As we head in to 2016, brands continuing to put more dollars behind event marketing. In fact, a recent study by the Event Marketing Institute predicted a 5 percent increase in experiential marketing budgets last year. It’s easy to see why once you realize that 74 percent of participants who purchase a brand once are likely to become regular customers after engaging with the brand at an event, and 93 percent say events are more effective marketing tools than television commercials.
As we ring in a new year filled with major national and global events including political conventions and the Olympics, there’s no better time to look back and highlight the biggest event marketing trends from the past year, and what’s on the horizon. Check out our key learnings from the past year that will continue to drive event marketing, and what we’re most excited to see in 2016.
- If it isn’t on social, your event didn’t happen. Unless you’re planning events for a secret society, one of your event goals is most likely to spark social conversation about your brand. It used to be that events allowed for a high-touch brand experience, but only reached a small audience. Social media has completely opened up the potential for an event’s reach, providing a greater ROI for marketers. However, it’s not necessarily enough to expect that people will post about your event just because they were invited. Brands must create an environment that will inspire guests to share their experience, whether that’s designing a visually evocative display that ties back to your brand’s narrative, or providing an opportunity for guests to create their own share-worthy content. When we partnered with DigiFest – the world’s largest social media festival – to target Gen Z on behalf of a new teen-centric brand, our key priority was to make our activation share-worthy. By incorporating fun, eye-catching designs that referenced the brand and an interactive GIF booth for attendees to create content, SOV about the brand among our target audience skyrocketed.
- Attendees vs. Participants. At this year’s BizBash Live conference, the leading meeting for planners from around the country, a key theme heard from more than a few presenters is that attendees are no longer passive. As with other forms of media, control is shifting from marketers to guests who can shape the event by streaming and creating content. For brands that are up to the challenge, this is a good thing. Seek ways to make your event attendee-centric at every turn.
- The infiltration of influencers. It’s all about the influencer in marketing these days, and the same holds true for events. Brands are bolstering their events’ reach by incorporating influencers – paid or organically. Sponsoring a live event? Consider negotiating influencer content as part of your deal. Oh, and remember those shareworthy moments we discussed? Those are even more important when your guest list is comprised of high profile influencers who are building their own brand. If you’re goal is organic engagement, make sure to emphasize the details. Personalize, surprise and delight in a way that influencers can authentically share your brand’s message with their audiences. As with any successful influencer program, key word = AUTHENTIC. Check out some more insight on influencers from my W2O colleagues here and here.
- Want to reach millennials and Gen Z? Plan an event. It may sound counterintuitive when thinking about marketing to the most digital-savvy and tech-innate generations, but despite the ubiquitous nature of digital, these groups crave interaction with brands in real life. For millennials, the economy of experience trumps material things, so brands that seek to create unforgettable, shareable, bespoke experiences first and foremost before selling a product will succeed among millennials. In its second year, Bud Light’s Whatever, USA takeover garnered 1.7 million entries (5 percent of the millennial population) for a chance to participate. The weekend-long festival offered hundreds of unique experiences that had nothing to do with America’s favorite lager, including #UpForWhatever events and classes like hula hoop workouts, life-size chess and an improv comedy performance based on attendees’ own social media accounts.
- Focus on health. From corporate meetings to branded activations, companies are finding ways to add health and fitness into live events. For the past few years, hotels and caterers have increasingly offered a wide array of healthy food and beverage options to keep conference attendees feeling energized and meet ever-evolving dietary requirements. Brands are now getting fit too – in some cases, even building product launches and events entirely around wellness experiences. Take Reebok for example: the brand partners with wellness companies to bring fitness-based experiences to its target consumer is known as the “Fit Generation,” or Fitgen: stylish twentysomethings who view working out as a social activity.
- Event data at the forefront in 2016. You may know that everything we do at W2O Group is deeply rooted in analytics, so it’s not surprising that one of the event trends I’m most excited about uses biometrics to take the focus on health and data to a completely different level. In 2016, expect to see more companies using wearable and RFID technology to get feedback in real time to improve attendee experience. Take that a step further… and turn that data into event décor and content through imagery, reactive lighting, music and more. (Confession: I totally geeked out when Lightwave’s Rana June spoke about this topic at the BizBash Event Innovation Forum).
Tell us: what was your favorite brand event from 2015 and what 2016 event are you most looking forward to?