Darrin 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, 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.
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.
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.
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