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Experiential Marketer Spotlight: The 2019 B-to-B Dream Team Takes Charge

By Alison Jenks


  • As demographics shift, so do audiences and their needs
  • Brands are shaking up their event success models to move forward
  • Taking risks can reap big rewards
  • Sponsorships are becoming true partnerships

Consumer marketing may get the bulk of the industry buzz, but there’s a lot of wow happening in the B-to-B experiential marketing space — thanks to some standout event pros.

To shed some (spot)light on these incredible experts, we’ve partnered with Event Marketer magazine to create the B-to-B Dream Team, powered by Freeman. Now in its fourth year, this peer-nominated accolade recognizes and celebrates the savvy pioneers who are shaping a new paradigm for events. By taking hefty creative risks and designing unexpected ways to connect with today’s growing and changing audiences, these varied individuals elevate the live medium to even greater heights.

“We’re storytellers and we’re experience builders in 2019, and we need to start thinking that way.” —Karin Flores, Salesforce

Get inspired by the forward-thinking example these Dream Teamers are setting for the industry!

Next-gen audiences

Today’s audiences are growing and evolving. And that’s no different in the B-to-B world, which is becoming more consumer-centric.

The team at Salesforce understands this B-to-B marketplace evolution and how it’s now what Karin Flores, vice president, corporate marketing – strategic events for Salesforce calls “B-to-B-to-C.” Case in point? The brand’s unexpected partnerships with Live Nation and its activations at festivals like Lollapalooza. “If you’re not thinking beyond the customer and toward that end consumer, you’re behind,” Flores explains.

As new generations enter the picture, the needs, values, and attitudes of B-to-B audiences shift — and so do their preferences. Millennials and Gen Z prefer brands that bring value to society beyond their business. When choosing where to put their money and loyalty, these groups choose brands with purpose.

"Brands are no longer judged solely on the quality of their products or services, but on the values they champion." —Nicola Kastner, SAP

Microsoft gets this and has shifted its event approach to show audiences the brand behind the technology.

“We go beyond traditional showcases and demonstrations and produce exhibits and speaking engagements on topics around ethics in artificial intelligence and how technology is enabling advancements to fight climate change and how our products are designed to be more inclusive and accessible,” says Emmanuel Gotsis, director, global third party events at Microsoft. “Those messages and initiatives are not only very important to the company, but we find they’re are also very important, and resonate better, with our audiences than going in and talking simply about tech solutions.”

Event portfolio pivots and reinventions

It’s easy to reproduce an event model that works, but why change what’s proven?

Because shaking things up with program reinvention is the secret to sustaining success. Evolving the approach could mean making a few changes to address new audience needs or it could be an experience overhaul — scrapping the old model for something completely different.

Take the team at Sprint led by John Heiman, director of experiential marketing. This tech giant reevaluated its tried-and-true schedule and pivoted to create larger, targeted events customized for particular goals. To illustrate how its new 5G network can be used anywhere, Sprint created a serene park setting complete with lemon trees, park benches, and a huge live succulent wall at Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles.

Ojas Rege, chief strategy officer at MobileIron, agrees with the benefits of taking an alternate, unexpected route. His team designed a road show in cities where high concentrations of its audiences lived. But instead of traditional event spaces, the brand hosted intimate gatherings in luxurious homes with keynotes delivered poolside and breakouts activated in master suites.

“With the non-traditional events, it’s about thinking minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, what’s the experience, what are the interactions, what do I do as a user, how do I flow through the space—not just where I sit, and watch a presentation,” Rege told Event Marketer.

Courtney Hutchison, director, experiential marketing at Zillow Group, agreed, explaining that thinking through the attendee journey means "bringing cohesion and that thread through everything that we’re doing.”

Rewarded risks

Taking risks can be intimidating, particularly with a carefully planned experience designed to connect with important audiences. But these powerhouse leaders prove how going rogue with risky ideas can reap big rewards — and audience attention.

Alcon recently unveiled a large, eye-catching “IOL Chandelier” spectacle to introduce its new intraocular lens. The huge feature incorporated tiny lenses to create a visually stunning waterfall effect. “It was a wild idea, and it passed with flying colors,” says Erin Moore, Alcon’s global conventions manager. “On the show floor, it became a selfie machine and it generated so much interest and excitement.”

Google is no stranger to online interest and excitement. But the brand made offline waves (and big headlines) with the introduction of its Google Assistant Playground at CES in 2018. This year, the tech leader pushed the Playground farther with “The Ride.” This theme-park-esque experience moved audiences (in roller-coaster-like cars) through Google Assistant use cases featuring animatronic 3D figures, custom music, and singing macarons.

"We are rethinking the applied paradigms to really shake things up." —Andrew Rossi, Google
Sponsor partnerships

Just as audiences have changed, so have the expectations of sponsors who seek out customized and personalized opportunities to build deeper connections.

“We’re listening to their needs and incorporating that into our offers,” says Gretchen Nakamura, partner sponsorship engagement manager at Cisco. “If the partners are successful, then the attendee is getting what they need.” Her team is flipping the sponsorship model with more emphasis on organic interaction. At Cisco Live, the team evolved a traditional expo hall into a networking destination with lounge spaces and built-in espresso (and adult beverage) bars to create a comfy area primed for connection.

Github’s event team incorporates many of these trends including taking risks, reinventing event approaches (and choosing to be “maximalist” over minimalist), as well as elevating the sponsorship approach to bring new experiences to attendees. One recent sponsored experience created an adult-sized child’s room exhibit filled with nostalgic activities including a giant rocking horse and toy chest full of swag that encouraged attendees to play. “I attribute the success of that program to treating our sponsorships as partnerships,” says Kelsey Schimmelman, senior event producer.

These are just a few examples of how these gutsy gurus are changing the B-to-B event space and creating more buzz for the industry now and into the future. Join us in congratulating our esteemed 2019 Event Marketer B-to-B Dream Team, powered by Freeman!

  • Karin Flores — VP, Corporate Marketing – Strategic Events, Salesforce
  • Emmanuel Gotsis — Director, Global Third Party Events, Microsoft
  • John Heiman — Director of Experiential Marketing, Sprint
  • Courtney Hutchison — Director, Experiential Marketing, Zillow Group
  • Nicola Kastner — Senior Director, Global Event Strategy, SAP
  • Erin Moore — Manager, Global Conventions, Alcon
  • Gretchen Nakamura — Partner Sponsorship Engagement Manager, Cisco
  • Ojas Rege — Chief Strategy Officer, MobileIron
  • Andrew Rossi — Business Lead, Google Events and Experiences, Google
  • Kelsey Schimmelman — Senior Event Producer, Github

Head over to Event Marketer to learn more about the honorees.

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