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Event marketing | 20 October 2021

How to Build a Business Model for Your Event Program in the Hybrid Era

Bizzabo Blog Staff

As the event industry has shifted towards hybrid, so have the business models that support it. Here’s how to keep up.

As we usher in a new era of hybrid events, business models are changing to reflect the evolving needs of customers, sponsors, and event attendees. While the foundations remain familiar, organizers are now tailoring their approach to suit events with digital and in-person audiences sharing one experience simultaneously.

All of this translates into more opportunities for revenue.

Data is Doing the Work

But, first, a side note: this “flexibility factor” increases your reach and gives you an opportunity to dig down into your data to learn more about your customers.

Events with a virtual component provide layers of data that were rarely capitalized on in the past. Learning to read and understand that data will be a key component in choosing the business model that’s right for you.

For event organizers with multiple virtual event use cases, customer types, and KPIs per event, the more data you’re able to access and synthesize, the better you’re able to prove and improve strategies over time. (It also means you can make a solid case for future budget.) This information is quite literally the foundation of your own future success.

Because the hybrid approach can be applied to so many use cases (for instance, check out how Acronis is scaling their hybrid strategy), it’s important to consider which use case and business model will help you achieve the highest level of Return on Event. Events can impact your business in many ways, depending on your goals—from revenue generation, to renewed ARR, to brand awareness. The business model you choose should suit those goals in order to help you focus on driving business impact and return.

Here are some examples of business models to consider in the hybrid era—whether you are a corporate or for-profit event organizer.

Registration Revenue

Digital experiences driven by content will likely be the new bread and butter of the event industry, which in turn means the opportunities we do have to come together in person must be more interesting than ever.

It shifts an in-person event component from an opportunity to glean surface information, to an unforgettable experience. This is where tiered pricing structures can really change the game.

Offering a basic tier for the virtual side of your hybrid events ensures you’ll get that additional reach. Depending on your business goals, that could be just the impact you’re looking for. With a wider reach, you can gain a bigger following and even command bigger sponsor packages.

By making in-person components more experience-driven and tailored using data gathered from your virtual event platform, you’ll be able to offer premium packages for those looking for factors like more specialized knowledge, or the opportunity to network. You just need to make sure you deliver.

“If you are an in-person attendee you show up a different way. Your commitment level to that event is very different,” says Rex Serrao, Senior Director of Marketing Technology at Salesforce. “Likely you paid money or you decided to get in a car and drive somewhere or more probably you decided to get on a plane and fly somewhere. That’s a huge level of commitment that you’ve decided to make.”

So how do you determine how to tier your event registration prices? “Your free is going to be your ‘what’ and your ‘why’ and your paid is going to be the ‘how’,” says Katrhyn Frankson, Director of Event Marketing at Informa.

Most importantly, you’ll be able to use all of the data you gain from registration to help achieve return on event, whether it’s through ticket revenue, pipeline, or sponsor interest.

Sponsorship Revenue

Because so many companies hosted a year of free events, sponsorship became an important “safety net”-esque business model to help event organizers keep costs down.

Determining how to provide value to sponsors was therefore top of mind across the industry. In the hybrid era, however, sponsorship revenue can easily be a focal business model because of the enriched data that virtual platforms can provide.

Being able to provide virtual and hybrid event sponsors with information like how many people saw their digital ad, how many signed up to learn more about their company, or even how many minutes attendees paid attention to a session demonstrates to a sponsor just how valuable your partnership is. This is the new benchmark for proving value.

Some are even drilling down deep to help sponsors target the right audience within the larger audience. “How can we sit down and partner with the sponsor and be a true consultant and partner to them?” asks HubSpot VP Kim Darling. “It has to feel organic and trustworthy and aligned with what that brand is for the audience. At the end of the day, we are experts in our audience and the brand is experts on themselves and their area of expertise, so it requires deep partnership.”

Remember, when trying to win sponsors for your hybrid events, creativity is key. “Sponsors want to partner with us on an activation that is close to their hearts,” says Adele Durham, VP of Events for Haymarket Media. Think about exciting live opportunities, and then consider how that spirit could be applied digitally to ensure that both segments of your audience are getting a comparable experience.

Subscription Revenue

Because of the pivot to virtual, AV production for virtual events is better and more accessible than ever, which means any event you host and capture can become content to later be purchased.

Travel budgets took a hit last year, so catering to the on-demand audience is a business model that meets customers where they are. Being able to access keynote speeches, listen to weekly podcasts, or attend regular webinars on industry-relevant topics helps keep customers on top of trends without having to leave their homes. Providing valuable information through your content also cements your position as an industry leader.

Instead of one-off access post-event, consider turning your event’s sessions into evergreen content that can be accessed anytime.

Because subscription business models rely on establishing long-term relationships with customers, you likely already have the data you need to determine who might be a good candidate for this kind of purchase. Like the registration revenue model, you can take a tiered approach with subscriptions. For those willing to pay a premium, you can provide more unique or intimate interactions, and ensure a high quality of attendees they’ll want to network with.

Pipeline and ARR

For many corporate event organizers, the point of an event is to move leads through the buyer’s journey and build out pipeline for (or in tandem with) the sales team. Hybrid events can help you make this business model even more targeted and effective.

Hybrid event programs are uniquely able to teach you exactly who is interested in which topics, which products, which information, and then teach you how to accelerate leads in the right direction. If customer A said she was interested in learning one thing, but attended three sessions on another topic, you can surmise what knowledge she’s actually seeking, maybe before she does. If customer B watched your content about a certain product twice in a week and signed up for a mailing list, you know exactly how to tailor a follow-up that has a greater chance of success.

During a hybrid event, creating spaces like virtual rooms for people to interact one-on-one can also help create the intimacy of an in-person meeting (especially if your Customer Success and Sales teams are present).

If your event gets customers to expand their business with you resulting in additional ARR, you’ve proven value all the way down to the bottom line.

Making the Data Work for You

No matter what business model you choose, accessing and reading the data available to you will help you prove return on event, and aid you with future strategies and budget proposals.

Once you know which business model works for you, the next step is to choose a virtual event platform that comes equipped with native reporting and powerful integrations that interlock with the rest of your event technology stack.

Some key takeaways for choosing a business model for the hybrid event era: 

  • Registration Revenue: Tiered pricing structures increase reach which appeals to sponsors, use registration data to accelerate leads
  • Sponsorship Revenue: Prove value to sponsors using data, get creative in offering sponsors activation opportunities that align with their brand
  • Subscription Revenue: Cement yourself as an industry leader and repurpose content you’ve already captured for an on-demand audience to maximize revenue potential

Pipeline and ARR: Use the data at your disposal to accelerate pipeline and secure renewed and expanded ARR

Download the Blueprint for Return on Events in the Modern Era