Valerie Hayman Sklar, president of Detroit-based Corporate Specialties, helps B2B companies enhance their marketing with branded products.
Historically, annual trade shows and conferences have allowed people to come together to facilitate business, learning and fellowship. With many in-person events of any size being pushed into 2022 and beyond, planners have turned to virtual events to keep business going.
Making the switch has required many adjustments, and the focus was initially on getting the technology to work — rightfully so. Attendees have to be able to connect to the platform in order to connect with speakers, other attendees and event organizers. But that’s not the only connectivity that needs to be fostered.
With the pandemic keeping people separated, many of us are craving emotional connections. We want a sense of belonging with peers. Creating an emotional connection is one of the hardest things to facilitate in a virtual event. One thing that can help is promotional products.
Branded merchandise with the event logo and colors can bring people together so they feel like they’re a part of something special. While the event is digital, promotional products are tactile. They tap into the five senses and create a tangible experience.
How can you successfully integrate branded merchandise into your next virtual event? I’ve worked with clients across a number of industries, including tech, automotive and mortgages, on creating promotional marketing campaigns for their virtual events, plus I’ve hosted two of my own virtual events. The strategies below are the culmination of what I’ve learned so far in this emerging arena of digitally connecting with our respective audiences.
Whether an in-person or virtual event, most conferences have a theme to solidify the focus. When choosing promotional products for your event, look at how this theme can be brought to life both visually and tactilely. Perhaps this is through logoed products, via the products themselves or both.
Tapping into a theme not only gives you a starting point creatively, but it also creates cohesiveness in your messaging — from the information presented online to the branded merchandise delivered in person.
2. Choose Items That Can Be Used During The Event
One of the reasons people attend events is for connection and community. While the virtual experience may not be able to replicate the same feelings as in-person events, promotional products that can be used during the event can help bridge the gap and offer a sense of unity. If attendees are all wearing the same shirt or drinking out of the same water bottle, for example, they can feel a sense of belonging.
3. Consider Logo Placement That Can Be Seen On Screen
Traditional imprint areas may not have the same visibility because of the computer camera's limited field of view. To keep the event logo in sight, reconsider placement. For apparel, use a smaller logo on the shoulder. For water bottles and mugs, put the logo on the bottom so the branding can be seen when someone sips.
4. Use Swag Bags As An Incentive
Compared to in-person events, people tend to register later for virtual events. And of those who register, not everyone shows up. Swag bags can do double duty and address both of these issues.
To counteract late registration, use the swag bag as an enticement for early sign-ups. You could even offer an additional gift for early birds who sign up by a certain date.
Delivering the swag bag prior to the event builds excitement and serves as a reminder to attend. If you have the shirt, you have to show up, right?
A lot of people love unboxing videos, so film your own to show what swag attendees receive, and then encourage others to share their own videos. Add a sticker to the outside of the box to serve as a reminder that the contents are so sweet that filming the reveal is a must.
Another way to bring people together during your virtual event is via an event hashtag. Encourage attendees to post pictures with their swag on social media, using your hashtag, before, during and after the event to generate excitement and strengthen connections.
With all the options for learning available online, make sure you acknowledge your attendees for taking time out of their busy lives to participate in your virtual event. While a thank-you email is typically expected, a gift in the mail isn’t. And that’s what makes it special.
If you weren’t able to send a pre-event swag bag, put together a post-event thank-you kit that includes items to help attendees execute what they learned during your time together.
If you did send a swag bag, use the post-event time to send a final thank-you gift. We recently created a campaign that included a logoed cookie packaged in a branded box that was sent to virtual event attendees. Not only did the accompanying collateral thank them for participating, but it also promoted the next event. This kind of two-for-one piece is not only an effective marketing tactic, but it also can be an economical one.
Takeaway: You Can Bring A Personal Touch To Virtual Events
While nothing will replace live events, their virtual counterparts do have many benefits. The more ways that personal touches such as promotional products are incorporated, the more these events can help form connections and bring people together — all while building your brand.
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