Thanks to the rise of performance marketing and a culture of quick wins, event sponsors have long adopted that famous “Jerry Maguire”-inspired mentality: “Show me the money!”
While the pressure to fulfill the demand expressed in this iconic movie line still exists –– and monetary results are, of course, the end goal –– virtual event sponsors are now often playing a longer game to get there. And it’s all rooted in authentic engagement, with the thought being: Engage attendees and they will come –– as will meaningful value for all.
In fact, today’s virtual expo booths and sponsor activations are ripe with untapped potential for event organizers and sponsors alike. It’s just a matter of reimagining the virtual booth experience to connect with and win over today’s online event audiences.
Interested in some inspiration on how to design expo areas to authentically engage attendees and ultimately provide measurable results to sponsors?
Look no further than these creative virtual booth ideas and engaging event sponsorship tips.
Virtual booth idea #1: Incorporate some fun and games
Fun and friendly competition can often be the MVP of attendee engagement. So, encourage sponsors and exhibitors to use digital gamification techniques to pique audience interest, elicit excitement, and incentivize expo booth exploration.
Tap into virtual event platform integrations to put interactivity and good old-fashioned fun at the center of the virtual booth experience. After all, who doesn’t love playing a game?
Elevate exhibition hall engagement by suggesting that sponsors host virtual trivia or another fun game attendees can participate in. Consider incorporating leaderboards to motivate attendees to engage with sponsors –– and to reward participation with the chance to win a prize.
Virtual booth idea #2: Give people a chance to win
Have you ever won something through luck of the draw even when the odds were not in your favor? That instant feeling of childlike glee you experience when your name is called –– it’s pretty powerful, right?
Winning releases dopamine, the body’s “happy” chemical. And an unexpected reward increases dopamine activity versus a regularly scheduled reward. So build anticipation and give a few lucky attendees that type of thrill by offering raffles, giveaways, and contests at your event’s virtual booths.
Sponsors can tap into things like:
- Prize roulette wheels
- Social media contests
- Lottery-style giveaways
Encourage sponsors to tie reward-based activities back to their goals to drive high engagement and key results.
Virtual booth idea #3: Encourage exploration
Ready to help your sponsors take their virtual booth game to the next level? Combine the fun of participating in a game with the anticipation of winning a prize to incentivize attendee exploration and interaction within sponsors’ virtual booths.
Work with your sponsors to design activities that will drive traffic to their virtual booths while purposefully guiding attendees through the booth experience based on sponsors’ business objectives.
Draw inspiration from one of these examples:
- Bingo: Put an innovative spin on the classic Bingo game. Participants can fill out their Bingo cards by finding strategically placed keywords or other expo booth area information. Give winners a series of small prizes or invite them to enter for the chance to win a large prize by submitting screenshots or photos of their completed Bingo cards. Tailor the game to your sponsors’ objectives so attendees learn about sponsors and their offerings along the way.
- Scavenger hunt: Follow ProductCon 2020’s lead and engage participants in a virtual scavenger hunt. Encourage attendees to interact with sponsors and exhibitors by awarding points or prizes for finding items and completing tasks in virtual booths. Tasks can include things like connecting with a sponsor by chat or video, snapping a photo of an expo booth visit and sharing it on social media, finding sponsors’ keywords or content, participating in a sponsored expo session, watching an in-booth video demonstration, registering interest at a virtual event booth, or scheduling a one-on-one meeting with an exhibitor.
And at the end of the day, don’t forget to help sponsors showcase the fun games and activities they’re hosting so they can experience success.
Virtual booth idea #4: Amplify the fun on social media
Another tip for spreading the word about a sponsor’s presence at your event? Turn to social media for a boost.
Help your sponsors show up across channel feeds –– and elicit intense FOMO from your audience –– with social media activity intended to attract event attendees to virtual sponsor expo areas.
Wondering how to shine a social media light on sponsors at your virtual conference?
Consider suggesting that sponsors use an event hashtag along with an event platform social media integration. That way, sponsors and exhibitors can embed attendee social posts directly into their booths, fueling engagement and interest.
Posting about your sponsors’ virtual booth activations on your own social feeds? Tease the activations but leave a little mystery so attendees are left wanting to see for themselves what all the fuss is about.
Virtual booth idea #5: Tease new products
Giving attendees early access to new products can help drive interest and boost engagement. Attendees will get a slice of VIP treatment with first dibs on new sponsor offerings and the excitement of an unboxing moment.
Your sponsors are also likely to dig two key benefits of this approach: traffic to their virtual booths (with the promise of shiny new things being unveiled) and the chance to collect an initial wave of product feedback and insights.
Not to mention, giving your partners a place to seed their new products can help them pick up early customers before an official product launch.
Virtual booth idea #6: Offer limited-time experiences
Try creating a sense of urgency so attendees feel compelled to engage with sponsors in the moment. Sponsors can advertise exclusive, time-bound experiences happening in their virtual booths as a way of attracting and motivating participants who don’t want to miss out.
Miro tapped into this technique at Distributed 2020. The team offered free consultations with their in-house experts during the event, exclusively through virtual booths.
Miro’s attendee-first approach to Distributed 2020’s online exhibitor area went a step further: They appealed to nonprofits, students, teachers, and startups by extending free or discounted products only available at their event’s virtual booth.
Virtual booth idea #7: Send some swag
Whether it’s a pre-event move to drive some buzz or a post-event thank you for visiting a virtual booth, free swag is always a nice surprise. Suggest this tactic to your sponsors and exhibitors so they can delight attendees with some physical mail (that isn’t yet another bill or takeout menu).
Speaking of bills, sending out swag does come with a price tag. But given the potential payoff, many event organizers have collaborated with sponsors on this approach.
Take a page out of Coda’s book. At their 2021 Block Party event, they engaged attendees with an “I spy”-inspired social media game where people were tasked with finding the colorful office gear in their swag bags.
Swag gives sponsors a prime opportunity to build brand awareness and entice attendees to visit their virtual booths. So, it can be a great way to engage attendees before, during, and even well beyond the confines of a live event.
Not able to invest the time and money to send physical swag? Attendees will enjoy the instant gratification and environmental sustainability of virtual gifts, too. Sponsors can think about offering digital stickers, content, gift cards, and more at their virtual booths.
Those don’t have to be the only virtual memories attendees take with them: As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words –– and possibly some new customers.
Virtual booth idea #8: Capture the moment
Help your sponsors make their virtual booths memorable by adding a photo booth to their online exhibits. This gives booth visitors a chance to capture the moment and create a branded photo keepsake.
The added benefit of letting attendees snap some pics? The resulting sponsor-branded mementos will remind attendees of the connections they forged in a virtual booth.
93% of marketers agree that people trust user-generated content more than branded content. So more potential brand exposure is often on the table when attendees share their own photos.
And a personal shout-out reply to an attendee from a sponsor can help strengthen the brand and customer relationship while fostering a sense of community and belonging.
Virtual booth idea #9: Create space for meaningful connection
Driving meaningful engagement means unlocking authentic connections.
To help your sponsors put this into action, propose the idea of transforming a virtual booth into a space where attendees can engage with one another while learning about a sponsor’s brand and products.
Along with sending spirited swag, Coda also tapped into this idea. For their 2021 Block Party event, the Coda team created a “Makerspace” expo area — an interactive lounge for their guests. This approach gave their event audience of creators a place where they could connect and exchange creative ideas. To add sponsorship value and drive lead generation, Coda set up additional exhibitor booths where makers could jump in and connect directly with members of the Coda team to learn more about their product solutions.
Coda’s connection-driven virtual booths were a big hit, attracting hundreds of attendees at a time, and leading to a 9.1 attendee Net Promoter Score (NPS) score and an 84% increase in social media engagement.
Virtual booth idea #10: Feature interactive experiences
Sponsors can meaningfully engage with your event audience by providing valuable content and interactive experiences that resonate with attendees.
Miro, one of ProductCon 2020’s event sponsors, took this approach by creating an interactive content experience where attendees could collaborate and interact with one another in real time using their virtual whiteboard platform. The bonus? Participants were simultaneously participating in a live demo of Miro’s product.
This resulted in consistent virtual booth activity and an 8.6 sponsor NPS at the event.
What’s the common denominator in sponsors’ virtual exhibition booth successes? Meaningful engagement. Coda and Miro both created spaces for authentic connection and collaboration at their virtual conferences.
Virtual booth idea #11: Teach attendees something new
Cater to event attendees who want to level up their personal or professional skill set by including workshops or other educational sessions in virtual sponsor booths.
At a virtual community event, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) transformed their virtual booths into educational experiences.
Their virtual exhibition area housed more than 40 booths with pre-recorded videos and live demonstrations of fascinating activities like elephant toothpaste experiments. Scientists also joined the booths to field questions and explain the activities.
These hands-on, STEM-themed learning opportunities were a big hit with the thousands of attendees who joined virtually from all over the world –– and left with some real-world scientific skills.
Sponsors are part of the event community, and well-designed virtual booths can truly enrich an educational experience they’re offering. Encourage your sponsors to think about how they stand to benefit from this approach.
Engagement-driven virtual booth ideas drive sponsor results
The biggest takeaway? Put your community first and bring sponsors into your planning process so their virtual booths and activations become a natural part of your event. You’ll benefit with a cohesive event experience, and they’re more likely to enjoy meaningful engagement and measurable results.
Originally published Sep 01, 2022, updated Nov 10, 2023