The biggest challenge for any event is getting people to actually show up. That task becomes even more daunting when your audience is used to an in-person show, and suddenly you have to sell them on the idea of a virtual conference or event.
With the pandemic putting plans on hold and forcing events to cancel, virtual events have been the most sensible solution to the problem. And sending promotional products to virtual attendees is probably the most sensible solution to marketing the event and making it so attendees don’t feel like they missed out on the face-to-face interactions.
We’ve covered this idea for both business events and sports. In the absence of in-person events, companies and franchises can send items directly to peoples’ doors. Drop-shipping has been huge for this. And as companies and organizations continue to listen to health officials and play it safe by going virtual-only or a hybrid model of in-person and virtual, they’re also honing the craft of the gift bags.
More and more events are figuring out that promotional products remain a key part of their strategy—and figuring out how to deliver them to virtual attendees. Crain's New York Business just ran a story on it, namedropping a whole bunch of events that are going this route, including the New York City Wine & Food Festival and New York Comic Con, both happening virtually in October.
“Just about every organization we work with is sending a kit—bottles of wine, a meal kit, a cocktail kit—as an elevated ticket package,” Eric Wielander, strategic director at event planner Eventique, told Crain’s.
Understanding that a virtual event isn't quite the same as seeing speakers and shaking hands in-person, adding something to a ticket price as a premium can sweeten the deal and sway someone who's on the fence. It doesn’t have to be a fancy meal kit with gourmet ingredients (though YouTube showed us that works pretty well). It can be similar to what you’d receive on the trade show floor—maybe a water bottle, a lip balm and a granola bar.
Jeremy Parker, CEO of swag.com, told Crain’s that this past month was the strongest in the company’s five-year history, which is an enormous feat while so many other businesses have to grind to keep the lights on. Swag.com reportedly made more than $1 million in sales, and expects to hit $10 million in revenue this year, up from $7 million last year. These kinds of events packages have contributed to those sales.
“It is a very weird time, and everyone is trying to figure out how to make an impact and connect,” Parker told Crain's. “If you are not in-person, how do you show people that you care?”
As we reported in our longform piece on the current state and future of trade shows, virtual events likely aren’t going anywhere. Even if a vaccine magically appeared tomorrow, the logistics of distributing it would be a bear, so it would still require a lot of time of safe practices and social distancing in the interim. And until that point, while the scientific and medical communities race to find a vaccine, companies are shifting their events online and limiting their employee travel.
A virtual event might not offer the same experience as a live one, but it’s the best solution there is right now for companies and people who rely on them for their job. (Some virtual events have turned out pretty great!) If your job is to bring people to an event, one way you can do that is with a well-curated and thoughtful promotional products package that stands out.
By now, we've seen this in action enough times to know it works. And while it'll never offset lost revenue for promo companies that rely on the events industry for sales, it's good to see it gaining steam.