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Five Big Ideas from the 2018 Experiential Marketing Summit

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Tom Maher
Tom Maher

Director, Digital Experience

Helios Interactive

Emerging realities that will affect your event marketing career in the next five years

The annual Experiential Marketing Summit is a wrap! Our team of experience designers, strategists, and digital experts has distilled three days of wide-ranging meetings, workshops, and technical breakouts down to the event’s most crucial ideas.

Importantly, these aren’t just interesting ideas worth casually noting.

Instead, they mark a transition in how the event marketing and sponsorship industry is put together. They point the future out for us. This helps identify where our capabilities are sufficient and reveal where we may be falling short.

Whether you’re a marketer planning how to take your investment in brand experiences to the next level, or an agency professional responsible for helping clients thrive, now is the time for self-examination and comparative analysis against these sweeping mega themes.  

Without further ado, let’s get to the ideas:


How Design Thinking Can Lead to More Satisfying Brand Experiences

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#1 Investing In and Applying Design Thinking

In the last decade, much has been made of applying good design principles to business challenges.

This is true across numerous industries, but especially the experiential marketplace. With a deep bench of design talent on both the client and agency side, we need to do two things:  

  • Give design teams exposure to the business and marketing side of programs
  • Apply holistic design thinking to event portfolio analysis and decision-making

The reason?

Well-rounded designers will always create work aimed at concrete business results. Meanwhile, the audience-centric approach built into design thinking ensures that we consider strategic planning based on our customers’ needs first and foremost.

#2 B2(E)veryone

The walls have finally come down.

Conference organizers and trade show experts are talking about attendee engagement like sports marketing pros. At the same time, consumer brand managers are adopting the progressive results discipline, mid-campaign pivots, and customer tracking capability of their enterprise marketing brethren.

The result is a slowly emerging, unified vocabulary. This is exciting because:

  • It means we’re starting to value the same important things across the experiential landscape

  • We are building systems around driving to those results (targeted promotion, brand experience design, audience nurture, etc.)

  • We are also building competencies to create and manage the intended results for the long-term (digital savvy, immersive brand storytelling, audience insights, etc.)

Designing Your Metrics Road Map

Designing Your Metrics Road Map

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#3 Demise of Vanity Metrics

It’s been almost two decades since the experiential industry made a significant leap forward in its strategic positioning alongside other marketing disciplines.

In the early 2000s, the industry shifted away from a heavy logistics orientation. Strategy and brand experience design came into focus. This gave rise to Event Marketer and other industry media groups, which helped advanced this mission.

While executing flawlessly will always be in our DNA, the evolution meant starting our plans, decisions, and success valuations based on business metrics using the language of business results:

  • Sales attribution

  • Impact on revenue

  • Improving partner success

  • and other similar measurable calculations

Conversely, this has meant the diminishment of hard-to-gauge vanity metrics like impressions.

Metrics like impressions still have a place, of course — but their ranking is in proper context. Every brand creates its own custom metrics (i.e., performance dashboard). The go-forward change, however, will be in the weighting of vanity metrics vs. ROI metrics across the event portfolio.

#4 The Talent War

We’re in a time of high employment. It’s also an era where personal meaning is as important as compensation for many employees.

For those of us in the experiential industry, this means battling for the best talent. And not just with other agencies, but also with other competitive industries (especially technology). At the same time, we need to be acting as a critical force for talent recruitment and retention.

According to a recent Gallup poll, more than 50% of employees in the U.S. self-identify as “not engaged at work.”

As a result, employers are focusing on employee engagement. They are using experiential techniques to attract, lead, motivate, teach, and even inspire employees. As an industry, we have to make the case to attract great talent. We also need to sharpen our capabilities to empower our leadership teams to deploy experiential within our own organizations to win the talent wars.

Are smartphones killing your event?


Are smartphones killing your event?

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#5 Our Frenemy, The Smartphone

Tactically speaking, no other on-the-ground reality today affects the experiential industry more than the powerful computer/streaming media/library/social media everything device: the modern smartphone.

On January 9, 2007, Apple’s Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. That forever changed how we plan, promote, design, execute, and measure our work.

On balance, a smartphone in every pocket is a great thing for events of all kinds. Smartphones can help streamline and scale a variety of things:

  • Ticket purchases/registration

  • Onsite-tracking

  • Push notifications, attendee participation

  • Networking

  • Post-event communication

  • and more!

At the same time, it’s a distraction machine. The smartphone gives every member of our audience the ability to transport themselves out of the experience.

Both a doorway to engagement and a trapdoor to losing attention, smartphones are a double-edged sword we’re still learning to wield for maximum benefit.

Which of these themes are you most excited about?

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