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Virtual Event Sponsorship Ideas: Rethinking Sponsor Booths

Virtual events and conferences have become the norm as organizations have had to pivot from in-person events, but more importantly, virtual events have now proven so successful that it would be hard to imagine a world in which they do not stick around for good, becoming a part of every organization’s demand generation strategy. Much of that success has come from organizations stepping up to deliver memorable, engaging virtual attendee experiences using fresh ideas. However, organizations continue to struggle and underwhelm in the area of virtual event sponsorship. So, what are some virtual event sponsorship ideas that could help turn this all around? First, let’s talk about why sponsorships matter and why they haven’t worked so far for many organizations.

Why do virtual event sponsorships matter?

Well for one, sponsors have provided a great source of funding for in-person events. Sponsorships are what makes most in-person events profitable and they can make a huge difference in the virtual event space as well. While virtual events are typically cheaper to create and produce, providing sponsorship opportunities can still be a large source of revenue for your virtual event. Beyond the monetary benefits, sponsors can help drive registrations and expand the community for your event, not to mention deliver some unique content and experiences. 

Why most virtual sponsorship ideas don’t work.

The biggest problem with the current virtual event sponsor model is that organizations think it’s a 1-to-1 conversion with the in-person event sponsor model. I cannot stress this enough, do NOT treat virtual events like physical events. Many virtual conferences have simply taken the concept of the in-person booth and transplanted it to the virtual event format. This is not effective for three BIG reasons:

It’s hard to drive traffic. Unlike in-person events where the physical layout is set up to drive attendees through the expo floor, virtual events don’t have that going for them. The big allure for roaming the expo floor at in-person events are the offerings of schwag, which isn’t the case for a virtual event. Attempting a virtual version of this is a huge failure and the cause for most virtual event attendees exiting the browser and ending their event experience.

Sponsor booths are over-focused on live engagement. Virtual event attendees are flooding in at all hours of the day, not during a set time like with an in-person event. That’s why virtual events are usually a blend of live and on-demand sessions. Because of this flexibility, attendance patterns will be highly varied and does not mean that attendees and sponsors will always be able to connect live. So, while physical, in-person events are focused on getting handshakes and scanning badges, it’s time to understand that is not the same case for virtual events. While those engagements are important, they cannot be the end-all metric for measuring the success of a virtual event.

Virtual sponsor booths provide a lackluster experience. The beauty of digital is that we can personalize and diversify offers, create dynamic content, integrate different software, and design elegant digital spaces. With a virtual event, the webpage can say, “Welcome, Jane! The keynote on integrated marketing starts soon.” That can’t be done at a physical event because I would have to scan your badge before knowing who you were or have an idea of what you might be interested in. Organizations MUST take advantage of these digital benefits. If you only have a web page with a logo and a video, you’re setting yourself up for failure and wasting your own time.

How to improve virtual event sponsorships.

If organizers are wed to the virtual sponsor booth model, then it’s important that the design of the event maximizes the value and experience for both sponsors and attendees. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Give attendees natural on-ramps to engage with sponsors. This includes setting aside dedicated time for attendees to visit with sponsors and incentivizing attendees to make those interactions. A virtual event can’t offer the same type of schwag an in-person event can, but is there some digital schwag it can offer instead or something attendees can earn by engaging? Organizations still need to add some gamification into their virtual events to lead attendees into engagement.
  • Make it easy for attendees to interact and engage with sponsors. Think about using chatbots that can handle both synchronous and asynchronous interactions. Those chatbots can get attendees set on the right paths and get matched with the right content as well. Chatbots can also escalate conversations to a real person-to-person conversation that might occur via voice and/or video chat.
  • Re-envision the digital booth experience. Remember, this is not a digital billboard, it’s a digital experience. Organizations must leverage digital best practices to build great experiences that get attendees to engage with content. Don’t just give out free resources and digital schwag or gift cards. Organizations must focus on creating an experience from start to finish that pushes them to interact with content and use that content. People do not remember stuff, they remember experiences.
  • Look at interaction data. With a rich digital experience or canvas for attendees to engage with, the data and insights on how an attendee engages with the sponsor is extremely useful for a demand generation strategy that wants to capitalize on virtual events. Our tracking abilities online are exceptional and these cannot be ignored. With a virtual event, I can see Jane only attended half of a session, John watched several sessions then roamed a select few pages on the company website, and then 5 different people from the same major company spent 25 minutes collectively on the company website after attending one particular session.

Virtual event sponsorship ideas that work.

To create value for sponsors and attendees alike, virtual event organizers must integrate sponsorships into the event format. Here are four virtual event sponsorship ideas that break mold, and really work:

  1. Provide top-tier sponsors the ability to deliver a session on a conference-related topic. This is a win-win as it delivers value for both parties. If you’re looking for virtual event sponsorship ideas that get the sponsors more involved, this is it. These sessions should be timely and focused on where the industry is heading, and not be one big advertisement for the sponsor. To boost attendance for these sponsor sessions, try offering food delivery gift cards to make it a lunch and learn opportunity.
  2. Create a fun experiential activity for virtual event attendees. An event, in-person or virtual, should never be all work and no play. Provide sponsors the opportunity to patron fun activities for your attendees. A few great illustrations of this idea that we’ve seen are a mixology class, yoga session, live music, and cooking courses. Also, these fun activities pull in a lot of attendees, creating a large contact list that gets shared with the sponsors.
  3. Put sponsor offers directly into the videos. Given that sessions (on-demand and live) are where attendees spend the majority of their time, think about integrating sponsor offers into the pre-rolls and post-rolls of the video presentations. This will not negatively affect your viewer experience because watching a short message from the sponsor is a small price to pay to learn how to make a vodka martini in a free mixology class.
  4. Offer AMAs/roundtables. At in-person events, speakers often have a post-session Q&A and there is also an opportunity to find the speaker later at a cocktail hour or somewhere else at the event, introduce yourself, and ask questions one-on-one. Virtual event organizers can provide this same person-to-person opportunity by allowing attendees to schedule 5 minutes with sponsor speakers in an AMA style meeting. This allows for more human connection and direct communication that both speakers and attendees love.

The Iron Horse insight.

As virtual events continually evolve, it’s time for organizers, platform vendors, and sponsors to reimagine the sponsor experience in the virtual format. For virtual event sponsorship ideas, think digital first, then focus on the attendee experience, and be sure to leverage the rich data and insights from the digital footprints attendees leave behind.