Virtual events come with a whole lot of benefits, but with that they bring their own set of challenges. One of the most popular hurdles seems to be revenue creation.
Physical events are a major revenue stream for many organizations, but when it comes to replicating the monetary aspect in a virtual event setup, it's common to get cold feet. In fact, research from 2020 revealed that 32% of event organizers do not earn revenue from their virtual events.
The prevalent uncertainties include:
But not to worry – we aren’t here for hypotheticals. By the end of this article, all of these questions and more will have an answer.
Whether you are hosting an event offline or online, your business goals need to be achieved. Furthermore, it is important that your exhibitors and sponsors recognize the value received from your event. And the event ROI (return on investment) proves to them that your event was successful, giving them the confidence to invest again in future events hosted by you.
With virtual events coming into the picture, the good news is that it’s possible to reproduce the financial opportunities of an in-person event; an online environment provides a larger creative scope to experiment with various virtual event monetization strategies; and all metrics have trackable results.
Regardless of this, there are still many unexplored ways with which you can get the bang for your buck from online events. So we created this guide to give you a glimpse of the endless possibilities of virtual event monetization.
Before we delve into best practices of how to monetize a virtual event, let’s go back to the basics. Essentially, there are four major types of revenue streams when it comes to any event:
While a majority of the virtual event monetization strategies are based on these four pillars, the virtual space opens up even more boundaries within the existing sphere of revenue generation.
Here are some of the best ways to earn from your online events:
There’s nothing better than hearing “tickets are sold out”. Not only does it motivate you and your team, but it also portrays to your attendees that your event is in high demand. But how do you increase the chances of such an occurrence? By creating multiple ticket types.
Setting up a tier-based ticketing system is a great tactic to drive up registration numbers, as it gives attendees different ticket options to choose from depending on their need and financial capacity. The best part is that you can easily limit access to the virtual event components when someone purchases a free ticket and add on various benefits as the ticket price increases.
You can also offer discounts based on when someone purchases the ticket, how many tickets are being purchased, or for what length of time (one day, three days, etc.) for the event.
Here are some of the most common ticket types:
By strategically setting up a differentiated ticketing structure, you can not only attract the right kind of audience but also increase the sales for paid tickets. Additionally, it allows you to collect category-specific attendee data, with the help of which you can send targeted follow up mails.
There are several ways to provide exposure to your sponsors and to enable them to meet their ROI goals. But for that you must review the different opportunities that your virtual event platform can offer and design your sponsorship deals accordingly. Here are some sponsorship opportunities that you can offer to your partners:
You can create curated sponsorship packages by combining the aspects mentioned above. This will not only help your sponsors derive maximum value but ensure you are able to reap significant financial gains. More details on this will be available in further sections of the blog.
Apart from the traditional sponsorship and exhibition packages, you can also sell virtual ad spaces to showcase sponsor logos, banners and videos. For this, list out strategic locations on your website, virtual event platform and in your marketing communication and club them as an offering for brands seeking additional visibility.
For example, the available spaces on your website, registration page, event login page, event app, web app, event-related mails and social media can be utilized to offer 24x7 exposure (unlike in physical events) to those sponsors and exhibitors who are willing to shell out a few extra dollars.
Similarly, you can provide horizontal and vertical ad banners on the event landing page and within the virtual event platform, which could either be omnipresent or located in different tabs. These could be of different sizes depending on the size of the sponsorship amount.
Additionally, these can be made clickable, either leading attendees to sections within the virtual event (the sponsor’s booth) or outside (the sponsor’s website, resources, games, and app store). Furthermore, the data on clicks can be used to track ad engagement and shared with your sponsors to justify their ROI.
Virtual events provide a great opportunity to sell your products and services, and even engage in a partnership with some service provider, to offer additional value to your attendees.
To implement this, you can link your virtual event to your e-commerce website and allow your attendees to shop for branded merchandise, as well as physical and digital souvenirs from your event. This will boost your event’s bottom line, increase your brand awareness and give your attendees a sense of belonging.
Here are some examples of swag items that will hook your attendees instantly: wearables (like t-shirts, caps, face masks), branded bottles of sanitizers, accessories (like mask chains and watches), mugs, tote bags, printed socks, desk accessories, stationary, digital bullet journals, snack boxes, cocktail kits, celebrity shout outs, i.e. a personalized video message from a certain celebrity, virtual gift cards, discounted subscriptions and memberships (e.g. streaming apps and podcasts), or even discounted tickets to the next event.
To add to this, you can consider the option of selling charity merchandise via your swag store. Plan out your business model in such a way that a certain percentage of the payment made by attendees is donated to the charity you partner up with.
Consumers believe that businesses should do more than just make money; they should also give back to society in some form. By tying your attendees’ purchase to a donation, you are allowing them to make an impact, and this will positively influence your brand image in their minds and increase their brand loyalty. It’s a win-win because supporting charities not only helps the recipients of the donation but also contributes to increased event revenue and creates a powerful and long-lasting impression on your attendees.
Networking is one of the primary reasons why people attend events. Ensure your event offers a dedicated time for networking to foster a sense of togetherness, camaraderie and understanding amongst attendees. You can also leverage it as a key revenue source by making it a paid feature, in the form of an add-on to complement your virtual event.
Virtual happy hours can be placed between sessions where attendees have to visit a breakout room for networking, for which they received an exclusive access code when they purchased the add-on.
These virtual happy hours can include themed discussions, trivia games and fun activities with prizes as an incentive to join them. Additionally, you can also make the attendee profiles tab visible just for those who opted for the personalized networking and matchmaking feature, allowing them to engage in 1:1 chat and online meetings.
Affiliate marketing can be a powerful addition to your virtual event monetization strategy. This is a practice that involves you becoming an affiliate of a partner and earning commission by marketing their offerings at your event.
You might be aware about affiliate marketing programs of various e-commerce platforms, such as Amazon, where content creators and bloggers can earn affiliate fees from qualifying purchases made through their blogs.
Similarly, to implement affiliate marketing at your event, you can advertise your partner’s offerings along with a CTA link to the attendees and earn commissions on successful transactions. These links may be embedded inside clickable banner ads or simply shared on the event feed, in session presentations and downloadable material, etc.
It is suggested that the partner’s offerings align with your event and audience and that you are transparent with your attendees about the nature of your partnership. Also, you must make these look as natural as possible rather than stuffing your event with advertisements.
Although virtual events have numerous advantages, one of the best things about them is that they can be made perpetual, unlike physical events. This means that you don’t have to restrict your monetization efforts to the duration of the live event. Instead, once the virtual event is over, utilize the content generated from the event (especially the recorded sessions) to create yet another revenue stream.
This means that you can offer discounted access to on-demand content, for those who missed the event or would like to re-watch your sessions. You can also take it a step further by creating a whole virtual library of content derived from all your events and sell it to your target audience via a subscription model.
State-of-the-art virtual event platforms offer exhibitor/sponsor and attendee matchmaking. Based on registration data, attendee interests, attendee bio and attendee activity on the platform, sponsors can be recommended with potential leads and their match score (highest being the most relevant lead). You can monetize this feature and provide it to only those partners who are willing to go the extra mile to achieve qualified leads.
Similarly, you can provide them a lead retrieval facility which classifies each booth visitor as a hot, warm, or cold lead so that your sponsors can tailor their follow-ups accordingly. Providing robust analytics reports based on attendee interaction with partners’ booths, content and advertisement is also another great virtual event monetization tactic.
While your virtual event monetization efforts might be bulletproof, you still need a solid sales and marketing strategy to optimize their success.
There are different ways this can be done. Let’s discuss some of the options.
All your monetization plans will go down the drain if your event fails to gain steam or attendees sign up but don’t show. Thus, it’s important you don’t leave out any chance to talk about your event.
Here are some best practices to follow:
There are two sides of this coin, i.e. attendees and sponsors or exhibitors.
When it comes to ticketing revenue, consider upselling as a key strategy. For this you can compile special deals for attendees and offer add-ons to increase their basket size and eventually your ticket sales.
For example, provide an upgraded VIP access package with a premium price that includes access to a VIP-only networking event, a personalized swag kit, and a digital gift card for dinner. Another example is to sell a group pass wherein if two people buy a ticket, they save X dollars on the cost, and if a group of five or more buys a ticket, everyone receives free event T-shirts.
Use a multi-tiered pricing option for your sponsors and exhibitors, such as curated Bronze, Silver and Gold Packages, each including different sets of benefits.
Let’s take an example of what a bronze package vs. a gold package may look like:
BRONZE PACKAGE: $400
GOLD PACKAGE: $1700 (a savings of $300!)
Another great but less used option is an a-la-carte pricing model which is a purely customized option. Here each benefit is priced individually and your exhibitors/sponsors purchase them on a need-to-buy basis.
One example is to list out all the features and quote their prices in the following manner:
As your partners select an additional feature, their basket size will increase, ultimately determining the final price of the sponsorship package.
In order to further optimize your event marketing efforts, utilize different distribution channels to promote your event and reach your target audience no matter where they are.
Here are some of the key areas to consider:
There are tons of virtual events around now. You need to think about how yours will break through the clutter. Begin with researching and understanding the buyer persona of each of your stakeholders (be it attendees, exhibitors, or sponsors) and try to decipher what would be their primary motivators for attending your event. Is it networking opportunities? Is it lead generation? Is it increasing brand awareness?
Once this is done, build your virtual event pitch around this. Position your virtual event as an unmissable one. Have an event hook that is original, interesting, and in line with the vision of the event. Focus your marketing efforts on highlighting key stakeholder objectives and how your virtual event will address them. And don’t forget to heavily market your event’s unique selling points.
Why limit sales to the event duration when you have so much opportunity waiting after your virtual event is over?
The biggest advantage of a digital venue is that you can continue to sell access to your event for as long as you want. In fact, if you want to make your event strategy more sustainable, view it as a regular activity instead of a one-off thing.
The data, registrations, attendee interactions, sessions etc. collected from your event are a gold mine. And you can easily use them to create a 365 event community for interested members and add in yearlong engagement, networking, and content that translates to your next and following event(s).
When selecting from different event tech partners, opt for one that is flexible and can accommodate your creative ideas when it comes to event designing and monetization.
Furthermore, pick a platform that provides you with multiple options for monetization and tracking the ROI, as discussed in the strategies above. Specifically, check if they have features such as ticketing, display ads, virtual booths, AI-backed matchmaking, etc. and what are the existing opportunities that support your sponsorship goals.
Virtual events have great potential to be monetized, but it really depends on how well you are able to leverage the available opportunities. The range of revenue generation options discussed above show that there are numerous ways to incorporate and optimize virtual event monetization in your event.
Rather than being overwhelmed by them, you must be very selective and choose what works for you and your event. And with a thorough understanding of your stakeholders, mixed with some creative thinking and the right choice of virtual event platform, you will soon start seeing significant returns.
Falguni Jain is a content marketer for Hubilo, a virtual and hybrid event platform built for engagement and event excellence with notable global clients that include the UN, Siemens, GITEX, NYU, AWS, and Tech in Asia. She is a third culture individual, a big time foodie, and a social butterfly who enjoys travelling.
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