This time last year you might have been busy planning a company coffee morning, or VIP seat bookings for the rugby finals, or a day out at the racecourse. For 2020, however, we can safely say that all such plans are out the window. As a result, many businesses are scrapping their events budget and putting all social activities on hold. “What’s the point in having an entertainment budget,” they might argue, “when you can’t physically meet up with anyone?”
Well – we’d like to suggest that there is a point. There are still countless ways for your business to engage socially with your customers, by applying a layer of creativity to your traditional event management principles. And in fact, we would suggest that now it is quite possibly more important than ever to do so.
The case for social engagement
For any organisation, large or small, there are benefits to providing activities that are purely social. Your company may typically arrange social activities to engage with people, to reward customers, or to support a cause that you feel strongly about. And while some of your customers’ businesses may currently have gone into hibernation, their people are still around. They’re still on LinkedIn. They’re still watching and reading information online. They’re still interested in the same things as before. So why not make an effort to give them a purely social and enjoyable experience through virtual events?
Rather than cancelling your event budget altogether, take some time to consider how those funds could be reallocated to virtual events. An online event will cost you a fraction of what you’d otherwise spend on venues, tickets, catering and staff – while still offering a memorable experience as well as a strengthened relationship.
We’d like to share some of our favourite concepts for virtual events, and how these can be used alongside direct mail or delivery of physical goods to recreate a real-life experience in isolation.
1. The virtual disco night
Many DJs are down on their bookings and only too happy to run a live feed from their home studio, entertaining a crowd online. By hiring a professional DJ you can host a virtual disco for all your customers or prospects to join in and have some fun. While the music is running in the background, your guests can chat with each other and send the DJ requests for their favourite tunes. A great addition would be to send all participants a disco pack in the post beforehand, complete with mini lights or glow sticks, cocktail mixes, and bags of bar nuts.
2. The Pub Quiz
If you have customers that like a friendly challenge down the pub, you can arrange a virtual quiz night. Set up customers in teams battling each other, perhaps on a topic specific to your industry. Zoom facilitates simple breakout rooms, where each group can separate from the other teams and discuss answers between them. Send each member a scorecard, a pen and a beer glass in the post beforehand. For added excitement, consider offering a prize for the winning team members – or a charitable donation to be made in their name.
3. The wine tasting
For a smaller group of people, why not host a virtual tasting experience? Get a sommelier involved in selecting a range of wines and create a tasting card. These can then be sent to your attendees along with instructions. Everyone can join in the tasting from their own homes (hopefully without having drunk all the wine before the event!) as the sommelier walks them through the different wines. This can be a fun and unique way to allow your guests to share in the same physical experience from different locations.
4. The indoors outdoors adventure
Many charities arrange sponsored sleepouts, where companies can invite people to participate by sleeping outside or in tents, raising money for a good cause. These kind of challenges can still be done in the form of garden camping or even a home-made den in a front room. Everyone can join in a virtual outdoor experience from their own homes, and help with raising money. Make the experience more real by using a sound effect track with owls, crickets, or rain – perhaps even streaming a feed of a camp fire or live storytelling! Use direct mail to send out “survival kits” with essential items and information to build up interest beforehand.
5. The comedy night
As with the case of the DJs mentioned earlier, many comedians are also feeling the financial impact of not being able to tour clubs and venues with their shows and would be happy to be part of a private virtual event entertaining your customers. You can prepare by sending the comedian a list of names and fun facts about the participants, allowing the show to be highly personalised and engaging for everyone. Add a real-life experience by sending participants an event booklet with a virtual seating plan and bags of treats.
6. The challenge
For a truly interactive event, add a challenge for your participants to complete at home. You could send them a craft kit with instructions on how to create something and let them show their results to the rest of the group for the chance to win a prize. As an alternative, divide people into teams and have them complete a scavenger hunt in their own home where they have to collect a number of household items in order for their team to win. Both these types of challenges can be nicely complemented by direct mail as you can create a step-by-step experience of opening numbered, sealed letters and exploring tasks one at a time.
7. The meal for two
If you have a special client you’d love to take out for dinner, don’t let a small detail like a global pandemic stop you! There are plenty of catering companies out there who will help you recreate a restaurant experience at home. Let the recipient choose their options from a menu, and then arrange delivery to your home and theirs on the same day. Connect to a virtual meeting platform from your dinner tables at a set time to enjoy your meals together, and enjoy the same casual, sociable experience as you would over a three-course dinner in your favourite bistro. (For an even more immersive experience, send a set of candles and matches, a tablecloth, some flowers… You get the idea.)
Make your customers feel great
There are of course thousands of variations on the themes listed here, but hopefully this will help spark some thoughts around how you can engage socially with your customers, prospects and members through virtual events. Just because we can’t do events the traditional way, it doesn’t mean we have to stop doing them altogether. Many of your clients will be struggling with isolation right now and looking for ways to break up the monotony or feel a sense of connection with others. You can help them do that – and they will no doubt remember how you made them feel, long after the lockdown has ended.
Which virtual events in this list sparked your interest? Let us know how we can support you in creating it!