By now we are all aware that “experience is the driving force of the retail and brand awareness and engagement, and now trade shows and conferences are following suit. The opportunity therein is to create delightful consumer-esque experiences and more curated thought leadership and that requires good design and the ability to quickly create a small community feeling in purposefully smaller B2B events.
We spoke with Brick & Wonder member and content marketing expert Jed Wexler who organizes his own "cozy" conference (on luxury and cannabis!) and whose clients include one of the largest exposition producers in the country. Among the example he noted is Glossy, a “content first” B2B conference organizer, hosts intimate dinners for only 15 of 20 executives at a time. While that may seem high touch, they are able to monetize these events and provide a high return for their attendees who pay a premium to be able to connect with like minded A-tier attendees, sponsors and fellow industry execs.
Perhaps a more extreme example is C2 Montreal, a large scale conference of around 7000 ‘participants” who will check out the big speeches and presentations en masse, but will than have the opportunity to participate in smaller “show within shows” in purpose built spaces that have been created by art directors, design firms and experiential architects. The idea for the spaces is to have fun or “meaningful play” and to foster real connections. In 2018, C2 says that it established more than 1800 on-on-ones called brain dates in spaces that are whimsical and sometimes sort of terrifying, like small groups hanging in chairs 30 feet above a mirror.
The large trade show model is shifting to smaller and more frequent B2B standalone conferences in several regions and better targeted programming for each market. More frequency equals more revenue.
Jed recently told Trade Shows News Network, “An architectural concept gaining mainstream traction is scenography, which refers to the spatial design that comprises a performance, event or building structure. What that means for digitally native brands and all retailers — and now B2B events — is that we now urgently need to create impactful (and delightful) offline experiences to foster in-person connections for our attendees. It behooves B2B event organizers today to think of design early on as part of the whole.”
About these temporary spaces, Tommy Zung, principal of architecture/experiential design firm, Studio Zung and owner of retail storefront Shop Zung in New York tells TSNN, “We all experience our surroundings through space. Scenography enables us to immerse viewers into not only the look of a space or brand but the entire feeling it encompasses.”
What does this mean for the build and design industry? We caught up with Jed and asked him to elaborate more on how this represents and growth opportunity for design firms.
All signs point to the fact that we’ve entered a new renaissance of retail and experiential design, and forward-thinking executives are now applying this to their B2B events.
B&W: Do you think that as a business channel for the design world that “smaller” is a growth and expansion opportunity?
Jed Wexler: Yes, it’s a huge untapped opportunity for designers/retail architects. B2B event attendees are increasingly demanding consumer-esque experiences similar to those produced by D-to-C brands (i.e. pop-ups) and consumer events. The B2B Exhibitions Industry added $97B to U.S. GDP in 2018 a 4.3% increase over 2017 - with no signs of slowing. Here are the Top 20 organizers in the world.
They also want to be delighted by their environment. It's a combination of retail design and experience design. Gone are the days when B2B event attendees are ok with simply walking down aisle after non-descript aisle of booths featuring companies peddling their wares.
We now live in an experience economy.
B&W: As a content firm, you must have some great strategies for having a better designed event generate great content.
JW: I assume that our people are creating and deploying content ahead of time, and to prepare for the event, you have to lay out the insights that you want to deploy afterwards. Short video and photography are very straightforward -- but then you have to have a paid distribution plan afterward.
We do a lot of event “capture” type stuff and take the long view. Even from an event with a panel and another “activation” -- even if it’s just a couple hours -- you can create a content pipeline for the next 6 months.
We usually have one or two editors or journalists on site -- a video person, someone to ask on site questions on camera and off camera. You pull the insights together afterwards into a lead generation tools: eBooks, PDFs, multiple articles. But have a paid plan to distribute it and to generate audiences from it. With video you can run video views campaigns. I highly recommend video ads on Linkedin.
B&W: You say “smaller” in terms of how many attendees, but do you get the sense that the spaces themselves are becoming more of a human scale?
JW: You have these huge events and I think what they’re doing is making them smaller by creating these smaller spaces within them. At business events, people want to have more one to one connections and collaborative experiences inside these designed, purposeful environments.
B&W: And you are seeing less “lights! music! and smoke!” and more curation, taste, and I hate the word, but, authenticity?
JW: I think these kind of elevated, curated experiences are not so wired for everybody. I think you get a lot of value out of attending a smaller event where experiences are built in where you can actually talk and meet people