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American Express Meetings & Events has released a new report on how meeting planners can maximize the event experience in the face of shrinking budgets and resources, while still meeting their event’s objectives.
The report, called “In-Depth Look at the Event Experience: What Marketing Owners Want,” was developed based on interviews with 15 meeting stakeholders in the U.S. and EMEA, AmEx M&E said. The report explores findings about how planners set objectives and design unique experiences while balancing the realities of logistics and budget.
Here are a few key findings from the report.
The Two Types of Events
Marketers AmEx M&E interviewed noted that events fall into two different “streams”: programmatic events, which are operated regularly and often comprise the foundational events of an organization, and ad hoc vents, which are often smaller, quick turnaround events planned and executed on demand to meet immediate business needs.
“The product team will come to me and want to do an event to launch a new feature set, for example,” one marketing executive told AmEx M&E. “We’ll be 10 weeks out from launch date, so even though they’ll want to be splashy and creative, and may even have a little leeway in terms of budget, by the time we get the basics of the vent in place, there’s not a lot of time to b really innovative.”
For ad hoc events, AmEx M&E recommends identifying a few smaller events and using those to test ideas before rolling out winning innovations to larger events.
Planning Smaller Events to Increase Impact
In addition to ad hoc events, smaller events can also be used to engage more deeply with clients, according to the report. One strategy noted in the study is to streamline the production of smaller events by creating a “meeting template” that can be used to reproduce a similar event, but with a different audience.
“I’m. able to incorporate amazing new approaches at a micro level because I plan to reuse the approach with other audiences,” another U.S.-based marketing executive interviewed in the study said. “I design the first micro-event, then do a ‘rinse and repeat’ with several other specific groups. It’s a new experience for everyone, and it feels very special and personal because it’s such a small group at each event.”
The report identified the variance between expected and actual attendance as the biggest source of uncertainty for meeting planners. This factor is particularly challenging for ad hoc events.
“We had an event last year – we expected 200 people and rented a large venue,” a marketing executive based in Europe said. “Maybe we didn’t give people enough time to plan to attend, maybe we didn’t market the event enough. We had a much smaller number show up. We couldn’t get out of the contract with the venue. It would have looked embarrassingly sparse in the space. Luckily, they were able to find a way to curtain off a big section of the room. From now on we will only work with venues that already have the ability to subdivide the space.”
In fact, having a backup plan is one way AmEx M&E recommends meeting planners can deal with this uncertainty. Planners can work with venues and other supplier partners to develop scenarios for adapting to attendance numbers that weren’t planned for.
Marketers consider three general categories when it comes to the objectives of an event, according to the report: sales, engagement and insights, with one typically being primary. While sales involves sourcing leads and opportunities, engagement events look to drive brand awareness and client relationships. Events that prioritize insights take this strategy even further, designing the meeting to encourage clients to share their needs, priorities and concerns, which in turn will inform the company’s strategy.
The Attendee Experience
In the study, AmEx M&E identified two major approaches toward designing the attendee experience. One approach is conceptual, taking a key design theme and weaving it through all of the critical attendee touchpoints.
“We create a story that flows through every aspect of the meeting,” one Europe-based marketing executive said. “For example, if the topic is supporting small businesses in the community, even the meals become a supporting part of the story. We’ll bring in a fresh new restaurant to create a meal that is not only delicious, but helps tell the story about the journey of that restaurant. Maybe the wine and ingredients are part of the story too. It all has to tie together.”
In another approach, planners tie the attendee experience to the desired perception of the brand. For example, a nonprofit might use a donated space and keep to a practical budget, while a fintech firm might host an event at a luxury hotel with high-end catering and the latest technology.
Live Streaming to Enhance an Event
Speaking of technology, one last trend from the report is live streaming content and sessions as a gap that marketers would like to prioritize to resolve.
“One thing we would love to have is more flexibility to have people attending remotely,” one European marketing executive said. “I know you can stream presentations online, but I’m not just talking about video. I’d hope that in the future, technology enables us to have people really experience and participate in the event remotely. Video and conference calls aren’t even reliable today, in 2019, for a single meeting, much less an event with multiple tracks. I don’t know what the solution is, but I know we aren’t there yet.”
AmEx M&E warned that not every event is suitable for livestreaming; event planners should consider the objectives, attendees and desired experience upfront. When adding a livestream component, the company recommends treating it as a separate, but conncted, part of the event design.