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Crazy Idea: Let Attendees Define Your Event’s Sponsorship Packages

March 11, 2013

Let attendees define your event's sponsorship packages

Introduction

Combined with attendance fees (i.e. ticketing), event sponsorships are the economic fuel behind meetings, events and conferences. In a post titled “Questioning the Effectiveness of Conference Sponsorships,” Sean McGinnis (@seanmcginnis) raised an interesting question.

For McGinnis, conferences that charge for admission and sell sponsorships (at the same time) put attendees in the awkward position of being (a) a customer (of the conference) and (b) a product (for sponsors).

My solution? Let attendees define the event’s sponsorship packages.

The Role of Sponsors

Image source: User Phillie Casablanca on flickr.

McGinnis notes that in his 312 Digital business, his goal is to deliver digital marketing conferences without sponsorship. And this model is fine: the mission of your conference is to educate marketers and you can deliver on that mission, soup to nuts.

There are larger conferences and trade shows, however, whose objective is to bring together entire industries. These tend to be run by media companies and associations. Traditionally, sponsors have received a bad rap in these sorts of events.

Most attendees think of sponsors as the people who give out schwag and spend the event pitching their product. Sponsors can (and should) play a much more meaningful role. Consider industries such as technology, healthcare and finance and you quickly realize that sponsors provide the products and services the industry uses.

Sponsors, and by extension, the customers who purchase and implement the sponsors’ products, actually define some industries. The customers, after all, are the same people who attend these events.

Sponsors and The Information Ecosystem

I consider events and conferences an “information ecosystem,” with sponsors as an integral part of that ecosystem. Too often in events, there’s a wall: a separation of church and state between “organic” content and sponsor content.

Look no further than the booth. By definition, the partitions that designate the beginning and end of a booth tell us that “inside these partitions is where you engage with this sponsor.” To me, that’s unnatural. To create the most useful information ecosystem, we should get rid of booths and embed sponsor “education” (content) more naturally throughout the event.

Attendee-Driven Sponsorships: The Benefits

Image source: User Martina Photography on flickr.

Let attendees define your sponsorship packages. You’ll have final say, of course, but attendees define a set of packages from which you choose. Benefits will follow.

It puts attendees in charge.

By handing over a portion of the event planning, you give attendees more “buy in.” In addition, attendees will naturally propose sponsor interactions and programs that place the focus on the attendee experience (where it rightfully belongs). The result is a better event.

It increases engagement with sponsors.

Sponsors will see increased engagement with attendees, because both parties are engaged in activities defined by the attendees. When you allow attendees to determine the packages and they’ve “bought in” to shaping the event itself, all parties win: attendees, sponsors and event organizers (you).

How to Solicit Input from Your Attendees

First, you’ll need to define a basis for your conversations with attendees. Perhaps that’s last year’s sponsorship packages. Or, it’s a set of proposed packages that you’re considering for this year. Some ideas (and affordable tools) to solicit the input:

  1. Regular Google+ Hangouts, hosted by your staff.
  2. Wiki pages (PBworks is an option – and it’s free) that attendees can use to document their ideas.
  3. A tumblr microblog – publish proposed packages and allow attendees to “like” and comment on them.
  4. Create a public document on Google Docs and allow attendees to provide comments there.
  5. Host an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit (if your target audience is active there).

Brainstorming Sponsorship Concepts

If I were asked to develop sponsorship packages for an event or conference I planned to attend, here are some concepts I’d suggest:

  1. Eliminate booths.
  2. Use game mechanics to award sponsors. Instead of “Top Chef,” you’d award a “Top Sponsor.”
  3. Attendees determine the game mechanics parameters.
  4. Ask attendees (in advance) for their top business challenges and make sponsors responsible for addressing them.
  5. Have attendees define the sponsor’s “function” they wish to engage with (e.g. Engineering, Executive, Sales, Marketing, etc.)
  6. Implement Donna Kastner’s suggestion on a 5 Smart Ways Theater, but allow sponsors to provide the presentations. Disallow sponsors from mentioning any of their products.
  7. Give attendees a limited number of “tickets” to schedule short appointments with sponsors. Learned a lot from a sponsor’s “5 Ways” talk and want to chat with them? Use one of your tickets. The relative scarcity of tickets will create higher quality interactions between attendees and sponsors.

Potential Roadblocks to Adoption

Image source: User Zahlm on flickr.

Having laid out a framework for how this all might work, I realize that it’s far from easy. Let’s consider a few roadblocks for making this happen.

Wanted: A Passionate and Active Attendee Base

Attendees may be passionate about your event. They look forward to it all year long. But that doesn’t mean they’re interested in taking action above and beyond the usual call of duty. Only highly passionate and active attendees will have the desire and energy to roll up their sleeves and define your event’s sponsorship packages.

Taking Risks

Let’s face it: this is an “outside the box” concept. Event organizers and sponsors like to mitigate risk, rather than increase it. In many cases, next year’s event doesn’t happen if the sponsors from this year’s event aren’t happy (i.e. don’t renew). Perhaps a phased approach is necessary. In year one, have attendees develop a single sponsorship package and see how that goes.

Conclusion

We like to think that “the attendee always comes first,” but sometimes economic realities get in the way of such pure and noble goals.

With the sponsorships you sell, sponsors will walk the fine line between “providing useful information” and “let me sell you my product.” Straying too far to the right (selling) leaves attendees with a bad taste in their mouths.

By providing attendees with an opportunity to define desired sponsor interactions, you’re truly “putting attendees first.” And, you may find that the quality of the resulting interactions make your sponsors more satisfied than ever.

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Adding Game Mechanics to Your Event

May 27, 2011

Pictured: A game card employed at an elementary school science fair.

Introduction

I recently attended my child’s elementary school science fair and was intrigued to find game mechanics employed by the fair’s planners. The fair had several rows of “exhibits” (students’ science projects) and a number of students were seen walking studiously from project to project, with a rectangular slip of paper. It turns out the paper was a game card (pictured above), with a list of projects that students needed to find (and check off the list).

The Challenge and Completion Dynamics

I was struck by how many students were participating in the “game,” all under the premise of “you will get a prize if you are a lucky winner.” Adoption was strong because it tapped into a challenge dynamic. Kids were presented with a challenge (“go find these exhibits”). And importantly, there was a structure behind the challenge: the completion dynamic (“find all of the exhibits, then return the card to a volunteer”).

Since a completed card merely got a student a raffle ticket (after which they’d need to hold a winning ticket to gain a prize), motivation was driven by the challenge dynamic – something to keep in mind as it relates to B2B events (i.e. understanding and taking advantage of attendees’ motivations, rather than simply offering up iPads as prizes).

Pros and Cons

Pros: Participants in the game reviewed many more projects than they otherwise would have. Case in point: some students who did not play the game could be found lounging outside the fair, socializing on the patio.

Cons: More a consideration than a negative – game designers need to understand the “completion dynamics.” For the science fair, it’s a good thing for game players to visit many exhibits. The ideal visit is one where the visitor reads through the science project and gains an appreciation for the hypothesis and the result.

The non-optimal visit is the “drive by,” where the visitor is purely motivated by finding another item to check off the list. Good game design will motivate players to immerse themselves in the game, rather than play the game solely to achieve the end result.

How this Applies to Physical & Virtual Events

  1. Motivating participation: when incorporating game mechanics, discover ways to encourage participation beyond the prize.
  2. Contextual relevance: connect the game activities directly to the event content. The science fair did this perfectly.
  3. Encourage immersion and enjoyment: participation needs to go “beyond the result” – participants need to place a higher value on the activity (itself) over the achievement of status or completion.

Related

Pictured: a kid-themed scavenger hunt provided by the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, CA.

 


Gamification Predictions for 2011

December 22, 2010

Introduction

At Mashable, Gabe Zichermann (@gzicherm) provided his 5 Predictions for Game Mechanics in 2011.  Gabe’s article inspired me to provide my own predictions.

A New Name in 2011

In the second half of 2010, the term “gamification” became bi-polar: you either loved it or hated it.  People on the “love” side see it as the future of engagement and marketing.  People on the “hate” side see it as a gimmick.

Gabe provides his thoughts in an article at Huffington Post.  While the term is effective in capturing the essence, it’s not perfect.  As a result, “gamification” will be used less and less in 2011.  In its place will be a set of new terms, based on its specific applications (e.g. game-based marketing, game-based social initiatives, etc.).

A Sub-Industry Develops


This is more an observation, rather than a prediction (since it’s already happening): an industry has developed around “gamification”.  When folks convene for a conference or summit, that’s my measuring stick to tell me that an industry is emerging.  In the virtual events space, that happened in 2009 with the Virtual Edge Summit (which, by the way, has its third annual conference, also in January 2011).

If you look at the sponsor and speaker lists for this event, you’ll see a number of start-ups who built their business around gamification.  In 2011, we’ll see some “bubble like” behavior (perhaps we’re already seeing it now), where entrepreneurs look to build the next great gamification companies.  In the second half of 2011, however, the bubble settles and the early winners emerge.

Related: Gamification gets its own conference (VentureBeat)

Game Mechanics for The Greater Good

Jane McGonigal of Palo Alto-based Institute for the Future once said, “Any time I consider a new project, I ask myself, is this pushing the state of gaming toward Nobel Prizes? If it’s not, then it’s not doing anything important enough to spend my time.” (source: Salon.com article from 2007).

In 2011, we’ll see game mechanics applied increasingly to the “greater good” – initiatives that can change the world.

Armchair Revolutionary is a great example – consider one of their slogans, “shape the future by playing a game”.  In 2011, lots of “revolutionaries” emerge to rally those who can, to provide help to those in need.

Game Mechanics Go Mainstream – But Consumers Don’t Know It

Game mechanics are going mainstream, but the typical user won’t know that they’re participating in them.  They simply know that they’re engaging in enjoyable activities (side note: there will be similar growth in Foursquare, Gowalla, etc., but users, of course, won’t know that they’re using “location based services”).

For example, Universal Studios announced successful sales of their “Despicable Me” DVD – their press release attributes some of the success to a “Minions Madness” promotion, “a points-based reward and social media program spotlighting the film’s beloved mischief-makers, the Minions.” This promotion was powered by Bunchball, a game mechanics start-up.

Bunchball (and related companies) has built a nice client list of broadcast networks, cable networks and film studios.  In 2011, additional media outlets come on board.  Game mechanics  go more and more mainstream, even though the typical mainstream user doesn’t know it.  Watch out in 2012, however, as consumer-based game mechanics suffer some fatigue (as consumers then see “much too much” of it).

Established Web Players Incorporate Game Mechanics

2011 sees established players incorporate game mechanics to increase engagement (e.g. “time on site”, clicks, e-commerce sales, etc.).

Google adopts game mechanics as a means for bridging their search business and social services (e.g. adding game mechanics to Google Me). Others who add game mechanics include Netflix, eBay and Groupon.  Of course, it’s natural to expect that more and more virtual event experiences will add game mechanics, too.

Conclusion

2010 has been an interesting year for gamification. 2011 will kick off with an industry event and where we go from there will be exciting to watch.  I’ll check back mid-year with a report card on these predictions. Here’s hoping I attain the “crystal ball badge”.


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