A practical guide for event organisers
The events industry is currently undergoing one of the biggest changes to its business model it has ever seen. The unstoppable rise and rise of digital marketing, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, has fundamentally changed how organisers will engage and monetise communities in the coming years. According to the latest estimates, digital revenues are expected to grow from just two per cent of the event model to 25 per cent, while booth sales fall from 78 per cent to 50 per cent in the revenue mix.
Such an evolution requires more than just technology. For this shift to be successful, new skills and new processes are needed. It requires a complete re-evaluation of the customer’s value proposition and how it is delivered with a mix of digital and personal engagement. More than anything else, leadership must be fully committed to the new event model – setting a clear, ambitious path to build an omnichannel business that connects buyers and sellers year-round, combined with a firm belief that personal events will continue to be the highlight of engagement.
-Diego Dupont (CEO Fairtual Technologies BV – Fairtual France SARL) –
1. Keeping up with a changing landscape
The habits of consumers and businesses have changed forever.
Event organisers have been quite slow to keep up with the changes, as the traditional business model has always delivered good returns with high margins. But if the pandemic has proven anything, it is that events need to adapt as aggressively as other disrupted industries – such as publishing and television – have done over the past decade.
“When you have a business model that just prints money – great margins and the feeling that people keep coming back year after year – it creates a certain amount of hubris and an unwillingness to change and an unwillingness to invest. Because why bother?
Suddenly, we had this shockwave across the world of Covid-19, which was displacing everything live, from sporting events to retail, purchasing, to certainly B2B trade shows and conferences. The mad rush then began to try and supplement that income where possible with whatever solution one could think of. – dixit Brian Field (COO at Emerald)
The main trends are:
- Continuing uncertainty
It is clear that pandemics and local lockdowns will not go away. According to a McKinsey study, about 20% of business trips could be lost in the future, compared to pre-pandemic figures.
Although digital technologies have been available for a long time, they were often seen as an optional extra to a live show rather than something that organisers should actively pursue. The pandemic forced drastic changes in the way companies can make money in the industry without live shows. Now that we have learned some of those skills, it is important to build them into an overall strategy to make your budget pandemic-proof (business continuïty, by providing an alternative in case of cancellation or travel restrictions.
Nevertheless, the 27th UFI Global Barometer that only 47 per cent of organisers have developed a digital event strategy for individual existing shows or products, even with the ongoing threat of coronavirus restrictions for physical events.
- Spending has shifted from live to digital
The global trend towards digital channels is not new. Over the past two decades, digital advertising has grown steadily each year and is currently estimated to be worth EUR 387 billion (USD 455 billion) by 2021. This represents 61 per cent of all advertising (more than TV, print, cinema and outdoor combined) and is expected to rise to 68 per cent by 2024. Source: Emarketer, March 2021
Out of necessity, the shift in marketing expenditure from exhibitors to digital has been accelerated by the pandemic. A recent survey shows how organisers expect exhibitors’ investments to shift after the Covid-19 pandemic. Spending on pure exhibition activities is predicted to fall, while exhibitors are expected to invest more in digital content, hybrid events and training their own teams.
Moreover, findings from the Exhibitor Media Group show that 48% of exhibitors expect to invest less in events that had to be rescheduled than they would have done before Covid-19.
- Emergence of MarketplacesDuring the pandemic, buying and selling online shifted rapidly, with a total of 83 per cent of B2B buyers surveyed in a McKinsey study finding digital (either e-commerce or distance selling) as effective or even more effective than the traditional approach. This study ran through the entire pandemic and showed how comfort with losing face-to-face quickly increased as buyers became more familiar with digital channels.
70 per cent of B2B decision-makers told a McKinsey and Company survey that they are open to self-service or distance purchases worth more than EUR 42,000 ($50,000), while 27 per cent were willing to spend more than EUR 420,000 ($500,000). This shows that the changes enforced by the coronavirus do not disappear. On the contrary, there is more confidence in digital as an approach to B2B buying and selling.
The choice for event organisers is either to be part of the online buying and selling or to miss the boat completely.
On digital B2B platforms (Marketplaces) such as those of Fairtual Technologies, customers can provide leads-as-a-service all year round through features such as AI-based product recommendations, tenders, content, online messaging and video calls.
Including a Marketplace mention in an exhibitor’s contract is a natural upsell and can significantly increase the budget.
- The subscription economy
The subscription economy has grown by 435 per cent in nine years and this trend looks set to continue, according to research by Zuora.
Customers now value results more than ownership. Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime have all succeeded in this model. Digital nomadism, working from home and the gig economy have taken the world by storm. The message is clear: people want more control over how they work, make contacts and make purchases.
Why buy a ticket for one blockbuster when a streaming service gives you access to hundreds?
Why buy one album when you can listen to almost unlimited music via an online subscription?
Why prioritise making contacts at one conference when you can make contacts with your industry all year round?
The subscription model creates predictable, recurring revenue streams for companies, and can be used by exhibition organisers to get suppliers to sign up for a year’s activity rather than a one-off event.
Micropayments are an untapped opportunity for event marketers. This method can be used to improve the effectiveness of targeted e-mail campaigns with a pay-per-message package. Instead of paying a general fee to cover a database, exhibitors can choose to pay for 500 messages that go directly to potential leads who are more likely to become customers.Targeted communication helps trade shows become more effective, using advertising through online platforms or email campaigns to build awareness among potential customers.
2. Digital solutions and packages
01. What digital solutions are there?
There are three main types of sponsored digital solutions: thought leadership, branding and lead generation services. Digital platforms can give you a huge amount of data before, during and after an event.
Here is an overview of the inventory:
Thought leadership enables clients to present content that can educate your audience, provide new insights and share case studies.
Sponsored conference sessions are both an opportunity for thought leadership and for lead generation. The customer’s logo is associated with sessions and they receive leads from all visitors.
These sessions can be hosted live and on-demand to continue promotion after the event.
Online communities offer many content marketing opportunities for sponsors. Customer product announcements can be promoted through advertorials, videos and infographics in a familiar editorial environment.
This should be clearly labelled on the site as ‘sponsored content’ (or similar). The content should be promoted through your brand’s email and social media outlets to drive traffic.
Break-out rooms by invitation, workshops and round tables are an excellent opportunity for engagement and sponsorship.
If held virtually, they can be used to bring different audiences together around key themes and generate leads for the sponsor.
(2) Branding solutions can increase awareness of key customers with sponsorship and advertising before, during and after an event.
Exhibitors can increase their brand awareness through a series of advertising positions on the online platform and in e-mails. Inventory can include banner ads, video pre-rolls prior to content sessions, promotion in email newsletters, usually sold at cost per thousand impressions (CPM) or rental.
In addition to monetising their inventory, many organisers also sell the re-targeting of audiences on other third-party platforms, and the geo-targeting of visitors to a physical location.
Hybrid and virtual event platforms can make high-profile sponsorship branding available on a platform.
Possibilities include sponsor branding on the homepage, virtual lobby pages and sponsoring online meetings.
For live and hybrid events, the mobile app is an important sponsorship opportunity. Mobile apps can be “owned” by a main sponsor, who also gets branding around all app promotions and through in-app advertising positions.
Discussion groups can create multiple sponsorship opportunities. These can be set up around different topics, allowing groups to come together, share updates and content, all surrounded by a sponsor’s branding.
The worldwide rise of podcasts is a good opportunity for event organisers to reuse conference sessions and interview speakers in a regular audio podcast.
Sponsorship usually includes audio messages in the episode itself, as well as the inclusion of their branding in any online or email promotion.
(3) Lead generation services use gated content and user-tracking to provide the customer with opted-in, qualified sales leads
Company profiles on a marketplace can be the starting point for most event organisers.
The company profile gives the exhibitor a presence in an online marketplace, provides tools to publish their products and news, as well as a full dashboard to monitor the leads of all those who view their profile.
Organisers can offer different levels of profile (e.g. Gold, Silver, Bronze), with packages structured to encourage customers to upgrade their listing.
Target visitors who use the web or mobile app to receive a pop-up message on their screen or smartphone.
Exhibitors can request the content, date and time of the alert. For example, to announce a demo of your product or to guide a visitor to a virtual stand.
Notifications can be targeted to specific demographic groups and – if an event uses beacon technology – also be location-specific (e.g. when a visitor is in a certain zone).
E-books and White Papers
Hosting downloadable white papers, reports and e-books about reports on a community platform to generate leads from visitors interested in reading about the topic.
This can be a very effective form of lead generation, as downloads can continue to generate leads for customers throughout the year.
Inform the industry with thought leadership on a specific topic and generate leads from anyone who registers live or on-demand.
Visitors can ask questions on the registration form, which are passed on to the sponsor along with their contact details.
Product demos and TechTalks
The Webinar format can be used in a number of different ways, such as targeted product demonstrations, factory tours and in-depth studies of the technology a supplier provides.
In product-led industries, this approach can prove more effective than a general educational Webinar.
The leads will usually be more inclined to talk further with the sponsor’s sales team.
By creating an incredible virtual event experience and keeping visitors engaged after the event, you create additional opportunities to monetise your audience after the event.
This can be done through content programmes, subscription opportunities and eventually paid event opportunities.
Sponsors still have the same needs that virtual events are built for: delivering qualified leads through the attendees and creating a platform for delivering their thought leadership and sharing their expertise with their target audience.
Virtual events offer a great opportunity to fulfil both sponsorship objectives.
An integrated sponsorship package
Here is an example of a digital and live sponsorship package before, during and after the event:
- Interview with sponsor speaker
- Add a short summary of the sponsor’s solutions
- Additional branding and thought leadership sharing for sponsors
- Creating value for the organiser by putting a speaker in the spotlight
- Publish an “About Sponsor” message
- Snippets of less than a minute are shared as part of event promotion
- Distribute as a special, stand-alone message – e-mail, social media to nurture registrants
- Making original blogs and other sponsor-created content available to all registrants
- Interview with sponsor speaker
Day of the event
- Offer a sponsored speaking session
- Provide sponsor with a list of participants in the speaking session
Live poll before and after the session
- Provide the sponsor with contact information and poll results
- Sponsor interviews on site can be coordinated in advance to attract more people to the sessions
Live and virtual hybrid booth
- Allow live and virtual participants to connect with sponsors and download their content
- Offer a sponsored speaking session
- Share video of a sponsor speaker session with all visitors via email and/or social media
- Provide sponsor with contact information of all visitors
- Host as on-demand indefinite download on the event website
- Distribute multiple versions of original sponsor content between three and six months after the event
- Make it available to all and maintain commitment
- Provide contact information of all viewers to the sponsor
- Share video of a sponsor speaker session with all visitors via email and/or social media
Segment your customer base
Not all exhibitors are the same, with a wide range of budgets and expectations. An important consideration when creating your digital packages is to have solutions that are suitable for businesses of all sizes.
These are usually the recognisable customers with large marketing budgets. They will be the first to knock on the door of your community, event apps and any other high-profile initiatives they can “own”.
Companies in this category can free up budgets for interesting opportunities and should be open to evaluating a menu of branding, content and lead generation solutions.
The vast majority of exhibitors will be in the long tail of spending, so it is essential to have an effective marketplace solution that can be easily rolled out across the entire customer base.
A segmentation of a stock exchange based on historical expenditure will usually look like the chart below:
Do not forgetDigital solutions have the potential to appeal to a wider range of suppliers than those currently exhibiting at a physical event. Provide competitively priced entry-level digital packages that are suitable for new prospects such as start-ups and international exhibitors.
Live and digital packages
The Fairtual Journey
A hybrid mix of live and digital channels should seek to harness the best of both worlds to create what has been called a “Fairtual Journey” throughout the longer lifecycle of an event.
The “Fairtual Journey”, a concept developed by Fairtual Technologies, allows an exhibitor to pay for a series of touch points. One element is the physical stand, but there are also other possibilities to offer within the sector, such as online panel discussions or digital product presentations. A subscription model may be appropriate here, whereby an exhibitor can opt for an annual fee for a touchpoint package that includes a certain number of digital and live elements.
Offer a menu of options so that companies of different sizes can purchase a package of live and Virtual Events Touchpoints at different rates. A smaller company could buy a stand space of around 20m², with an online product tour for one month and a virtual panel discussion at another time of year. A large company, on the other hand, could pay for a stand of more than 50m² at a physical trade fair, as well as for two panel discussions, two industry talks, an online award and virtual product tours for four months. The prices are relative and can be paid annually. It is important that this journey is designed with three elements in mind: exclusivity, urgencyandpurpose.
Exclusivity: a limited inventory of live and online options is a proven way to encourage bookings.
Urgency: These options may have limited availability – such as seats in a panel discussion – so it is important to book tickets early.
Purpose: Ensure that your offer brings results to sponsors and the public. The relationship that is built between customers and brands becomes a community through mutually beneficial content.
Start (the first level) with free online content accessible to everyone. Additional components such as these act as advertisements for your products and brand awareness. They attract people who are interested in what you are selling and search for it online.
Thesecond level involves potential customers signing up. These people already know you have good content, but now want access to exclusive articles, showcases or products. This is because their interest is piqued by the free offer. Content such as expert insights or webinars will then become available to them once they have registered and logged in.
Athird level could include paid access to VIP content, such as the ability to connect with Mastermind groups or think tanks, or an annual pass to a series of events.
Limit the places available for online content to make it exclusive to those who have subscribed. Target this audience by giving them FOMO (“Fear of missing out”) – such as “there are only a few seats left” for industry leader presentations or panel discussions. The goal is to keep customers engaged with your content, informing decisions and improving products for better ROI.
Offer a transparent ROI
Today’s marketers are used to using LinkedIn, Google and Facebook – platforms that all show real-time statistics. To remain competitive, the events industry must be equally transparent about how marketing budgets are spent, and provide customers with actionable statistics about who is following their profile and content. Gone are the days when organisers can expect re-bookings year after year without proof of ROI.
Platforms such as Fairtual offer exhibitors a real-time dashboard with information about all customers who have engaged with their online company profile, as well as the products and content they publish on their physical booth.
3. How do you adapt your sales team to the new world?
- Are organisers credible in digital sales?
Our respondents were asked whether traditional event organisers have the credibility to sell a digital product. The answers show that the future of conference organisers in this virtual world is promising, but they must be prepared to adapt their business models.
Switching from live to digital solutions
Our respondents were asked whether traditional event organisers have the credibility to sell a digital product. The answers show that the future of conference organisers in this virtual world is promising, but that they must be prepared to adapt their business model.
1. Remind customers why they chose live events in the first place
There was a reason why your client needed live events in the first place. Now is the time to revisit those reasons. What did they want to achieve? What were the outcomes and impacts they wanted? What were they looking for?
It is likely that their answers will come down to thought leadership, branding and lead generation.
2. Determine what success looks like for your client
Direct your client towards his new goals. How will they get through this? What do they want to achieve with their customers and potential customers? What do they want to be known for after this crisis? Chances are that your customers do not have answers to all these questions. So you have the opportunity to give examples of what you see in the market and make recommendations.
3. Educate the customer about your audience
Once you understand what success looks like for your customer, teach them how to change their behaviour. Explain that in the absence of face-to-face interaction, audiences tend to gravitate towards digital alternatives. Research what products you have or could make that work for your audience and help your customer achieve their goals.
4. Build solutions around impact
Once you have identified which digital products will help your customer achieve their goals, you need to work together to create a solution that is built around delivering the right impact. This provides your customer with a simple narrative that he can use to justify the expenditure internally to other stakeholders outside sales and marketing.
How to structure for success?
The digital transformation of events has given organisers the opportunity to rethink how they structure sales teams. There are now so many different channels for promoting content, engagement and marketplaces that can be approached in different ways. But what direction should an organiser take when restructuring his sales team? There are two schools of thought on how to go about this: specialists or generalists.
There is a new generation of people who have grown up with social media and know how to use it to reach a targeted audience. Hiring specialists who know how to use emerging technologies can give your business a competitive edge.
Digital and live events stand side by side, but they are two very different business models, generating different kinds of revenues and profit margins. It requires different skills and conversations.
Unless we realise this collectively, we will not move forward. This has been proven in the last 10 to 15 years of non-technical salespeople selling digital products – it just does not work. Bringing more tech-savvy staff into your sales team can help you navigate this new world – they have expertise that can help your team understand the language and potential that this new business model can offer. In addition to full-time digital specialists, it can also be useful to bring in freelancers for an event to attract clients. upselling.
Bringing your digital and event sales team together can help make the experience seamless for your customers. The reason is that one contact under one sales account manager makes it easier for them to communicate any concerns or requests. Moreover, bringing digital and sales teams together under one umbrella ensures a unified vision when supporting customers.
4. A go-to-market checklist
Your go-to-market (GTM) plan will determine how successful you are in making the transition to a digital model. Whether you are monetising a community or hybrid events throughout the year, make sure you cover the following steps:
- Value-based pricing and packages,
Eliminate the existing discounts and create a new value-based price card for customers. Research the rates of competitors to avoid pricing yourself out of the market.
Create sales material
Develop compelling branding and messaging to help tell your story, with branding, thought leadership and lead generation packages that appeal to customers. Ask your technology partner for examples of good sales material.
- Set KPIs
Make clear what is expected from sales and marketing, and break this down into weekly activity targets.Consider incentivising digital revenues more than the sale of physical stands, in order to promote the transition of revenues. For example, if you expect 25 per cent of revenue to come from digital sales, consider that this represents 50 per cent of the sales target.
- Train your sales team
It is crucial that your team is fully aware of the new offerings they are selling. It is crucial that your team is fully aware of the new offerings they are selling. A gap in many trade fair sales teams can be consultative sales, which is necessary when introducing new channels to customers. Consider a training course on “consultative selling”.
- Upgrades and upsells
Identify opportunities during the project to upgrade customers to a higher level package. This can be done when they first log in and from their dashboard when they become a user.
- Setting up e-commerce payment
How much of the sales could go through e-commerce payment? Set up a customer journey where new customers can buy packages directly through e-commerce.
- Launch the marketing campaign
Use all the channels you normally use to generate interest in an event – email, social media, etc.
- Exhibitors Webinars
Organise a Webinar to introduce the platform to exhibitors. This may involve working with your supplier to provide a demo explaining the benefits.Showing a fully stocked exhibitor showroom with products, videos and downloads will motivate them to match the same level of quality.
Help exhibitors make the most of their profile by providing them with How To videos, PDF user guides and other useful resources. The better the onboarding experience, the more likely customers are to be successful.
- Rebook using data
Digital platforms provide 20 times more data than traditional events, so use this to your advantage. After an event, create a report summarising all the prospects reached or influenced by a supplier. This should bring together all data points, including online and live leads, in one place to explain the full value of the campaign. And with this new level of information, don’t forget the oldest trick in the book: rebook!