The 4 Big Themes at Event Marketer’s 2017 Experiential Marketing Summit

The Experiential Marketing Summit (EMS) 2017 recently created a new wave of buzz that has resonated through our industry. Produced by Event Marketer, the three-day conference brought nearly 2,000 event industry professionals together, on both brand and agency sides, to discuss, share, teach, and learn from one another, all things experiential.

Highlights from the conference’s jam packed agenda included Cramer’s own account director, Danielle Gorman, along with David Polinchock, former director of PwC’s Experience Center and AT&T’s Innovation Lab, presenting on using innovation labs to amp up audience engagement. Additionally, IBM’s vice president of global events, Colleen Bisconti, talked about the importance for event marketers to be creating forward-thinking, fully-immersive, end-to-end experiences for our customers. Helen J. Stoddard’s rise as an event marketer for Twitter stimulated lunchtime conversations on Day Two and EMS’s own, Dan Hanover, hosted a closing session on 2017 experiential trends.

Amidst the presentations, the networking, the lobster mac, and the “Wake Up 5K,” four major themes emerged.

1. Be The Event Marketer

We mentioned that Twitter’s Helen J. Stoddard spoke to her rise as an event marketer, but where she contrasted coming from was where the real story lay. Helen pinned “event marketer” against “event planner,” arguing that we must think beyond tactics and tasks to find purpose in our plans.

Event marketers, she stated, are goal-centric. They are focused entirely on the why, the North Star connecting brand and audience. Event marketers understand objectives and strategize to achieve. Event planners are check list driven and task-oriented. But where we can bridge the gap is becoming mindful of mapping those tactics back to purposeful goals. Event marketers are measured and meaningful.

2. Feel The Brand

It’s no secret emotion is an important part of marketing. Advertisers have long understood the link, and since the meteoric rise of true content marketing, emotion-driven brand storytelling has dominated our Facebook feeds and Super Bowl commercial breaks alike. Here though, we’re not talking about a YouTube video that plucks the heart strings. In this world, it’s about the face-to-face feelings.

Experiential design has to focus on allowing attendees to feel the brand, not just see it. Storytelling strategies must make their way into the attendee journey, and how we map their movements to messages throughout an experience. For example, rather than putting a logo on every window on every corner, focus instead on using the space to tell a story with a strategic logo reveal. These more emotional, intimate connections are how to create long-lasting brand reciprocity.

As far as mapping a meaningful brand journey, think in these four steps. Immersion, Education, Exploration, Impact.

3. Reinvent to Reinvigorate

Events and brands alike need to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Colleen Bisconti reinforced the results of IBM’s transformation, and if we look no further than AOL’s NewFront, we see the corresponding conclusion in events.

With NewFront, AOL turned their back on the standard event stage format, and took to the streets for a festival. This concept of giving attendees free choice of how they experienced the event proved successful and reinvigorated their conference.

At EMS, Oracle and Mosaic used a similar strategy to re-imagine breakouts. They put the audience in control of their own destiny, allowing attendees to vote within their event apps on the problems teams would break to discuss and solve. Based on live voting, content tracks could have gone a few different ways and they were prepared to pivot on the fly.

Adobe embraces change to the point of putting their identity in the hands of their consumers, letting customers redesign logos and packaging. And Deborah Curtis, VP-Global Marketing at American Express, went so far as to map reinvention strategy to the planets of the solar system, noting that if you don’t make continual efforts to stay ahead of the curve and keep up with the gravitational pull, you could wind up as lost as little Pluto!

4. Analog is Alive and Well

The “disconnect to connect” trend has been rising in popularity as both Millennial and Gen Z attendee numbers rise at events. One may think the opposite to be true in regards to these demographics, but what we’re seeing is a technologic pull back from a generation that has been overstimulated. Brands are taking note, and through clever activations, are providing refreshing opportunities to return to the analog age.

At EMS 2017, greeting card company, American Greetings, created a “thinking of you” activation. Their station featured free greeting cards of all sorts, and a mailbox for free shipping. The concept was simple and meaningful. We certainly took the time to step back and drop a line to our families back home. Event furnishing company, Totally MOD, gave attendees the chance to sit back in silence, or get their nostalgia on with games of Hungry Hippos and Sorry, while Highmark offered manicures.

The event industry seems to be in a constant state of flux, pushing forward for progress but backwards for meaning. From AR to VR, to AI and everything in between, we love to focus on the new, the fresh, and the futuristic, but in the end, it’s all about bringing it back to the basics. Technological wow aside, we can’t ever forget the granular event details that ensure the most basic human needs are met. Was the environment conducive to creating connections? Was transportation provided? Was there food and drink when I wanted food and drink? You as the event marketer must seek to eliminate the discomforts to make way for the content and forever strive to surprise.

Looking to EMS 2018

Each year EMS is a great time gathering with our peers across the world of brand experiences. It’s our industry’s best event for taking (and sharing) the pulse of experiential marketing and continuing to push the perspectives we bring to our clients. EMS 2018 is slated for May 14-16 in San Francisco’s Marriott Marquis.

We look forward to see you there!