How is the event marketplace changing?
All events are morphing together, everybody, from marketers to CEO’s are now an event organisers. Events are really big: on the external / branding events side, 25% of marketing budgets involve events; and on the internal events side, companies are really focusing on using events to strengthen their internal community, offer recognition, education, motivation, and be a place where people aspire to work. So the event scene is booming and many players want a piece of that.
So there are more types of players than ever and manifest themselves differently in different markets. Caterers more than caterers today, they, in fact in places like Washington D.C. they almost control the market. In some other cities, it would be the event designer, which outsources all production. Generally, though, there is a quest to bring people (agency, catering, venue, client…) together earlier in the process for a better joint work. Media companies are using events as a media product using events to strengthen their relationship with brands clients by creating events for them and as a pure commerce play.
Also, experiential agencies are competing with digital agencies: everyone wants to get to experiential and starts planning events, so event agencies are fighting back and get into digital.
This comes from the importance of events: events can become the center of a communication campaign, not a mere activation moment. For instance, Bud Light took over a whole town to offer unique experiences to applicants who could convince them they were up to anything, and 1 million people applied!! This is an event but it takes a key role in the marketing plan of the brand, and is more strategic than ever.
Another change and indication of this importance of events is that brands and their CEOs are competing to have the best events; this used to happen with advertising, and is now coming to events, as brands want to offer the most unique experiences.
Are companies generally going more towards outsourcing or insourcing their event services?
Both! Big financial institution are increasingly having an event implant teams in their offices, and outsourcing all event planning so they can reduce their headcount and do what they do best. But some firms like accounting consultancies, are going the opposite way, beefing up their internal event team.
My personal feeling is that if companies outsource too much, they lose an essential asset: they don’t own those important relationships any more, they are giving it away with the third party planner. An event doesn’t start when a guest enters a physical room but when the relationship starts to be cultivated from the very first outreach and event just the research of who should be nurtured.
Another trend is that hidden planners (from the assistant to the chairman to someone from marketing) are more frequent than ever. They go to vendors directly and plan their event.
Experiences off-the shelf
In the age of big data, experiences are a key part of brand communications: brands see it is hard to put a “aha moment” in an algorhythm, so brands are going to create experiences which provide this aha moment. Since it is getting expensive for planners to create these unique experiences, you are starting to have a lot of companies offering standard experiences that event planners can just contract and include in their events. Some brands conceive those experiences, these activations for events, which is already happening with liquor companies at festivals… and now they are getting into corporate events.
Contact is king, not content
Content is free everywhere but having someone sitting next to you is something you can only have in events. This is a new priority, offering a very personal conversation with someone. We see a rise of lounges, to give people the ability to have conversations. You are seeing more facilitated contacts in all types of events.
Are events increasingly content/knowledge generators?
Yes, while contact is king, the attendees want a content takeaway and organizers need to use their brand of content as the ultimate way to influence their target consumers to make them buy into a product, idea or movement. It is still the big objective. Events increasingly include social media teams, which convert the event into a content generator to spread the idea. But careful: this obsession can get in the way of good communication. If you Instagram, you stop the conversation (see for instance Obama forbidding selfies with him because this got into the way of a good communication with people).
Another trend is ‘parasocial relationships’
Or relationships with a fictional character. Youtubers fill stadiums because people end up thinking they know them more than their friends. So some events are a community building moment, a moment to power this parasocial relationship. You go to an event as a moment of social belonging (I go to TED to feel smart, I go see a youtuber to be in their community…), just like boys bands for young girls or sports for both boys and girls today. Companies want to create those parasocial relastionships, with a 2-way communications and include these into their events.
A very promising new possibility is ‘cognitive events’
Creating a personalized experience around the person. When the attendee comes into the room, they hear the music they like, the food and get them to connect with like-minded people. This is narrow-data, rather than big data, a fully personalized experience that is possible thanks to technology and even biometrics.
We start seeing it in events, connecting devices to the body to play music with the same rhythm as the body. Big brands like Pepsi are building in biometrics content and experiences. For instance, in sports, a company gives everyone an armband, and when there is a goal the player taps his chest with his smart jersey and then it signal a light that goes off with everyone wearing the armband in a stadium. This creates a personal emotional connection. All types of events are coming together. Learning and development has to be fun. People are going to something like Dreamforce, the Salesforce 180,000 person training event held annually in San Francisco. If you learn peer-to-peer, it is more effective that most methods.
The physical social component of events is also an increasing issue. Knowing how to host is becoming essential. Don’t forget the social anxiety people experience in their lives: today’s event organisers have to make people feel welcome, help them know other people, sometimes with the help of technology. And this social dimension makes many brands see events as platforms in which you create tribes within the event. Don’t forget Dunbar’s Law that states that people will only interact with 100-150 people maximum, the event can be a collection of such clusters of people with specific experiences.
Are RFPs usually working well or are they a motive of tension?
Many players are upset as RFPs are very expensive to participate in, and are often not perfectly fair. Also, they mean giving ideas for free (some bids are paid for, but this is a clear minority). People play the game and for the most part it gives them practices in better ways to hone marketing messages but it is considered a huge pain point with lots of landmines.