Jez Paxman, creative strategy director at Live Union, on evolving a business to meet the needs of a new generation.
In an ever more digital world, live face-to-face experiences have a special value.
High street shops are re-inventing themselves as retail theatres, festivals of every conceivable genre flourish and traditional types of entertainment, from darts to cinema, are being re-imagined as immersive live experiences.
For those of us creating business events this means two things: firstly, the growing millennial workforce are incredibly experience rich with high expectations and, secondly, we have amazing inspiration to draw upon.
Businesses looking to grow successful events need to get under the skin of their audience and understand what they really value. What is it that live events can deliver that other media can’t, and how can they maintain loyalty amongthe millennial age group – which has not known a workplace without social media and which will make up 75 per cent of the UK workforce by 2025.
When Oracle researched their OpenWorld attendees they found that the increasingly millennial audience valued making connections over simply consuming more content. In the same vein, the rapid growth of Lisbon-based WebSummit has been attributed to the effectiveness of the event’s networking app in connecting start-ups and VCs.
The holy grail for brands hosting live events is to design experiences that see people forming connections around their content. This means a greater focus on participative experiences which shift away from plenary-led agendas to far more open-plan experiential formats that encourage delegates to personalise their experience and have more conversations.
A dramatic example of a conference that’s re-imagined its format to suit the millennial audience is NewCo. Rather than the audience travelling to a venue to listen to a series of speakers, they travel to the speakers’ offices where, as well as a talk, they also get a tour of the workplace. Not only do audiences value the networking that comes from travelling together to the offices, but also the increased depth and memorable, relaxed nature of the experience.
For brands looking to attract, and increase loyalty among millennial audiences, designing experiences that help them perform at their best is vital. They thrive on brain-friendly experiences, and so enlivening venues and healthy food are important as are varied agendas which help them learn and retain information and ideas, entertaining and challenging them in equal measure.
Today, forward thinking businesses who already understand this audience are swapping out lecture-style presentations for active learning sessions and agendas which change the pace and build in surprise and energy. Hugely successful events such as SXSW and Google I/O stand out for their energy, fun and visual impact, while Montreal’s C2 conference (co-founded with Cirque du Soleil) host networking sessions high above the conference floor, with chairs suspended from wires – this isn’t just a gimmick, it’s a dramatic way of breaking down barriers between people.
These ‘experience-led’ agendas, mixed with Incredible screen content, stunning infographics, exhibition props and striking hands-on experiences all create added value to audiences eager for content that shares well on social media. The integration of technology into events such as RFID enabled badges or audience response systems add whole new dimensions to the live experience, extending it beyond the event itself.
With so many options, both from a format and technology perspective, brands which aren’t innovating are quickly getting left behind. And for these, putting on an event which no one remembers will be costly – in terms of budget and loyalty.