital events alone, the chief revenue streams are community building, sponsorship or virtual booths, delegates, content, data, and hybrid.


Community building is a way to generate both in-direct and direct revenue.

Events without a community lose momentum. Picture a graph. There is a one-off explosion of audience activity around the event, but that drops off a cliff soon after the event. Community building for your events essentially is event building – and it drives revenue. It's an omnichannel approach. It's an always-on approach. It creates greater customer touch points allowing you to get much closer to your customers and understand them on a deeper, emotional, and behavioral level.


By doing that, you can really understand what their pain points are and that information can be translated into knowledge for your event and into your overall brand. By listening you can generate content and understand how they interact with each other and what they are saying about your brand.


It can also create a flywheel effect for other products in your portfolio, so you can use it to move your customers through the marketing funnel and get them to take higher-value items in your portfolio. The more they like your brand and the more value they get from it, the more inclined they will be to become advocates, ambassadors, or influencers and promote your brand to their network. Learn who your ambassadors are and develop these relationships. Community leverages the network effect.


Online community building can be used to create a brand new revenue stream and enable organizers to go after the sought-after subscription membership model for high annual recurring revenue, similar to the Netflix or Amazon Prime model.


Go for a low-cost, high-volume model, to gain revenue, data, and a funnel to larger ticket items in your portfolio.

Ensure you include the two events cohorts: delegate/attendee and exhibitor/sponsor. For sponsorship revenue, insert a sponsorship directory for year-on-year sponsorship renewals. AI will help your members to be matched with relevant members and can benefit by meeting new and existing contacts in your membership community.


Creating membership benefits


So how do you construct a strong membership offering? Using tech, create a gated membership community behind a paywall. Establish price points and payment mechanisms. You may need a variety of price points for different tiers. Use the two main objectives of events – business and networking or content and learning – to be the hook for members to join.


And how do you use those two core objectives as a hook to drip people into your membership community? Very much like an online newspaper perhaps where some of the content is free but, if you want to read more, you must subscribe.


Membership perks can range from enhanced sponsorship at the event and smaller networking events within micro-communities to access to an on-demand library of events or a social forum.


Delegates – to charge or not to charge?


This is the big question for many event professionals right now. After a decade of conditioning into a mindset of ‘everything is free online’, re-education and re-adjustment of expectations are vital, especially because virtual events are not free to run.


Sponsorship has traditionally been the primary revenue source for events in return for thought leadership, lead generation, networking, and branding. Having an attendee revenue stream creates a model that enables increased renewal revenue, making it much closer to the sought-after subscription model.


The impact of not charging participants can be damaging. A freebie sends a message about the quality of the content and diminishes its perceived value. It is also trickier to transition to a paid-for model further into your strategy when your event is more established. If your event is hybrid, how would you encourage attendees to travel to your event if they can get all they need for free via your virtual event? Dilution of your audience is another consequence of not charging and, by simply charging a fee, it can minimize no-shows.


Tiered ticketing


Delegate tickets can be sold in tiers, too. For example, a standard pass could include live access to all talks and access to Q&A, polls, and sponsors. A content pass could include all three, plus an end-of-day summary report and access to content, speakers, breakout rooms for 90 days post-event. A full pass could include all of that plus access to one-to-one networking and matchmaking, all networking areas, and training points acquired.


Sponsorship


When it comes to sponsorship, the key things to consider are technology, inventory, pricing, data, content, and mindset. With technology, there are several things to consider. How does each interaction and feature on your platform link to your exhibitor’s objectives? What data is collected on your platform and could it be shared with your exhibitors or sponsors? What functionality could be of benefit to your customer and therefore monetizable? Ensure the sales and marketing team understand the platform, tech stack, and the key features and benefits to learn how to promote this to customers


Inventory ideas under sponsorship can range from TV-style commercial ads, push notifications, gamification, curated content, banners on slides, or speaking sessions.


Assess the market


A thoughtful assessment of the current market landscape is imperative, too. Ask, who are your customers and how much has their market been disrupted? Your major customers may have changed with new players emerging, including start-ups with investor money to spend. Conduct a survey and consultation with customers to deep dive into current needs, pain points, budgets, marketing plans, and expectations. This is a period of immense disruption for events - competitors are varied with new tech players, previous customers, media players, and others from outside the events market launching.


Data is king


Sponsors will be looking for insightful data from digital events. Provide real-time analytics and drill down into better analytics of their customer’s behavior. Package up post-event analytics into a paid-for report. Create a 365 digital campaign for your sponsors, re-targeting to your event attendee list. Charge your sponsors per impressions and provide a dashboard and full analytics for this.


A hybrid future


As the industry evolves and hybrid becomes a certainty, the more an event can perfect the virtual component and master the art of monetization through digitization, it will create additional long-term revenue streams.


Hybrid will allow us to generate new data with no global restrictions, tap into new sectors with fewer entry barriers and increase the opportunity to funnel into bigger ticket items. Access an increased Target Addressable Market. Use technology with your sponsor packages to increase greater insight and benefit for your customers.


In conclusion


Events are events. Create a digital overlay with your event and work towards a tech-enabled operating model. Be omnichannel. Understand your competitors, customers, and value proposition within the entire event team. Adopt a positive mindset, embrace technology, increase your target addressable market (TAM) and, ultimately, create new and highly lucrative revenue streams.

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