As 2017 comes to a close; the preparation for 2018 begins, and for event marketers that means ramping up for the countless events and trade shows their organizations will be hosting, exhibiting at or attending. With mega events like Dreamforce and CES each drawing in more than 170,000 attendees this year alone, the number one question on most marketers’ minds is how to cut through the noise to make their company stand out and deliver personalized event experiences in 2018.
With 70 percent of US-based senior marketers increasing their spend on events in 2017, according to a survey from Certain, the relevance of in-person events and attendance numbers, will inevitably continue to rise into 2018.
We spoke to some of the industry’s top influencers to get an insider’s look at the trends and new technologies that will drive in-person events in the new year, and what steps marketers can take to get the most out of the events they participate in throughout 2018 and beyond.
Prioritizing the Attendee Experience During Events
Events provide a great way to connect with new prospects and customers, as well as the opportunity for like-minded individuals to get together and discuss the latest trending topics in their industries. But with the overwhelming amount of conferences, panels, and happy hours occurring throughout the cycle of an event, and a number of different interests among attendees to cater to, events can sometimes lose the personalization factor when trying to market to all of these individuals.
“Does an attendee want to network and connect with peers, or would she prefer to find vendors? Is she interested in speaking with presenters? Does she want to attend after-parties, or would she prefer discussions with smaller groups? There is so much more events can be doing to provide value, and the easier event technology vendors make it to implement this level of personalization so that each attendee walks away with a customized experience, the faster we’ll see this value materialize,” said Josh Steimle, Author and Founder of Influencer Inc.
Some see this materializing in different ways, including the use of chatbots, which Ann Handley, CCO of MarketingProfs, believes has limitless opportunities to deliver improved attendee engagement from “acting as event concierge desks, dispensing advice on navigating large event spaces, recommending sessions, setting up meetings, and so on,” said Handley. “The applications are pretty limitless — especially for large events that need to figure out a way to make their events more personal and human-scale.”
With so many connections, from personal to professional, now beginning through mobile apps and online services from Tinder and Hinge to Bumble Bizz and LinkedIn, David Raab of Raab Associates, believes a similar set-up will help to create personalized event experiences in 2018 and allow them to foster and grow.
“[2018 will bring] better targeting of audiences and more matching of attendees based on data about their interests. Think Birds of Feather meets Match.com,” said Raab. “Encouraging interactions among attendees has always been important and technology now makes it much more possible.”
Real-Time Data Gathering for Increased Audience Engagement
To build on the need to improve personalization at events, 2018 will see an increase in both vendors and event organizers using advanced technologies to gather data in real-time, to better tailor their content and discussions with attendees.
Earlier this year, a survey from Certain found that 51 percent of U.S.-based senior marketers use event automation solutions in their current event strategies. However, the next year will likely see this number increase significantly, as companies want to ensure that attendees are getting the most out of their experience.
As Steimle puts it, “Audiences want to receive information that will change their lives, careers, and businesses, and they want to receive it in an engaging way that doesn’t put them to sleep.”
Event automation tools help to better tailor the audience experience, for example, allowing companies exhibiting at an event to pull up real-time data on prospects that shows what panels or specific interests they have, so conversations can be tailored accordingly.
“[In 2018, we’ll start to see] more real-time data gathering about session attendance, audience response, polls during sessions, etc., all serving to make the conferences more interactive and more responsive to attendee needs,” said Raab. “Similarly, [there will be] more audience-driven content: attendees have lots of expertise to share; technology should make sharing easier as the conference unfolds and even during sessions.”
Maximize Use of Speakers and Influencers to Target Audience Interests
Event organizers know the potential a well-known name can bring to their event. Take Michelle Obama’s recent keynote at Dreamforce or James Corden’s keynote discussion at Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit, which inevitably brought in massive crowds. As Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group, notes, “Event marketers are increasingly realizing that they need professional speakers to both attract attendees and to deliver better content experiences when folks show up.”
Neal Schaffer, leading social media consultant and author, believes this can even be taken a step further, by calling on influencers to take on a larger role outside of being a keynote speaker.
“Event marketers…will finally realize and act upon the potential that influencers have for their event. From having influencers promote your event beforehand to fostering them live-tweeting and Instagramming your event to help amplify the event’s content to their networks, to the potential for post-event content to create an archive of event content and build buzz for the next event,” said Schaffer. Influencers are the missing ‘human’ piece that promises huge potential for event marketers who understand their potential in today’s digital age.”
More Focused Online Platforms for Event Attendees
With multiple touch points for communication from online sites to social media platforms, narrowing down one central space to best reach event attendees can be a major challenge. Some event organizers and exhibitors may rely on Twitter or Facebook updates, while others may ask prospects and attendees to download an event-specific app to access important updates and information. However, this could change in 2018 as event organizers and marketing teams will create more defined places to house updates and information.
David Meerman Scott, leading marketing and sales strategist, believes the shift will be made through the event hashtag, saying “The event hashtag will move from just a place to share tweets on site to a place where people will interact before, during, and after an event. But it is up to event organizers to push people into that direction by, for example, only posting speaker slide decks via hashtag.”
Although mobile has become an integral part of events, both for organizers and attendees alike, we may see the previous trend of event-specific apps decline. Brenner believes we will begin to see “more event use event landing page or websites instead of asking attendees to download an app just for one event,” a trend which will likely be well received by event attendees who prefer not to have countless app notifications setting off their smartphones throughout the day.
My Take on Event Marketing in 2018
It’s clear that 2018 will be a year where we see event marketers mix everything from data and new tech to influencers and speakers to create a more personal experience throughout the cycle of an event. Attendees come to events to learn, make connections, and find new inspiration to benefit their businesses and organizations, and in the next year, this theme of personalization will be key in not only attracting audiences but capturing their attention.
Personally, my hope is that 2018 becomes the year where marketers really start to leverage the power of data for real-time marketing during events, to further drive this theme of personalization. Marketers kick butt when it comes to the registration sprint, ensuring we’re enlisting every strategy we can think of to drive the highest possible registration.
As one marketer told me, “it’s not like the number of registrations we expect for our big event will ever go down. Our goals are constantly ratcheting up!”
So registration has been a huge focus for marketers. What I see though is there is so much power in how data can be used during an event, and marketers aren’t often taking advantage of this opportunity.
I’d love to see this be the year that marketers use the intent data they have, whether its interest by product line, pain point, or where a prospect is in the buying cycle, all of this data can be used to suggest the right event agenda for each attendee to maximize their time and learning potential during events.
After all, face to face engagement is the number one opportunity to accelerate and convert for revenue teams, and seeing marketers use this to their advantage during events will make 2018 a year of transformation and change for the better.