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 how to monetize a virtual event.
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:
- “How do I earn revenue without the sale of physical booths and square meters on a venue floor?”
- “How do I charge for admission from my attendees?”
- “Why will they be willing to pay if my event is hosted online rather than at a physical location?”
- “Should I even consider monetizing my virtual event?”
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.
Why should you monetize a virtual event?
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.
How to monetize a virtual event
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:
- Registrations: When attendees sign up and pay for an event in exchange for access to the event.
- Exhibitions: When exhibitors pay for a booth at the event, in order to display their product and services.
- Sponsorships: When sponsors invest their funds in an event in return for brand visibility.
- Advertising: When sponsors, exhibitors, and other parties pay for branding opportunities at the event.
Here are some of the best ways to earn from your online events:
Offer different pricing tiers for tickets
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:
- Regular tickets: Free tickets or tickets charging a nominal amount in return for limited access to the event. For example, just an access to watch the online sessions in real-time.
- Early bird tickets: Contains a discounted ticket price for early registrants. It might even include delivery of some form of physical event swag, that is scheduled prior to the event.
- VIP access tickets: A ticket that gives exclusive access to various aspects of the virtual event, in exchange for a higher price. For example, exclusive virtual lounges to facilitate networking for VIP attendees (that may be hidden from other attendees).
- Single-day passes: Tickets applicable for events that last for more than one day and which provide access to only a specific day of the event.
- Multi-day passes: Tickets applicable for events that last for more than one day and which provide access to more than one day of the event.
- Group passes: Offers a discounted ticket price for bulk purchases. Often the applicable group sizes are pre-determined, for example, a pack of six tickets for one price with 20% discount.
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.
Provide sponsorship opportunities
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:
- Sponsored sessions: Amplify sponsors’ visibility through branding on the agenda page, branding around the live session, playing the sponsor’s video during ongoing sessions and breaks, asking the event host to give call-outs, ensuring all speakers use branded presentations, bringing on your sponsors as speakers to share thought leadership content and sharing sponsored documents for specific sessions.
- Virtual booths: Provide sponsors with a listing in the virtual booth section. Offer different booth size options, wherein they can use their assigned virtual booth to display customized information in the form of company details, images and videos of products, contact details, app/website links, digital vouchers or discount codes, branded swag, and brochures. Also enable interaction between the brand and attendees by 1:1 chat, 1:1 scheduled meetings and business cards dropping features for lead generation.
- Online breakout rooms: Let sponsors use online meeting rooms for conducting demos and engaging in a general interaction with their prospects. Also, host sponsored workshops, games and activities in exclusive rooms by setting up coded breakout rooms or ones that are only visible to selected ticket holders.
- Networking lounges: Assign virtual lounge tables to different sponsors, to facilitate open discussions and query handling between attendees and sponsors.
- Sponsorship in gamification: Organize branded games on your virtual event platform, in the form of online quizzes, contests and raffle draws. Also mention the sponsors in all relevant marketing communication (emails, event feed, and push notifications). Interweave interaction with sponsors with the event’s gamification activities. Additionally, you can ask partners to sponsor prizes for contest winners and top three leaderboard position holders to give them added brand exposure.
- Mentions in posts and notifications: Regularly post sponsored content on the event feed and pin the post regarding your headline sponsor on top of the feed, to give them extra coverage. Also, give shout-outs to your sponsors and exhibitors via push notifications, reminding attendees to visit their booths.
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.
Sell ad space on your virtual event website and in your marketing communication
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 24×7 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.
Open an online event merchandise and swag store
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.
Host paid access networking events and virtual happy hours
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.
Make use of affiliate commission partnerships
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.
Sell on-demand content
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.
Offer matchmaking, lead retrieval, and analytics
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.
Ways to maximize your virtual event monetization strategy
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.
Build hype around your virtual event
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:
- Plan your event marketing strategies well in advance and create an integrated social media, email marketing, and influencer marketing strategy.
- Use event hashtags to get your event trending on social media and allow your target audience to keep a tab on all the happenings.
- Create impactful videos as teasers for the event and promote them ahead of your event.
- Leverage the stories section of your social media channels. For example, you can include countdown timers, host pre-event quizzes and giveaway contests, or even conduct an Instagram Live with an influencer, to build excitement around the event.
- Promote your event on your website and in all your marketing communication, even the email signatures of employees.
- Ask your speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors to mention their involvement in your event on their social channels. For this you can create and share editable templates that have your event details and branding added.
- Conduct mini virtual events or webinars, that lead up to the main event. This will not only increase enthusiasm among your audience but also give them a flavor of what to expect at the actual event.
- Continue these activities even after the event is over by delivering more value to your target audience. For example, share snippets from the event such as illustrated notes from the event sessions or key speaker quotes and takeaways, post an image collage or video with all the social media action related to the event, announce the winners of the contests and leaderboard, roll out polls asking attendees for feedback, and also promote attendee testimonials.
Sell package deals and upgrades
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.
Sponsors and exhibitors
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 – $400.00
- Individual virtual booth
- Small booth size
- 1 team member access
- Limited 1:1 meetings with attendees
- Designated 4-seater networking lounge for product demos
- Lead capture package
- 1 rotating banner ad
Gold Package – $1700 – a savings of $300.00
- Individual virtual booth
- Large booth size
- 5 team member access
- Unlimited 1:1 meetings with attendees
- Designated 18-seater networking lounge for product demos
- Lead capture package
- Potential lead matchmaking with attendees
- 4 rotating banner ads across multiple locations
- Analytics reports
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:
- Virtual booth: $X (with different price options based on the size and added charges for the ability to self-create the profile)
- Staff member access: $X (cost per team member)
- Designated networking lounge: $X (with different prices for different sized lounge options)
- Sponsored session: $X (cost per session)
- Lead retrieval: $X
- Potential leads matchmaking: $X
- Real-time analytics: $X
- Rotating banner ad: $X (with different prices depending on ad size and placement)
As your partners select an additional feature, their basket size will increase, ultimately determining the final price of the sponsorship package.
Promote your event across multiple channels
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:
- Attendee advocacy: Provide referral codes and refund the ticket price partially (or provide some free add-on) if registrants manage to bring in more attendees.
- Affiliates: Partner with affiliates, who will promote your registration link in their channels, in return for a commission.
- Employee advocacy: Enable your sales and account management teams to promote your event to prospects and clients. Also, ask all the employees to add the event banner in their email signatures for all outbound mails.
- Email: Email marketing may sound old-school but if done well can do wonders. Consider sharing the event information on company newsletters and curating special event promotion emails. And back them up with analytics and personalization to immediately set yourself up for success.
- SEO: Focus on search engine optimization through keyword-oriented blogs, link building and guest posting.
- SEM: Leverage search engine marketing to rank your event landing page high up in the search results, especially platforms like Google.
- Social media: Consider both organic (including company account and industry groups) and paid (social media ads and influencer marketing) options.
Be prepared to sell
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 so you can monetize a virtual event.
Extend the event life and reach
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).
Choose an appropriate virtual event platform
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.
Conclusion – How To Monetize A Virtual Event
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 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.