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Unconventional Inspiration: Breaking Through Beyond Best Practices

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Wendi Sabo
Wendi Sabo

VP, Marketing

Freeman AV

Why audiences reward marketers who take risks

Most of us heard a variation of this question at some point in our lives: if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do the same? The point of the rhetorical question was meant to drive home the concept of exploring your own path rather than following in the footsteps of others. It was great advice — but as marketers, many of us find ourselves following the industry pack and landing on the hard ground of unoriginality.

Best practices exist for a reason. They lay the foundation and give marketers a solid starting point. But we live in an increasingly competitive age where consumers expect unique and memorable experiences. Today’s technology makes everything accessible and almost nothing truly novel or personal. But when it comes to brand experience, technology has the ability to provide unforgettable yet shareable moments. Consumers not only know this, but expect it…and in real time!

If we want to catch and retain audience attention, it’s more important than ever for marketers to deliver originality and the unusual. Ready to break through best practices? Here are some tips.  

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Audiences are already demanding something different

A growing trend for brand experience is the nontraditional venue. According to a report published by Eventbrite and Peerspace, audiences seek venues that “scream special.” These include airport hangars, warehouses, castles, rooftops, and even parking lots. Per the study, attendees are looking for “one-of-a-kind experiences” that are aided by “transformative technology.” An apt illustration is the rise of silent party technology, which facilitates events in nontraditional venues like hotel beaches, conference balconies, or other outdoor locations — in essence creating a distinctive experience for participants.

In another report from Convene, two growing brand experience trends are customizable “white-box” venues instead of traditional hotels/meeting rooms, and virtual tours offerings instead of site visits (the latter indicating that the cutting-edge tech of virtual reality in brand experiences is already being embraced).

Small change, big difference

Breaking through beyond best practices doesn’t mean a radical overhaul, just shifting things here and there to optimize the attendee experience. Nothing may be new under the sun, but everything can be tweaked under the sky.

For example, during the opening sessions of the last PCMA Convening Leaders, the staging and seating were diagonal to the auditorium. This format created more access points and a unique feel to the event. In other sessions, a variety of tables, chairs, and couches were set in between stages and seat rows, allowing attendees a personalized choice of how they would interact with a speaker.

Sometimes bringing in the old can be just the trick. Something as simple as placing rudimentary chalkboards or drawing boards creates a buzz amid a sea of LED screens and digital signage on the show floor. Also, at the most recent EXHIBITORLIVE, elements of our booth were made entirely out of plain ol’ cardboard, giving the space a retro feel.

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Go big or go home

There are occasions when you DO need to be a maverick and leverage that “transformative technology” for those “one-of-a-kind experiences.” Let’s face it: being a pioneer is more remarkable than being a follower.

Being a pioneer often means panning for gold in the rivers of the past. Virtual and augmented reality technology were seen as parked 90s tech that always struggled to find a home. But now VR and AR are rising in popularity amongst a new generation of digital thrill-seekers. The same could be said about drones, a tech seemingly too exotic for businesses and befitting only law enforcement or package delivery services. But guess what? Drones can be highly engaging for brand experiences — from venue flythroughs, to choreographed drone routines, to massive group selfies, the list of possibilities go on and on.

Make the questionable an answer

Predictive and tracking technologies may raise some privacy issues, and thus might appear problematic despite their vast potential for brand experiences. That’s not the case for daring show organizers who provide transparent, flexible, and voluntary opt-ins for attendees — and then provide exhibitors beacon-enabled tech that allows for targeted, personalized messages for the same attendees on signage or video screens. What’s more, due to the tracking of audiences, traffic-flow and session occupancy can be optimized during events while marketers gain better analytics after events. At the end of the day, privacy is not compromised and events are more personalized with higher audience engagement.

In truth, taking a risk is not a risk if marketers follow the data and start with that most essential of best practices: know your audience. Between data and understanding audience desires, you’ll know when to take that narrow but rewarding path of innovation…with plenty of room for imagination.

For more on where the event industry is headed, download the insights paper: Tomorrow, Today: The Future of Brand Experience

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