How will events survive the future? By changing everything.

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Chris Cavanaugh
Chris Cavanaugh

Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer

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We are on the precipice of massive change, wavering between the analog past of live events and the digital future of connected experiences.

As the leading brand experience company in the world, Freeman has a front-row seat, which is not to be squandered. We see a convergence of forces shaping and accelerating the pace of change for our industry, and we can either embrace it or risk being left behind.

Data will be the driving factor

There is a large amount of data available now, with a more staggering amount coming soon as we integrate new technology platforms into our ecosystem. This data, if correctly aggregated and evaluated, will provide us with insight we’ve never had before. This comes just as our audiences are demanding we interact with them in a more sophisticated manner. The customer experience will have to be more seamless than ever before, and the integration of the online and live customer journey will have to be coordinated and connected. Data will be the key to helping us stay a step ahead of their wants, needs, and intentions. And if we fail to harness data to understand them, someone else will take our audience from us.

The more technology we have, the more demand there will be from consumers for more—more information and more customization integrated into every aspect of the experience. Think about how much data Walt Disney World collects from millions of people when they book a vacation. Disney took that data and turned it into a customized experience for every visitor via the MagicBand, making the park visits and trips to Disney feel personal and special.

But technology and the data it provides isn’t the real reason our industry is changing. Technology plays a part in changing the behaviors of our attendees and how those behaviors will transform our channel. But the real shift is in how audiences want to interact with content, concepts, and communities.

Engagement is a constant, not a moment in time

Experiences cannot happen in a vacuum as a one-off moment in time anymore. There is a bigger opportunity in front of us. Connected, engaged communities that work with us to generate content, connect to the industry, and amplify messaging are the way of the future. We’ve learned that engagement must start long before a live event and continue long after it, but how do we use our platform to keep attendees plugged into a constant cycle of rich and meaningful content?

And by the way, everyone is doubling down on content creation, so how do we break through the noise and remain relevant? Part of the answer is by supercharging our use of next-generation formats that allow us to reinvent the entire experience. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to embracing change, experimenting, and taking calculated risks.

Part of understanding your attendees means how you can utilize their new behaviors to your advantage. This wave of change brings us new opportunities to drive additional, deeper levels of connectedness. No amount of digital communication could equal the high touch of an in-person interaction, so it will be up to earlier engagement efforts to prime the pump and get audiences so ready to dive into the experience that they come out the other side fundamentally changed—and acting as the event’s biggest advocates through later engagement activities. Their networks become our networks when we create deep and meaningful experiences.

And as experience becomes more important to consumers and a currency in its own right, we will have to infuse our programs with stronger content, more engaging formats, relevant technology, and galvanizing moments that speak to their minds and their hearts. The shared experience is the most powerful way to change behavior, introduce new products and services, and connect people to brands. There will be winners and losers, some of which are already beginning to take shape. Let’s be on the forefront of disrupting ourselves before someone does it to us.

Expectations are higher and decisions are quicker

Consumers have all the information they could need at their fingertips, and they are connected in real time. In a world where they don’t need us anymore to get the information they need, we must now get them to want us. The way the event experiences of the future must be designed is not about the way you want it but the way your audience imagines it. And their imaginations are limitless.

What isn’t limitless is their time. People are busier than ever, and if we don’t meet—and exceed—their expectations, they’re already moving on to the next thing on the list. That means we need to uncover new ways to hold attendees’ attention and create real, tangible value in our experiences that are a worthy investment of their time.

Take, for example, the Star Wars panel at San Diego Comic-Con. Hall H was filled to the brim with fans who waited for hours in line to get a seat for the session with their sci-fi movie heroes. But Lucasfilm gave them so much more than that when, immediately after the panel, the audience was given a Stormtrooper escort to a secret event featuring food, wine, lightsabers, and the San Diego Symphony Orchestra playing John Williams’ iconic Star Wars theme. That’s an experience that people are still talking about and that attendees will never forget.

We have to learn to bridge the gap between what attendees can dream and what we can achieve with hyper-personalized, fully engaging experiences that make a meaningful connection between the virtual and the actual. That’s going to take a different way of thinking and a new way of approaching every event.

Are you ready for everything in our industry to change? You should be, because it’s already happening.


What you need to know to stay ahead of the ever-changing experiential marketing curve.

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