What Happens When Experiential & Exhibits Converge?December 1, 2016

December 1, 2016

What Happens When Experiential & Exhibits Converge?

Jackson,Darrin-DimensionDesign-110x140Darrin Jackson is Director of Creative Services for Dimension Design, a collaborative and innovative branding partner. He oversees creative contributions to display projects for the firm’s clients and their clients. He brings more than 20 years of experience in the creative field to Dimension Design, focusing on design, events and media.

Often, I count my blessings to be in the exhibit industry. We get to experience the birth of some spectacular marketing campaigns. Some of them are complex threads that tell a brand story across all the marketing platforms. Others tend to be so simplistic at their core that we shake our heads and wish we could have been a fly on the wall during the pitch. There is never a dull moment in the industry. This is a product of its constant progression. In fact, the industry is on the brink of yet another evolution that will involve the convergence of two worlds:  experiential & exhibits.

“I’ve been in the events industry for over two decades and have seen a lot of change, none greater than the evolving convergence of traditional trade shows and the application of cutting-edge experiential techniques.”

The exhibit industry has evolved dramatically over the years while the world of experiential marketing has gained a lot of momentum. Both may be facing their greatest evolutionary stage ever as each embraces their shared qualities to evolve in a way no one ever could have imagined.

I’ve been in the events industry for over two decades and have seen a lot of change, none greater than the evolving convergence of traditional trade shows and the application of cutting-edge experiential techniques.

Experiential Is Sexy

Experiential is sexy, very sexy. It prods, engages, moves and convinces guests to be more involved with a brand. Engagement has been a challenge for the exhibit industry. But on the other hand, experiential has embraced what the exhibit industry already knows about how the “destination” attracts attendees. What I’m seeing is a convergence that is paying off for both industries. So, how will this convergence nurture growth for experiential and exhibits? While there are many things that will affect this change — including creative thinking, technology, data and analytics to mention a few — I believe the chief driver will be the ability of both worlds to think holistically about both destination and experience.

Take for example C2 Montreal, a corporate event that helps business leaders integrate creativity and innovation into their organizations and associated events. C2 practices what it preaches. This past year’s gathering featured a fog-filled igloo where discussions were held and participants were required to interact without the ability to see one another. Another highlight was “brain dates,” where guests shared thoughts in unusual places such as on stationary bikes or in Ferris wheel pods. Some of the best meetings I’ve attended at my company were walking meetings.

Ricard St. Pierre, head of C2 Montreal framed best what C2 was trying to achieve at the event. “This year’s biggest achievement was to move from a conference to an experience. People told us ‘I lived something rather than just listened.’ ”

Software maker SAP uses iBeacons to capture data about guest movements, interactions and touch points at Sapphire Now, their flagship conference. This data is used by the sales and marketing people to build a stronger customer bond and close business well beyond show hours. This marries a lingering impression of the event with self-initiated follow-up.

NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network, held its inaugural conference in 2015. NTEN used Crowdsourcing to solicit meaningful session ideas and feedback for the conference. During the suggestion period, participants could see other submissions, ask for topical ideas to be covered and use up/down voting on ideas. Submitters were encouraged to reach out to naysayers to improve submissions or provide new thinking on ideas. Not only did NTEN improve content at the conference, they got attendees well engaged leading up to the conference.

The Challenge

These examples are not isolated initiatives. Both big-budget and small-scale events are showing real traction when they embrace these practices. It is encouraging to see that this kind of innovation is percolating in the exhibit world more and more. The challenge is to get exhibit managers and brand executives to continue to innovate down this path.

An EventTrack 2015 study by experiential agency Mosaic and the Event Marketing Institute determined that 79 percent of respondents said they would execute more event and experiential programs in the future. And, 98 percent of respondents said that if they were thinking about purchasing a product anyway, seeing it or trying it at an experiential marketing event made them more likely to buy it. Sixty-five percent of people ended up buying a product or service at an experiential marketing event.

More and more, the C-levels are asking for greater justification and better results from their organization’s event spend. Many are consolidating smaller events into larger more meaningful experiences to capture the mind and emotion of prospects and customers. So, how does that translate into ROI? According to the study, when engaging in “experiential marketing campaigns,” 48 percent of brands realize a ROI of between 3:1 to 5:1, and 29 percent indicated their return is over 10:1. In the study, 12 percent said their ROI was 20:1 or higher.

What Does the Future Hold?

So, if exhibits set the stage and experiential engages the audience, it just seems right that convergence points to a bright future for sponsoring brands and their partners. In fact, the EventTrack study suggests that “more marketing dollars need to be applied to experiential event marketing, and it must be viewed as a top priority by CMOs in the coming years.”

I believe there are some important conclusions marketing strategists and decision-makers can glean from this trend of convergence.

  • The exhibit event offers a destination while the experiential event offers greater engagement.
  • Branded environments/entertainment destinations are the perfect fit for any event venue:Allows the brand to curate the visitor’s journey and provides a platform for brand engagement and content development that can be extended beyond the venue through digital and word-of-mouth channels.
  • Broader channels mean more measurable results.
  • Bigger budgets and greater expectations.
  • The brand will remain the focal point.
  • An emotional connection is the goal.
  • More emphasis on balancing staging and engagement.
  • Content fuels reach.
  • A new vocabulary will emerge: Booths = branded environments; Visitors = guests; Visit = curated tour
  • There will be more convergence. A new definition of brand engagement, backed by predictive measurements, is emerging, and experience is at the center of it. A few things are certain to drive this forward:
  • IoT (Internet of Things). Basics plus virtual reality, animatronics, holography, location-based, etc.
  • Mobility. It’s affecting almost everything.
  • Destination re-defined. Bring the brand to all the people and certain people to the brand.
  • Brands will ask for more. Delivering more memorable experiences will require vendors to become partners (and brands to accept them as that) with broader thinkers who can figure things out, cross the finish line, make the brand look good and infuse “wow.”

As the evolution of these two great industries move forward, it gives all of us a sense of renewed spirit, creativity and the fact that I, along with many others, are part of an exciting and adventurous future — a future of convergence. AC&F


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