In the event planning industry, there is certainly a lot of buzz around experiential marketing and events. According to the Event Marketing 2019: Benchmarks and Trends Report, 41% of brands surveyed saw experiential as their top marketing channel.
The bottom line is that more and more brands are using experiential concepts and tactics to create brand engagement, particularly at events. Should you jump on that bandwagon? And, what exactly would that mean?
To help you learn more about experiential events, we consulted an expert. Adam Suellentrop is a Vice President at FIRST Global Events Agency where he drives creative strategy and experiential work for clients like Verizon, Mastercard, Facebook, and Google. According to Adam, he is on a tireless quest to find the next cool thing, strategically matchmaking new marketing trends with the right clients to elevate their events or meetings authentically.
For over 20 years, FIRST has been telling brand stories by producing experiences for top tier clients all over the world. Spanning multiple international offices and working with hundreds of brands around the globe, FIRST is a growth agency with a boutique feel. You can learn more about them at https://firstagency.com/
WorkTrip: Let’s start with the basics. What exactly are experiential events and what sets them apart from traditional events?
Adam: First, I think it’s important to not be afraid of the word experiential. At its heart, it might mean something different to everyone. And, to some extent, every event might be considered experiential. While the whole concept of experiential events might have become especially popular in the past five years or so, most of us have been doing it all along. As an event planner, you are always creating some kind of experience for your attendees. Experiential events are just a derivative of that.
At the same time, the way we are framing it now, it can be seen as an opportunity to challenge ourselves to break out of what is expected. That may seem hard to do, since people are so overwhelmed now and we feel like people have already seen everything. Basically, the term experiential has really become code for making things memorable, more visceral and more engaging. Again, none of those things are new to marketing or to events. At its core, experiential is about breaking through the expected, connecting to emotions and staying lodged in the memory of your consumers/attendees in a new way. That sometimes means you have to be a little more provocative, to elicit a new kind of action or interaction.
In my opinion, marketers and event planners can no longer simply push content or messaging to their audience. They must strive to enable some kind of interaction or a deeper connection to your audience. In the end, you are enabling your audience to create their own relationship with your message.
WorkTrip: Can you share some examples that might help bring the concept to life for our readers?
Adam: One example people may be familiar with is the concept of museumification, where brands create multiroom experiences and/or intimate opportunities for consumers to put themselves into photographable moments. That concept may seem overused in some ways, but I believe there are endless opportunities to use it in new ways. People still enjoy immersing themselves in, or connecting themselves to the brand in some way they can capture and share with others.
Technology can be used to create more immersive content, which is still very much experiential, at a traditional conference. Simply breaking away from standard 16:9 screen and showing your content in a way they don’t expect can have a big impact – like using a different size screen, using screens above you, below you, all around you or combined in some unique way. At a recent conference, we did this as part of a promotion around “the power of mobile to change your lives.” Before attendees entered the conference, we had them enter a 50 x 50 room with a curtain on one side, LED screens on the other sides and one above them. We projected a 90-second voice over and video all around them, as part of their registration/arrival experience. This is a classic Disney trick, using video and content in a way to capture their imagination and attention.
We recently did a press event for Mont Blanc, to launch their new writing instrument called the StarWalker, which was inspired by the feeling of astronauts looking down from space and longing for home. We held the event in Houston, near NASA, and built a geodesic dome with a full projection of images zooming out into space all around them. There were gasps as they experienced that feeling of space all around them.
I saw something great executed by HBO, when they launched the 2nd season of Westworld last year at SXSW. They created a massive installation, recreating a western town at a nearby location. They put attendees on a bus and drove them out to this town. Once on site, participants had a realistic Westworld experience with actors, story lines to follow, and things to interact with. They got to engage with the brand in a unique and immersive way. It was a great example of how an event doesn’t have to be technology-related.
WorkTrip: What are some of the biggest trends in experiential events today?
Adam: We are seeing a lot of RFID technology and other types of interactive badges or materials that allow the experience to change as you move through it.
We are also seeing more on the biometric data side. So many people are always wearing devices like iWatches and Fitbits. Event planners can tap into those or use event-specific devices to empower attendees to influence aspects of the event. I have seen whole concerts/performances with lighting changes, audio changes and more controlled based on biometric data from attendees. Brands can create a data visualization of that and tie it back to their company and message.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another hot trend that is taking all of us on a wild ride. It can be as sophisticated as a vending machine that won’t dispense the item unless you are smiling or an AI personality that represents your brand or enables a whole digital brand experience. It can also be as simple as a chat bot to help with registration.
This next idea may seem a little scary, but we are seeing more interest in using AI-enabled cameras that can capture a lot of information and quickly determine who showed up for the event, if they are smiling, if they are interacting with one another, etc. There are already algorithms out there, but we have to really consider privacy issues, data protection and more.
We are also seeing a lot of interest in the use of kinetic signage or elements that enable a physical and 3-dimensional experience that allows people to get away from screens and technology. One example is click boards, like you would see in an old train station, that make sounds and evoke emotions that harken people back to another time.
WorkTrip: What other advice would you have for event planners who want to add experiential elements, but don’t have a huge budget or want to invest heavily in technology?
Adam: The key to success with any event or other marketing investment is to avoid gimmicks. Always remember to go back to your goals and KPIs and create a campaign or experience to support those.
The key is not to be inhibited by budget or by the fear of taking a risk. When it comes to experiential, more risk often equates to reward.
An easy, but sometimes scary way to get started, is by simply giving up a little control over your message. You can’t guarantee everyone will have the same experience or get the same message, because you are giving them a choice to navigate your message in a different way, allowing them to create their own experience to some extent.
Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by technology in our everyday lives, that the use of non-technology for the experience can be really compelling. You can use anything that is tactile and physical, even something as simple as string and paper to create a beautiful and memorable experience. You can simply give them the opportunity to answer a question, with their response becoming part of a larger piece of art created with others. The cost for something like this is minimal, probably comparable to printed signage.
WorkTrip: Is there anything else you think would be helpful to share with our readers?
Adam: I do want to touch on B2B marketing specifically for a moment, since we have talked a lot about “consumer” experiences. Fortunately, we now understand that at its core every audience, even a B2B one, is made up of consumers. It makes sense to think of and treat them like consumers, which means a lot of the “consumer” examples we talked about already can be used as part of a successful B2B marketing mix.
It’s also important to think of internal audiences as consumers. We have used some of these same ideas for internal sales meetings, for example. As B2B or internal marketers, we shouldn’t distance ourselves from what we see in the consumer world.
No matter who your audience is, you can no longer just sit them in a meeting room or ballroom and feed them content. As event planners, it is our job to shape relationships between audiences and brands. We have to find a way to break through, resonate and feel relevant.
WorkTrip was created to lessen the pains associated with planning, executing and traveling to tradeshows, meetings and events; and very importantly, to free you up to focus on what really matters. Let us know what else we can do to help.