Many companies are doing virtual events right now because of COVID-19, and the problem most of them have is that they are not that engaging. When you attend an event in person, you are engaging with the event; You committed to travel, carved out time out of your schedule to be there, perhaps even scheduled a babysitter. Having that in-person event creates a physical connection, or a memory if you will, such as the people met while networking, some swag they got at the event, or even the venue if held at a resort-style venue.
When you switch to online, not only are you competing with other possible events that could be happening around the same time, but you are competing with the world. The Facebook or Slack notifications, the little ones yelling in the background, the dog begging to go out, or even the neighbor's lawnmower continually buzzing. Congratulations, your event has turned into a live podcast because nothing is creating a physical connection to the event. The question you need to be asking yourself is, "Why would I want to sit down and attend my virtual conference? Wouldn't my time be better used homeschooling my child or cleaning the house?" These are the things you are now also competing against
Now for the secret sauce, you need to make your conference physical. Yes, the hosting platform, speakers, and content of your conference are essential, don't get me wrong, buthaving a physical presence being part of the conference is just as important as it will create a viable memory for you. This is where promotional products, otherwise known as swag, comes to the rescue. Most event organizers seem to not emphasize the importance of promotional products and consider it secondary to things like signage, food, or even the beer selection. However, during these times where getting together is not possible,having good swag can mean having a better return on your virtual conference investment.
Let's start with registration. If you're charging for your event, people may say the value is not there for a virtual conference because of the reasons listed above. Still, if your marketing mentions the first X number of people to register will be sent a special conference package to be opened the day of the conference, it builds a bit of mystery, suspense, and fun instead of just another live podcast.
It's essential to work with a promotional products specialist to help design how this kit will look. Using our experience and network to help source responsibly and produce these kits is essential to making your promo as successful as possible. Perhaps your conference was going to be at a beach resort, and so you theme the conference to have a tropical theme. Some example items could be:
Beach towels with its massive imprint area and are typically held onto for years.
Sunglasses with decorated arms
Sunscreen and lip balm set.
A decorated hat such as a trucker hat or lightweight fabric.
Even a decorated face mask that your participants can wear outside of the conference or to the beach.
And don't forget unique packaging that instructs the recipient not to open the box until instructed during the conference.
The recipient will receive their package, and a bit of mystery builds up about what's in the box, and they will be waiting to see what fun items they received and will be sure to log in to take part in the fun.
Now I know the next thing that organizers will be thinking will be "Well, that will be expensive," and I have frequently challenged that with the following. How much were you going to spend on signage at your event, the food, and beverage, or that signature happy hour open bar tab? What about your other costs like personnel transportation and lodging or their additional expenses incurred during trips? Would you not have incurred those costs anyways for offering an in-person event? Chances are you would be able to do a pretty sweet swag box and save over those costs.
If you have sponsors who were planning on attending your event or perhaps vendors who typically set up a booth, see if they would be willing to sponsor an item in the box, and it could have their branding on it. Not everything needs to have your specific logo, and this could help alleviate some of the expenses you would bear for the kit while enhancing the package to your participant.
Lastly, remember, integrate the swag with your conference. Have an author as a speaker? Think bookmark with a quote. Have a meditation guru, maybe a yoga mat. If your conference is held annually, consider a commemorative pin for this year's digital conference and say get spotted wearing this at the next in-person conference. Even offer to send swag after the conference, such as the first ten people tweeting their notes, gets a notebook. Please take advantage of people sharing their swag to create the FOMO of missing your conference and spreading your brand's name. But whatever you do,don't let your conference live without a physical presence.