The once thriving North American business meetings and conventions industry (which generated $221.6 billion in direct GDP in 2017) was significantly impacted by the Covid-19 crisis starting late in Q1 2020. According to Northstar Meetings Group’s Pulse Survey, which tracks the event planning industry’s evolving response to the Covid-19 pandemic, 82 percent of planners are currently working on fully virtual events. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, in-person conventions will likely be on hold until Q3 2021 at the earliest. Meanwhile, digital conferences and events – including trade shows – will continue to be held in their place. The annual CES trade show, the largest technology conference in the world, will be an all-digital event in January 2021 for the first time since its inception, 53 years ago. Some notable trade shows and conferences held virtually in 2020 include the Salesforce World Tour Sydney in early March, the SBC Digital Summit at the end of April and the Accounting & Finance Show in October 2020.
The Show Must Go On – Virtual Events Replace In-Person Conferences
With virtual events expected to continue replacing in-person conferences and trade shows throughout the first half of 2021, businesses planning upcoming meetings and events should analyze the successes – and failures – of recently held digital events to increase their own chances of executing a well-received event. Recent surveys have found that engagement with virtual event attendees is the largest challenge companies face when planning a virtual event as well as a key factor in ensuring the success of a digital only event. Event polling, interactive elements such as videos, social media integration, and free swag have all been identified as ways to improve audience engagement during virtual events. Yet according to Markletic’s survey of B2B companies, only 30% of B2B companies send giveways to the attendees of their virtual events. This represents an opportunity for companies planning virtual corporate events in 2021 to set themselves apart from the pack by utilizing a tried-and-true method for engaging with attendees: swag. According to Max King, organizer of a virtual marathon held in Oregon earlier this year, “A big piece of virtual is the swag. People are looking for that since they can’t have the physical event.”
Real Swag = Real Connections at Virtual Tradeshows
Large companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google held virtual events in 2020 and pulled out all the stops to ensure an enthusiastic, engaged (albeit remote) audience. One of the ways they connected with attendees spread out across the country was by sending virtual swag such as branded wearables, stickers, and bamboo lunch boxes to attendees. Essentially the same thing as the swag distributed at in-person trade shows and conferences, virtual swag amounts to physical promotional products delivered to attendees via direct mail before or after the virtual meeting, conference, or trade show. According to the Advertising Specialty Institute, “Microsoft’s decision to direct-mail conference swag is another high-profile example of event organizers continuing to utilize promotional products for their occasions, even though their events have gone digital because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Send Branded Merchandise Before Events for On-Screen Connections
Sending branded promotional products to registered attendees prior to a digital event can help promote the event and increase registration via free advertising from attendees showing off their new wares on social media. Alternatively, offering promotional giveways during an event is a great way to interact with audience members and keep them engaged throughout the event. At the virtual Google SheetsCon in March, conference attendees participated in a contest to win grab bags containing branded event t-shirts and stickers. In order to win a coveted grab bag, “participants had to share something about the event on their respective social media using the dedicated event hashtag. Alternatively, they could also visit a minimum of five of the sponsor booth pages during the event.”
Virtual Events are Here to Stay – We can Help Navigate Change
With many companies expressing interest in moving toward hybrid events (with both in-person and remote components) in late 2021 and beyond, finding ways to adequately engage remote attendees of business events will be vital to the success of conferences and trade shows as they continue to evolve in a more socially-distanced world. Offering virtual swag to attendees is a simple, effective way for corporate event planners to improve audience engagement while also building brand loyalty through the distribution of tangible promotional products. Just a few ideas to get our conversation started include:
- BrandHub Pop-Up Shops – Create a store specific to an event for automatic order entry and gathering attendee’s data.
- Special items or Show Kits – Offer something novel and new or feature a collection of existing items in a “grab bag” of swag.
- Distribution of Small Orders – Metron has the infrastructure that allows us to help you every step of the way – from getting attendees attention to delivering quality, long-lasting branded merchandise that will make any experience memorable for years to come.