Thinking Out of the Box, Marketers Come Up With Event Boxes

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"Work fun swag into your [virtual event] plans. If you have the budget, you might be able to differentiate yourself and bring a little joy to attendees during a tough time by still including conference swag."
That’s from Higher Logic. Back in May I happened on a new online show called The Present by magician Heider Guimaraes, where ticket holders are mailed a box with surprise contents that they are directed not to open until their Zoom show starts. 
It’s been a hit.
"How do you reach out of the computer and into the audience?" asked Matt Shakman, artistic director of the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, where the show has sold out extensions through October. "The idea would be to hold something in your hand and be part of the process. That's how you make Zoom as interesting as a black box theater."
B2B and B2C have followed along. Donna Jefferson of Chesapeake Family told me that she is planning to mail out an “event box” to attendees to a virtual event they are holding in October—possibly with sponsorships on both the inside and outside of the box. 
And then I saw this last week in Digiday: “Bustle Digital Group’s new commerce play is tied to its virtual events strategy, where it has started giving away product kits ahead of some of its sponsored events. These kits include items like yoga mats and lip glosses that are tied to the event in order to make for a more immersive experience, but also to get attendees more engaged with the sponsoring brands.
“So far, BDG has created these event kits for its virtual yoga retreat in May that was produced for advertiser Nature’s Way, and for its Self-Care Saturday event this past Saturday that was built with advertiser lip filler brand Restylane Kysse. The event kits were complementary for the first 150 attendees to RSVP.”
We know that vendors and exhibitors still very much need to connect with customers. "We work with sponsors and brand partners to acquire products, and we also go direct to factories to have specific products manufactured for every box," says David Webb, editor-in-chief of Explore. "Our brand partners are a big part of the box—they appreciate that they can get their materials and products directly into the hands of active users and buyers through us."
Explore now has a warehouse and factories on contract. They learned quickly that the boxes take a commitment to do, so now they do it for others. "We had to learn everything from the ground up," Webb said. “We packed the first test box in our office, and the next one at a warehouse space. We learned it all on the fly, and used these lessons to be better with the next one."
“It’s important to get products into consumers’ hands,” said BDG president and CRO Jason Wagenheim, adding that this will enable them to promote via word of mouth and social media, turning attendees into micro-influencers for brand sponsors. 
The Nature’s Way Yoga Retreat, for example, had a 53% higher Instagram Story video completion rate than its benchmark and a 250% higher Instagram post click through rate than expected.
The boxes can also be digital. "Many publishers now have a range of events, master classes, special talks and other digital goodies that they could package as part of a monthly 'box,'" a FIPP report says. "Is it a money-can't-buy 30-minute fireside interview with the publishers' crossword-setter? Or a free ticket to a session" with your favorite writer? Digital "goodies" can also be personalized by seeing what the customer has shown the most interest in.
It's about providing "subscribers with an experience they're not getting elsewhere," said Michell Panzer of Hearst Autos.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…