"How does the Virtual Race Bag compare to a digital goody bag I build on my own?"
We get this question from time-to-time, but the only way to answer it with any justice is to describe how to build a digital goody bag using a variety of inexpensive, readily available tools. Then we can compare the features and benefits of each.
The Punch Line First
There are only two (real) options for building your own digital goody bag; email template or web page. A (distant) third option is to compile all sponsor offers into a PDF document that can be emailed to participants or downloaded from your website. For the love of all things good and holy, please don't do this!
Calling a PDF a digital goody bag is like calling a typewriter (remember those) a computer. Participants and sponsors would rather see you cut down hundreds of trees, to produce tons of paper, to produce thousands of coupons, which are then stuffed into plastic bags, which are then dumped in the trash and sent to the landfill. So to build your own digital goody bag, use email or a web page (or us) please!
The Upside: Building and sending a digital goody bag is fairly easy, (relatively) inexpensive and can be accomplished with only modest technical expertise. Basic stats are also fairly easy to collect, but the presentation of those stats to your sponsors is up to you.
The Downside: Because email is limited in its interactivity (one click and the participant is out of your "bag"), the results for sponsors are typically poor. Also, email clients (especially mobile) are notoriously fickle, so the participant experience is all over the map.
The Upside: A digital goody bag on a web page gives you more branding control and is more likely to keep users on the page.
The Downside: A little more technical expertise is required to produce a quality page and unless you password protect the page (difficult to do), it will be accessible to the entire world, making it difficult for sponsors and merchants to provide aggressive, participant-friendly offers.
How to Build Your Digital Goody Bag Using Email
The most common "do-it-yourself" method for a digital goody bag is through email, primarily because event organizers are familiar with the tools, use it frequently for participant marketing and email service providers (ESPs) are widely available. Companies such as Constant Contact, Mail Chimp and Campaign Monitor offer easy-to-use templates and tools to help users build and manage email campaigns.
Design of the Email Template
The width of your email template should be no wider that 600 pixels (px). While monitors for computers have ballooned in size over the last few years, the majority of email clients still display emails inside of a pane limited to this width. If you go bigger, you run the risk of having a horizontal scroll bar, and that is a maddening experience for the reader.
Many ESPs provide hundreds of free templates that you can use as the base for an email, but the majority of these are designed for email newsletters. The purpose of a digital goody bag is to provide your participants (and only your participants) easy access to offers, discounts and giveaways from your sponsors. This requires a design that is heavy on artwork and light on text.
To provide your sponsors adequate "real estate" for their message, you really only have two choices for the size of the artwork; a traditional "billboard" that is approximately 500px wide by 250px tall, or a "block" that is essentially half a billboard. The artwork should be less than the 600px width of the email to provide for cushion on either side of the artwork. You could have a combination of the two, however, this makes life much more difficult for the designer (we will get to the fun of artwork collection in a minute) and provides a poor experience to the participant.
Managing Sponsor Artwork
This is where the fun starts! Because of your own website and email marketing efforts, you know first hand how difficult it can be to create quality artwork and graphics. The same is true for most (if not all) of your event sponsors and merchant partners. Because an email gives only one opportunity for a sponsor to communicate their message, the artwork needs to contain ALL the content required for the offer including the details, call to action, terms and restrictions, locations, etc. This can make for a very cluttered piece of artwork and is the reason most digital goody bag emails gravitate towards the billboard image style.
Because many merchants do not have design capabilities in-house, they will often look to the event organizer to provide these services, especially if they are being charged to participate in the digital goody bag. If you don't have a designer on your team (or even if you do), it is important to evaluate the cost of designing offers for your sponsors, because it can quickly erode any revenue generated by selling offers in the digital goody bag. Designers typically charge between $75 – $150 per hour and a typical offer will take 20-30 minutes to design, therefore it won't take long to quickly ring up hundreds of dollars in fees (or opportunity costs) for designing sponsor artwork.
Ideally, you will provide your sponsors an artwork guide that provides them the image and offer requirements. Be prepared, however, to receive the kitchen sink back at you, including Word and PDF documents that you can't use! Someone on your team will be creating artwork, it is guaranteed. At Virtual Race Bags, we managed this issue by creating an incredibly efficient offer structure that enables a sponsor to create an offer with nothing more than a logo and an image, which can be a picture from a smart phone! Starting Fall 2012, we will take a giant step forward with the launch of our Offer Builder.
UPDATE Nov12: The Offer Builder Tool is here!
Performance Reporting for Sponsors
The main reason companies of all sizes are moving more of their marketing budgets to digital is because they can measure performance, so it is important to provide meaningful metrics from your digital goody bag to your sponsors. All ESPs provide at least basic performance reporting, which will show the open rate and clicks on specific offers. However, this information needs to be provided in a format that is useful. Because there is not a lot of data, event organizers are often limited to merely sending an email stating, "we had a x% open rate and you received y clicks." Not very helpful.
Virtual Race Bags provides its event clients a data-rich report that is customized for each sponsor, which helps event organizers present to their sponsors the demographic value of their participants.
How to Build Your Digital Goody Bag Using Your Website
For those events that have design expertise in-house, building a digital goody bag on your website is a fairly simple endeavor. With the right design skills, you have more flexibility to work with a variety of artwork sizes and styles, however, this can often lead to a page that may appear cluttered. Another factor not often considered when using internal resources to design and manage a digital goody bag, is the opportunity cost. Using the freelance example above, it costs $75 – $150 per hour to build a site of even modest quality.
The biggest challenge with a web-based digital goody bag is limiting access only to participants. By placing the bag on your site, it is immediately available to the world. While in theory this may sound like a good thing, we have found that most sponsors will "generisize" (i.e. make generic) their offer, reducing the value of the offer and therefore the value to your participants.
The other issue we often see is that DIY digital goody bags on websites are often up for months! Again counter-intuitive, but this actually hurts results. We have experimented with hundreds of open and close dates and found that leaving the bag open (to participants only) for no more than 10 days provides the maximum results for your sponsors (assuming you have the tools to drive visits). Participants respond to deadlines!
Below is an example of a DIY digital goody bag on an event website (left) and a sample Virtual Race Bag (right). Designing a professional page dedicated to serving sponsor offers will take a designer a minimum of 50 hours.
Performance Reporting for Web-Based Digital Goody Bags
Much like the stats from an email-based bag, you will be limited to visits and clicks. Assuming you have an analytics program for your website (most use Google Analytics), you will be able to easily capture the number of visits and click thrus on a particular sponsor offer. Unlike email, however, you won't be able to discern between visitors that are participants in your event from visitors that stumbled upon the site. You will also be faced with the same dilemma of having to determine how you are going to report the data (which is scarce) to your sponsors.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when deciding the best way to offer your sponsors and participants a digital goody bag. The team at Virtual Race Bags has developed a solution we believe is a cost-efficient, easy-to-execute, high quality option that helps free your resources for the things most valued by your participants and sponsors … delivering an exceptional event experience.
We encourage you to spend time on our site to learn more and review the common questions asked about digital goody bags by event organizers.