Creating Impactful Experiential Events
When the recession hit the United States, events, conferences, meetings, and seminars took quite a hit. Travel and meeting budgets were cut, attendance began to drop, exhibitors decreased and planners faced a gloomy stretch with an uncertain time frame. It took over six years for the economy to build the events industry back up. And, it has since seen a significant growth in numbers, and the future is looking better and better. With increased consumer spending, meeting and conference planners are finally able to see stable ground for the industry, and this is causing a focus on something new. The rise of more impactful experiential events.
Increasing Attendance & Exhibitors
According to a report published by PCMA’s Convene Magazine, from 2014 to 2015 there was a 5.3 percent increase in attendance. Even more growth is predicted. Projected forecasts into 2016 suggest a 3.3 percent increase. Not only is attendance increasing, but conference organizers are also recognizing an increase in exhibitors between 2014 and 2015 of 2.7 percent.
There has also been an increase in the amount of events planned. Thirty percent of event and conference planners expect to plan more meetings in 2016. Budgets are also slowly, but steadily, increasing with a 2.9 percent increase between 2014 and 2015. But is that growth enough?
Expense Cutbacks Still in Place
Research shows that even though the economy is consistently improving, most planners are still being ask to cut down expenses where possible. With the food and beverage markups being high, it accounts for a large portion of budgets. 60 percent of planners were specifically asked to cut back in food and beverage spending during 2015. Other than food and beverage costs being high, providing stable wireless internet for attendees is a necessity now, not a luxury. With events providing apps and asking attendees to interact via social media, they are required to pay the expenses within the venue to provide Wi-Fi.
Some respondents of the survey mentioned that from a planner’s perspective, the market has become a seller’s market. Suppliers now have more control over what they are able to provide and charge. Most specifically mentioned was hotel suppliers. In recent times, hotel suppliers are not considering their partnership with event planners the same way they did during the recession. A more stable economy means an increased demand in hotel rooms and meetings spaces, high prices, and less room for negotiation from an event planner’s point of view.
Advocate the Value of Meetings
Despite the stabilizing economy, many planners report that their budgets have not increased and are remaining rather flat. In other words, planners don’t have the increase in money to take their event to the next level. With the rate of change in the industry as high as it is, many planners are having to manage their money differently and get more creative on how to allocate the funds available in order to create truly memorable events (that bring people back year after year).
What’s interesting is that the budgeting and/or cutbacks aren’t the largest issues. There is always going to be a flux in the amount of spending that businesses allocate for meetings and events; the biggest challenge is advocating for the results of those meetings and events (so that they aren’t cut!) Making the attendance at meetings a strong priority is something that the events industry is striving to achieve.
Evolution of Events in the Future
With all these economic factors affecting the events industry, what does it really boil down to? Well, essentially with more events being planned, more people to attend those events, and more exhibitors at the events; event planners need to move away from the traditional method of organizing conferences and planning events. The focus is now shifting toward what the industry is calling experiential events. Using creativity and the event technology available, event planners and conference organizers are fostering attendee engagement and excitement by involving them in the whole event - from start to finish.
Getting attendees to choose your event is no longer just about sending the right email to the right person. Event planners are tasked with taking your potential attendees on a seamless and memorable journey from the event marketing, ticket purchase, pre-event buzz, to during the event and post-event follow-ups. Potential attendees are looking for an experience they won’t forget; one that feels customized or personalized for them (organic interest). By using the proper event technology, event planners can create an inclusive feeling at the event while also being purpose-driven.
Highly Successful Experiential Events
While some events are capable of being fully experiential, other events are only capable of adding experiential parts to their events. A successful example of fully experiential events are the Tough Mudder obstacle courses. Attendees are put on teams that require them to work together to progress through the obstacles all while allowing attendees to challenge themselves.
Another really interesting and unique experiential event is the Then She Fell performance. Then She Fell occupies a warehouse where attendees are free to roam around on their own. Each performance is designed for 15 guests at a time. Then She Fall reimagines the entire theater experience. Instead of attendees being stuck in the seat watching the performance, they walk around and immerse themselves in the performance. Their website describes the experience as “inspired by the life and writings of Lewis Carroll, it offers an Alice-like experience for audience members as they explore the rooms, often by themselves, in order to discover hidden scenes; encounter performers one-on-one; unearth clues that illuminate a shrouded history; use skeleton keys to gain access to guarded secrets; and imbibe elixirs custom designed by one of NYC’s foremost mixologists.”
While both of these events are completely unique and creative, there are many things we can learn from their success and tie those lessons into events that aren’t as capable of being fully-experiential. We can learn that people really just want to experience something together, they want to work in teams and connect with each other, creating bonds. Attendees also love having the freedom to explore and do things in the way they want to. Enabling the ability to control their experience, thus allowing them to tailor their experience to themselves. All of this gives the event a personalized feeling leading attendees to have a memorable experience to take with them (and talk about!) when the event is over.
With the shift of focus to the attendee experience, event budgets are being managed and spent differently. In the past, many event planners would spend a chunk of the budget on gifts or swag bags and other items to give away. This money is now being spent on event technology and other things that will enrich the attendee experience. Research shows that experiences have a longer, lasting impact on the brand, the attendees, and overall event. Attendees are looking to be involved in every part of the event, they want to experience an immersive learning atmosphere. The growth in the events industry comes with the need to stand out amongst other events in a way that is unique to the brand, provides customers with unique experiences, and keeps people wanting to attend year after year. Consider experiential tactics to make events more memorable.