Moving Virtual Programming from FREE to FEE

June 18th, 2020 by

Today’s article has to do with what I call moving from FREE to FEE. Many Americans have been stuck indoors for months, watching the world in a much different way than ever before.

In fact, the Coronavirus has created a brave new virtual world.

When our schools and businesses came to a total stop, we all had to improvise. And improvise we did, creating a new world of amazing virtual programming to educate and entertain. Our children attended virtual classes, we joined into meetings on Zoom and we got used to attending events via webinar.

Free virtual programming has become a norm in most of the county. We are living in a world of virtual touring. Our moms are playing cards and attending book clubs on Zoom. Or staffs are participating in virtual conferences instead of live conventions. We are celebrating family life events in cyber-space.

For businesses that thrive on programming (schools, conventions, business, non-profits and social organizations) this has created a huge loss in revenue.  The not-so-easy answer is to charge for virtual services.

Moving from FREE to FEE for any product or service represents a challenge to managers. Especially when consumers have plenty of free alternatives.

There are hundreds of free virtual programs at our fingertips. People are used to getting this gratis. So, why should they pay for the cow when they can get the milk for free?

There are lots of implications that marketers and managers need to consider when moving programs and events to paid virtual.

Moving from FREE to FEE – Best Practices

  1. You can’t just move from Free to Fee without pissing some customers off. You need to continue with some free programming. This might include broader “lower level” options that don’t carry a high cost. Maybe offer re-runs of previous “live” programs or free introductory sessions.
  2. Content is king. If your content is valuable and aimed at helping / supporting your customers / users to be successful, it justifies the cost.
  3. Differentiating the digital event. Making the overall experience interactive, sophisticated, and much more robust than other free virtual events that are being offered through one-way webinar-type platforms. This may mean investing in fancy recording devices and more complex software than Zoom. This may also mean investing in and training real moderators.
  4. Give your customers / supporters plenty of notice. Offer them a chance to comment and contribute feedback. Survey them and ask for their opinions.
  5. Price it fairly. Use your survey data and research the competition.
  6. Consider “grandfathered” pricing for long-time customers / supporters. Further, what about series pricing?
  7. Think about membership pricing rather than single event pricing.
  8. Exclusivity has a huge impact is fee-based virtual programming. Exclusive events for paid members. For example, think virtual red carpet treatment.  Consider pre-workshops. Add special post-event Q&As with authors. In the world of free vs fee online software, think Pro Member benefits. In TV, think NFL Sunday package.
  9. Make the Free to Fee transition gradual, if possible. People will only want to pay if they know you’re delivering
  10. A paid event ensures a higher percentage of attendance. Typically, free or complimentary events have a much higher no-show rate.

Offer Both Live and Virtual Options

Surveys have indicated that many individuals have become accustomed to the convenience of in-home learning and entertainment. They want to continue having this option at their fingertips. Consequently, businesses and organizations will need to offer both live and virtual programming of the same event. And, price them accordingly.

Will our brave new world ever go back to predominantly live events? I don’t know. What I do know is that above all, businesses want to stay profitable. In that case, they will need to monetize some of the virtual services they are giving away for free.

Marketers and managers need to figure out a constructive way of moving from FREE to FEE. In short, this transition needs to benefit all parties involved.