For years, marketing gurus have exhorted corporate marketers to know their audiences. These days, though, that’s beginner-level advice. Marketing in 2018 will require competing on an even higher level, where winning means not only understanding the landscape, but also masterfully leveraging the newest technologies and concepts to deliver powerful experiences that resonate deeply.
Following are predictions and practical advice from the experts at Freeman to help corporate marketers seeking to slay the competition and make 2018 their biggest year yet. Be sure to read all the way to the end, where you'll be able to cast your vote for the event marketing prediction most likely to take off next year!
Make way for real-time personalization
Instant gratification is so last year. Give attendees what they want before they even realize they want it.
- Attendees take control
Katie O’Brien, VP, Group Creative, FreemanXP
Don’t expect attendees to simply go with your flow. To get them to fully engage, let them be in control of the experience. For example, use matchmaking technologies to allow attendees to “swipe right” and pick people they want to talk with, based on what they want to know. Or consider using bracelets instead of badges for automatic registration. These same bracelets can act as a “digital briefcase” in that, rather than having to scan a badge, attendees simply tap in to get more information — which results in more leads for exhibitors.
- Harnessing social for smarter customization
Tanner Harp, Marketing Director, FreemanXP
Marketers can catalog every tweet, post, etc. generated during an event and then leverage other tools to harvest data on the individuals who created the social updates. This sets the stage for smarter retargeting and lead generation. We’ll start seeing marketers jumping in with targeted offers based on a social post, brands building personalized ads with a user’s profile image or data, and activation areas and VIP treatments that users can “unlock” through social activity.
Get creative with audience engagement
Attendees want more from an event than just a swag bag; they want to live an experience.
- Break out of the event box
Mark Fein, SVP, Strategy, FreemanXP; and Parul Shah, Strategy Director, FreemanXP
Attendee-friendly show floor design will begin to rise. Rather than creating rows of exhibit booths in a convention center hall, more events will adopt an open format where sessions, content, and exhibitors all share one space. This creates a more compelling physical environment to engage, educate, and inspire people to interact.
- Interactive sponsorships
Cori Prasifka, Senior Strategist, FreemanXP
Rather than mass sponsorships activated by banners, bags, and signage, sponsors will increasingly seek opportunities to connect with and engage attendees through experiences. Sophisticated digital integrations will enable more customized sponsorships to truly relevant targets.
Empower active learning
Gone are the days of “I teach, you learn.” Instead, attendees want to roll up their sleeves and learn by taking action.
- Hands-on learning labs
Mark Fein, SVP, Strategy, FreemanXP
The expansion of hands-on, lab-like learning environments is booming in the event world. The idea is to not only allow attendees to engage in the educational content, but also to encourage the attendees to help solve problems that are relevant to the people who have all come together in one place at one time. This makes the educational content as compelling as the networking and entertainment sessions.
- Digital-enabled education
Madeleine Bart, Marketing Director, Freeman AV Canada
Apps make the world go 'round. Second-screen technology is enabling live audience polling and feedback. As well, general sessions are being shortened to make way for more time in experiential exhibit areas and smaller, more customized interactive learning experiences.
Take brand messaging further
It’s no longer enough for a brand to simply tell a story. In 2018, how brands tell their story will be what sets them apart.
- Stories need structure
Parul Shah, Strategy Director, FreemanXP
Stories are the vehicles we use to remember experiences and make sense of the information around us. And yet, live events often lack structured storytelling. A proper story has a beginning, middle, and end. This is critical to connect with attendees to not only drive action, but also to generate the emotion necessary to take action. Expect to see more brands get storytelling right in 2018.
- Brands need purpose
Jeff Chase, VP, Sustainability, Freeman
Consumers are looking into the heart of corporations to see what drives them, they seek brands that make a positive difference in society. Brand experience must therefore adhere to this higher purpose, providing social, economic, and environmental accountability to ensure the brand not only talks the talk but also walks the walk.
Consumer distrust is at an all-time high, so be brave enough to be honest.
- Pulling back the curtains
Emily Shaw, Strategy Director, FreemanXP
The need for transparency is growing, whether we’re talking about soft drinks or cybersecurity. People want to know the truth so they can make informed decisions. One of the most highly effective ways to communicate brand integrity is by showing people your processes.
- New data security laws
Julie Krueger, International Business Development Director, Freeman AV
With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming in May, marketers will be subject to more focused regulations for using, storing, and deleting data. Because the new law is aimed at protecting EU residents no matter where they travel in the world, it will impact event professionals globally.
Tap tech and deliver data
Marketers in 2018 will be empowered with sophisticated tech at their fingertips as well as metrics that provide solid benchmarks and clear goalposts.
- Meaningful metrics
Parul Shah, Strategy Director, FreemanXP
Cost metrics are important, but they are only one stroke on a much larger canvas. Metrics that stretch beyond costs — such as mindshare, lifetime value, event body language, advocacy, sales velocity, viral action, and more — illuminate the true impact of experiential marketing efforts. More corporate marketers will turn to these types of data points to prove ROI.
- Purposeful tech
Adam Butman, Director, Business Development, Freeman AV; Cori Prasifka, Senior Strategist, FreemanXP; and Mike Bruley, SVP, Territory Leader, Freeman
When it comes to technology, the primary focus in 2018 will continue to shift from shiny object syndrome to integrations that influence the event experience, bottom-line financials, and overall flexibility. We’ll see more shows get creative with technology that helps audiences self-customize their own journeys on site, as well as an increased focus on reaching broader audiences before, during, and after the event.
- Blurring the lines between digital and live
Pip Fann, Director of Client Services, FreemanXP EMEA
As people communicate virtually more and more, they crave face-to-face interactions. Connected live and online experiences will improve pre-event communications, immersive on site product demonstrations, and post-event insights about attendee behavior.
Staying on top of the changing brand experience industry doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By being strategic and always keeping their audience’s needs, wants, and goals in mind, corporate marketers now have more power than ever to make sure they’re reaching those audiences and engaging them for the long term.
Which of these predictions do you see taking off in 2018? Vote now!