By John Hunter
The new events landscape has changed the meeting and events paradigm for good. Prices are soaring, and costs are on everyone’s minds. Moving forward, the ability to monetize virtual and hybrid events (in addition to traditional in-person) experiences is a bit foggy for many events professionals.
In this post, we’ll talk about the new event formats that now provide various benefits within your total event program or your event portfolio. Secondly, we'll shift to exploring some options for finding value and ROI in those programs. And then lastly, we'll discuss the creation of a value-based ticketing and pricing model. The key word here is “value.” The New Events Landscape is Challenging Seasoned Planners and Marketers Although the pandemic has made it more challenging to monetize events, organizations are finding new and innovative ways to drive value. On the one hand, we've seen planners and marketers struggling to recoup some of the costs in a world where many events are not only virtual, but they're now free.
But at the same time, this tectonic shift to virtual (and hybrid) now includes the return to in-person events. The result is the opportunity to reach more attendees than ever before. So, this new landscape has really shifted how organizations and professionals are starting to plan, how they're marketing, and how they're selling those events.
While some things remained unchanged, one thing is still certain: it's critical to know your customers deeply to tailor your value propositions to them. Understanding your audience's challenges, motivations and aspirations is the key to engagement and driving revenue.
With this new, unprecedented, access to newer and larger audiences, marketers and event planners have a chance to rethink strategies around the monetization and development of new ways to create and capture that value.
Thinking Beyond Ticket Pricing With more opportunities at hand, you may be thinking solely about ticket pricing to drive revenue. At least, begin to think beyond ticket sales and start to recognize the hidden value within your virtual, hybrid, and in-person events. But along with some of these new models and methods comes some confusion, and many questions start to arise, arise.
What types of registration types should I even be offering?
How much should I charge for these events?
Should I tailor my price points for different audiences?
Can I even make money on these free events? And,
How would I start to even improve ROI of these new programs if I don't even have a ticketing model to begin with?
Events have evolved into three distinct formats: virtual, in-person, and hybrid. And understanding the benefits and limitations of each event format really helps you contextualize that potential value you can deliver to your attendees, your sponsors, and of course, how it impacts your organization, you can start to translate that value into ticketing and pricing, that's right for your event.
So, two key factors to weigh when considering event formats are the depth of your engagement that you create and the breadth of your potential audience. Let's explore what that looks like for each of these event formats and kick it all off with virtual events.
Virtual Events Virtual events can provide exponential reach and scale, they are powerful tools to attract attendees from a variety of backgrounds, roles, and functions—thousands of people can attend an event if they have a Wi-Fi signal.
They also offer organizations the opportunity to extend the value of event content beyond the event itself, i.e., “always on engagement.” Still, while the audience might be larger for virtual events, typically they have less depth of engagement than in-person experiences. The reality is, that in a purely virtual experience, people multitask, and can tune out mentally, and overall attention spans are certainly limited. That means audiences may be less willing to pay for the event since their commitment to the experience is lower than if they were to attend in person.
In-person Events The converse? In-person events. This is the tried-and-true format. We all know, mostly, what to expect, and will continue to be part of our event programs moving forward because they foster more meaningful relationships with and among attendees and sponsors. And these relationships can lead to stronger business partnerships and more lasting connections between people who share that experience within that same venue.
In-person events also offer a greater depth of engagement, but oftentimes with a more limited breadth, as they're only limited to those who can make the trip. The audience is typically more willing, though, to pay for a ticket to attend that ion-site for that depth of engagement for the intensity of engagement that the event can provide.
Hybrid Events Hybrid events provide planners with the best of both worlds in my opinion. Combining virtual and in-person formats really offers the depth of engagement in person while reaching that broad audience virtually. The result really is a flexible experience for any attendee and offers more ticketing options. You know, the challenge, though, is to deliver value to all attendee groups, since virtual and in-person experiences are unique, producing effective event hybrid events, increases complexity and requires more resources.
At the same time, though, planners can tailor event content to each audience to really maximize both engagement and ROI. Hybrid events provide flexible ticketing options, depending on the experience that an individual chooses. So, for example, some in-person, attendees of hybrid events may be willing to pay a higher price for access to on-demand content to complement their on-site experience. Defining the Value of Your Events To ticket and price your event optimally, you've got to define its value for different stakeholder groups. During an event, it's your attendees, possibly your sponsors, if you have those as part of your event, and then your business or your organization itself. And you can start to maximize value by mapping it to the relevant event attendee, to the sponsor, and then to those organizational goals.
Maximizing your value can lead to higher ROI for your organization, and ultimately a more rewarding experience for your audiences as well. Many organizations focus on just ticket sales. In the early days of the pandemic, many events professionals thought, “if we lose ticket sales, how would we even quantify ROI?” But ticket sales are just one slice of a much larger ROI pie. There are five benefits that contribute to event ROI.
Direct revenue: this is made up of ticket sales, your sponsorship dollars, maybe advertising sales, any merchandise that you're selling, exhibitor booths, and maybe even government grants that you have—think direct revenue tied to your event.
Revenue after the event: these are dollars influenced by product demos, or interaction at your event experience, perhaps with your sales teams at the event, or any type of influencer, it's tied to your event, but it's attributed, it's not as a direct result.
Attributed sales pipeline: Leads and opportunities generated at the event that eventually become sales or can eventually become sales. But it's the bigger picture of the total pipeline, and it's a big piece of the pie.
Brand equity. If attendees have a positive experience and incredible impression of your brand as it relates to the event, that also is driving business value to your organization, and you should be able to quantify that in some way. So again, if you have a free event, but you have hundreds (or thousands) of people attending this virtual experience, what's the value of all those brand impressions to your organization's just having clicked on a logo, seeing your logo, engaging with your content, but you didn't necessarily have a ticket sale? What is the value of that?
Knowledge exchange: This is just simply the act of sharing information and insights between those customers or between your prospect groups and amongst the organization at large. What is the value to your organization when there's knowledge exchange?
When you start to assess the full value of your events, you must consider the benefits that they can provide to your organization, along with those costs. There are many things beyond direct revenue that impact how much money an event will make, it can take time for some of those things to come to fruition, but it's important to include them in your total ROI calculation.
Event Value Through the Eyes of Your Internal & External Stakeholders It's important to remember as event professionals and marketers to look through and view value through the eyes of all your stakeholders. So, while you can highlight event value in objective terms, i.e., the right number type of sessions, speakers, and exhibitors, what really matters most is how your stakeholders perceive the event.
Imagine yourself in the shoes of attendees, sponsors, and internal stakeholders, by asking about their needs and their desires before and after the event. What you'll discover is how your event can help them succeed and achieve their goals. To expand your thinking and uncover hidden value, answer the following questions with as much detail as possible:
What will my attendees get out of the event?
What are the benefits to my sponsors?
What are the benefits to my partners?
How does this event bring value to the business or the organization?
Attendee-focused Value The best way to maximize value for attendees is really by understanding their interests and motivations for going to your event, leveraging historical data surveys, feedback, forms, interviews, and other tools that can help you craft the most valuable attendee experience. From the first moment, they interact with your brand to the moment they leave your event. Look for ways to address their pain points and provide value through education, entertainment, networking, high-touch support, status, convenience, or other business benefits.
Sponsor-focused Value Let's look at the next value to evaluate: sponsor-focused value. You know sponsors support events when they help their organizations achieve higher goals such as increasing revenue, driving sales leads, positioning them as leaders in their industries, or gaining media exposure. So, the best way to find hidden value is by understanding sponsors' business needs, for example, building brand awareness, increasing reach or engagement, strengthening loyalty with existing companies’ customers, acquiring new customers, or raising funds. You know, all of this is critical to ensuring that you're, you're delivering valuable experiences for your sponsor stakeholders.
Organization-focused Value The next one, organization-focused value—find internal value by aligning your event to your organization's key business objectives. For example, if the company's goal is to build a sales pipeline, an event’s purpose may be to gather leads from qualified prospects. If your event’s goal is to drive revenue and the event may target existing customers with high-value items, or services, they can purchase on-site.
Internal goals are not always directly related to direct revenue or ticket sales, an event’s purpose could be to enhance brand identity and awareness, or perhaps showcase product innovations or highlight corporate culture. Be sure to factor in those intangible benefits, like knowledge exchange, sales pipeline, and attributed revenue into the equation when looking for hidden value.
Once you've defined what value means to each group, you can use this information to build value propositions that are unique, authentic, and compelling. By focusing on value for all three groups, you can price your event accordingly and maximize ROI.
Value-based Ticketing Now that you've defined the value for what you want to provide, let's look at how value-based ticketing and pricing can help you translate that into that value into packages attendees and sponsors will love. So, the ticket price is not just about calculating costs and adding a profit margin. It's also about how much people want what you're selling.
A value-based ticketing strategy finds ways to ensure each buyer's perceived value of the experience equals or exceeds the price that they pay. So perceived value is the impression that a person forms about your event's worth based on their perspective. It exists only in people's minds. So, as you solve their biggest problems or satisfy their most important desires perceived value goes up, let's explore some techniques that can influence perceived value. And consequently, ticket demand and price. Pricing Strategies First, perhaps start with some flexible pricing options, using a tiered pricing system to add flexibility. The hybrid model represents maximum accommodation. And oftentimes that manifests itself with different options for payment. Offering those packages ranging from potentially free all the way to premium (or super premium) gives your potential attendees a range of investment options for your event.
The key is to do your best to meet individual attendees at their cost threshold. Tiered pricing also can help you find the right balance of supply and demand and start to match those ticket costs to those perceived value levels.
An example of this includes offering individual attendees free tickets that allow access to just view digital, or general session content. That's a common model, especially in the hybrid space. Or paid tickets that include access to all digital content, including keynote sessions, as well as access recordings after the event it over. So, there's a little bit of that FOMO experience because they don't get the content live they don't necessarily have access to live q&a experiences.
But they do have this learning opportunity after the fact. These models for upgraded ticket packages could include all the above. You can also reserve seats at virtual breakout session tables. And those could be at a discounted rate, still cheaper than attending the event in person. You have many options available.
Exclusive Content Being able to differentiate your event by offering exclusive content that perhaps costs more to produce, i.e., sourcing external celebrity keynote speakers—provides you with the opportunity to create VIP experiences that can offset your costs.
This approach allows you to grant high-value attendees access to content more suited for their needs, while still satisfying more budget-conscious attendees with standard content. Most attendees join for educational experiences, but by offering a variety of options, and different levels of content, you can also intermix free and paid programming to maximize ROI.
An example of this type of model is introductory content “101 level” sessions. Assume that's free for attendees while encouraging them to go a little bit deeper. So, for deeper content, you create levels 201, 301, and so on.
Premium Training & Premium Tiers Training is different than learning and development style content. Think about differentiating your types of content to, for example, training materials, learning guides, or the ability to receive certifications or continuing education credit. This can also help offset costs. If the value of that content is transparent, audiences will be willing to pay no matter the event format, you know, but not only does deliver that great content showcases your event expertise, but that can be a huge draw for future attendees as well.
Keeping quality standards in place, ensuring your event is worth the highly perceived ticket price, and adhering to a standard of excellence, ensures that only high-quality speakers and, or exhibitors are allowed and that your organization is really delivering superior service is critical. The fact is, those high standards can help maximize revenue, while also delivering quality experiences for attendees. And, you know, the longer and the better experience, you’ll have more return attendees. There's something to be said about maintaining the integrity of the content that you are charging for.
How much your organization is willing to put forth in terms of effort is how much you can expect to receive in terms of audience investment, too. The important takeaway is about special perks, like gifts, intangibles, swag items, or even potentially meals to up-level the experience and encourage engagement. And so, these might be something that you choose to include in that tiered pricing plan, or they might be a way to capture more attention from attendees and ultimately drive the intangible value of that event.
Consider these options for premium experiences:
Additional networking events
Speaker VIP experiences
Speaker sessions with Q&A time
Catered meals and unique settings or venues
Gift certificates for meals
Tried-and-true Event Marketing Tactics The best event marketing tactics—those that allow audiences to capture a lower ticketing rate before it starts to increase over time, should always be a part of your promotional plan. You can also create those discount codes or conduct flash sales for both in-person and virtual audiences. Or, because urgency is such a powerful driver, you can encourage prospective attendees to register sooner rather than later.
But just be mindful of the differences and registration behaviors for your virtual audiences versus your in-person attendees—it's very likely that your in-person audiences are going to be registering much earlier than your virtual audiences who could be deciding to join you, honestly, the day of or just a few minutes before your event. Those are things to keep in mind as you're mapping out your promotional plan. You could also include in that strategy for exhibitors and sponsors for time-based offers. So, you're starting to incentivize not just your general population, your general audience, but also those other paying groups with those sales offers.
Sponsorship Maximization As event professionals, you know that many of your events can’t be a financial success without the support of amazing sponsors and partners. One of the great things about the new event formats is that you can increase your reach and you can give sponsors more access to, perhaps audiences, they didn't have access to before.
Aim to create sponsorship packages that provide access to all audiences at varying tiers of investment—being able to articulate the benefits and differences of these formats is impactful to sponsors. Your sponsors will be aware that they can reach different levels of exposure and have new ways of engaging with your attendees.
Sponsorship opportunities might also include events that take place before or after the live “main event” and possibly aren't included in your registration or attendee experience. So, selling sponsorship opportunities outside of your core ticketed activity can open new revenue streams and foster stronger relationships with those sponsors and partners.
Fostering Connections We’d be remiss if we didn't talk about just fostering connections at large. When considering pricing structures, remember the profound value of the connections that are made through events, especially in your in-person environments.
We're now seeing attendees gravitate towards roundtable networking and the many other networking opportunities and events hosted through meetings and conferences. It’s not just all about content and learning. And so, consider what that carries to your organization and to your attendees, as well.
Additionally, ask yourself how your event design or event agenda can foster those connections and conversations with and amongst attendees. Furthermore, when you prepare to price, consider including rates with options for more one-on-one time, and more opportunities to connect I think it's so important to stress that creating those meaningful attendees, that meaningful attendee experience is vital to producing a profitable event.
How We Priced our Own Event: Cvent CONNECT When it came to pricing for Cvent’s events, there was certainly a bit of trial-and-error. Our 2021 program featured a variety of pricing levels—and in ’22, we adopted flexible pricing to create three separate offerings. Since Cvent CONNECT was a hybrid event, we offered a free virtual experience and a premium virtual experience. When it came to the in-person experience, we had another pricing tier. Three unique experiences, all taking place during one event.
And by offering premium content and special perks, limiting access to certain events, and creating unique and unforgettable VIP experiences, we were able to establish a pricing structure that met every attendee’s personal needs, while also offering our sponsors opportunities across all these pricing tiers.
We learn year-over-year, we learned from the 2021 event, we applied some of those findings into 2022, and have no doubt that we'll continue to build on what that strategy looks like moving into 2023 as well.
Conclusion There are numerous opportunities to create and capture value at your events beyond basic ticketing prices. We now know that events can be virtual, we know that events can be in-person, and we know that they can be a combination of both in the hybrid format, but each format has its own inherent benefits and its own inherent limitations.
The key is really understanding what your attendees and sponsors want, with an eye on your organizational goals, and how best to leverage your total event program to drive value. That way you can start to maximize ROI, whether it's through direct revenue, like ticket sales, and sponsorships, or if it's other forms of ROI, like sales, pipeline, lead generation, brand equity, or knowledge transfer. The value-based ticketing and pricing method is really going to help you deliver on that promise of creating true outcomes, and true value for those attendees and those sponsors.
For more about this subject, please check out our eBook, "How to Ticket and Price Virtual, Hybrid, and In-Person Events
John Hunter John is the Senior Manager of Event Cloud Content Marketing at Cvent. He has 11 years of experience writing about the meetings and events industry. John also has extensive copywriting experience across diverse industries, including broadcast television, retail advertising, associations, higher education, and corporate PR.