This article on explaining the value of a virtual event is part of a series of articles designed to help chamber pros know what to say when they’re faced with difficult conversations. If there’s a hard conversation in your future or a difficult question you’ve received that you would like us to cover in the future, please drop us a line.
Chambers all over the world have begun to realize the value they’re able to provide through virtual events and e-learning.
But are your members recognizing it?
Unfortunately while most of us as a culture have embraced the abundance of online resources, we have also come to devalue them. There’s a pervasive “everything online should be free” mentality which was popularized by Steward Brand (founder of the Whole Earth catalog) when he declared that “information should be free.”
A lot of it is. We all give a lot of online content, resources, and education away for free. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to charge for some things. While all of our programming has value (or you shouldn’t be doing it), not all of that value is realized.
Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, countered (intentionally or not) Brand’s philosophy with “Better than Free,” a long-form essay on his (ironically) still Web 1.0 blog. What he leaves out (the essay is 12 years old and highly focused on digital products) is where we are taking this article.
When a potential attendee, presenter, or sponsor refuses to pay, it’s because they don’t see the value. They see your online offerings as worth less than your in-person events.
The customer (no matter what you’re selling) believes the price should fit the value. In their mind, they see $0 value in the virtual event so the price should match. But you’re not providing $0 value and you need to price accordingly.
Then you need to be ready for the big question, “Why are you charging for this?”
Handling the Question of “Why Should We Pay?”
When you’re faced with the difficult conversation–the one where they tell you, your event is online why should we pay for it?–you should be prepared.
The Value of a Virtual Event for Members and Other Attendees
Never host an event or educational offering that doesn’t provide a very specific value to your audience.
You must be able to clearly articulate what they are getting from it.
A good webinar description will provide the potential attendee 3-5 valid reasons why they need to attend and what they’ll learn. If you’re using an outside presenter, ask them to provide that info for you. Don’t make the description too complicated.
Follow this formula: Problem + Cost of problem + How you can help = successful resolution and how this event helps you get there.
- Reason someone might care (Example: 4.5 million business owners have this problem.)
- Problem that will occur if it’s not corrected (Example: Without implementing the technology, businesses can expect to lose $100,000 a year on average.)
- How this webinar, event or course will help. (Example: in one afternoon, we’ll show you how to protect your assets and…increase your ______ through ________).
Next, to instill the value behind this event, share the expertise of the person providing your information. If they’re a keynote speaker or are in another role that commands a high price tag, share how they are an expert and the details that make them so. This will further validate the reason someone would want to pay to see them.
If you have access to amazing speakers that they couldn’t see on their own, explain what a ticket to see that person usually costs.
How to Meet Attendees’ Needs
A virtual event doesn’t mean bored attendees staring at a screen while hoping their dog or child won’t make noise during it.
You have a lot of options for break out sessions, team building, extra coaching sessions, VIP or bonus virtual experiences, and more that will excite the audience. Think about what your audience wants from an in-person event and market how you’ll provide them with the same opportunities in a different format.
When someone questions the cost, give a detailed list of the extras (i.e. bonuses!) they’re receiving.
Providing Value for Sponsors
Members aren’t the only ones who may resist being charged for your event or educational opportunity. Sponsors who previously paid for speaking spots or opportunities to introduce a keynote speaker may no longer be interested in those packages because of the fact your event is now virtual.
So what do you do?
How do you show the sponsor that your virtual event has the same appeal and return on investment that your in-person event does?
When a sponsor doesn’t want to pay for a virtual event, it’s because they don’t think they’ll get the same return if they can’t see people in-person. So you have to either assure them they will get the viewership they expect or they’ll have the ability to interact with people and get to know them.
If you’re not sure you can offer those things through your virtual event, you can provide them with a second opportunity, giving them something more that they want.
What Do Your Sponsors Want?
If your sponsors refuse to pay for virtual packages, look for other ways to give them the visibility they likely desire.
Consider offering the following bonus opportunities to help them reach the audience:
- Create a video for them. Promote it on your site and share it with them for however they want to use it.
- Interview them on a topic they are experts on.
- Make them a host of a Zoom meeting on a topic of their choosing.
- Give them a spotlight.
- Allow them to host individual sessions outside of the event.
Take a Clue from Consultants
One of the reasons few people want to pay for virtual events is because there is so much free content on the web. Just Google “free webinars” and you can find a host of ways to learn for free.
So how can any of these people behind the free webinars make money if they give everything away?
They don’t give everything away. That just overwhelms people who end up feeling like they can’t take action. Smart marketers give enough away to help, but also make customers “hungry” for the deeper solution or knowledge they offer. They do this by providing the “why” not the how” or getting very granular (like this example from Classy.org – this is not an endorsement, simply an example).
You can do the same. You could put on a free webinar detailing 5 Easy Things to Do to Improve Your Business During the Pandemic. One of the things you mention should be a small part of a larger topic. Then sell an event, course, or webinar that provides a step-by-step, in-depth process building on that teaching.
They can get a little information for free and a complete walk-through on how to implement a solution by paying.
Stop Calling Them “Virtual”
When a member tells you they’re not going to pay for a virtual event, they don’t understand what they’re receiving. You need to show them. Illustrate in very real ways what value they are getting. Listen to what they think is missing and either give examples of how it’s changed or look to incorporate their suggestions.
Also, maybe it’s time to stop calling these events virtual.
I’m guilty too, but Adrian Segar at Conferences That Work had a compelling argument about why we should give up that language. He says the term “virtual” devalues our events. Like it’s somehow less than real.
In other words, it sort of sounds like “clearance” and not the intriguing military kind but the “we need to get rid of it because we made too many” kind.
To some participants, the word virtual sounds like it’s something subpar to our “normal” events.
While we’re talking about words to avoid…
Ditch the Word “Support”
In a lot of ways, we’ve tried to become a kinder, gentler place. We post signs thanking first responders and telling people to “be kind.” And that’s part of the reason the word support has become such a large part of most people’s vocabulary.
“Won’t you please support us?” is used in Kickstarter campaigns, GoFundMe, and a host of other situations.
While it conveys a beguiling vulnerability, it also shows a need to rely on businesses to do your important chamber work.
“Support” works great for an idea or a non-profit but asking for financial “support” from sponsors sounds like you’re asking for a handout and are not economically viable. This is not the message you want to convey as the voice of business.
Instead, talk of “investment in the community,” “visibility,” “reaching their audience.” You are providing them with a marketing opportunity. You don’t need a financial bailout or help (even if you do.)
It’s a challenge to assist your audience see the value of virtual events but it’s up to you to do so if you want them to pay to attend or sponsor the event. Think of what they want and how your event can give it to them, even if they’re not seated next to one another.