If you’re in the event and experiential industry and wanted to learn about the hottest and most talked-about topics in our industry, the epicenter of these discussions occurred about a week ago in Salt Lake City at the Event Marketing Summit. Current and aspiring industry leaders from around the world assemble to recap and discuss best practices in meetings, events, experiential, digital and production.

Keynote and breakout speakers included corporate marketing executives from Mercedes-Benz, Anheuser-Busch, HP, Match.com and event agencies that have won big awards for their work. Top editors from Event Marketing Magazine also shared their insights about social and business trends that are or will be affecting the direction of our industry. While there were literally dozens of trends, I sifted through them all to bring you some of the most notable topics discussed over the three day session…

A Changing Audience – Gen Y is beginning to filter into historically dominant Baby Boomer and Gen X corporate audiences.  Attention spans will become shorter and the need for active storytelling will become greater. There will be less acceptance of long keynotes and breakout sessions in favor of more active “experience bursts” that keep future audiences engaged and entertained.

Authentic Connection – Virtually everyone was talking about this topic; the need to understand an audience from every possible perspective. Define the real reasons why a product, message or service is important to an audience. Create moments of power and clarity that create a passion and attraction for them that will penetrate and last.

Much has been written about the need to bond with audiences in an honest and meaningful way. But now, authenticity is becoming more sophisticated. Being real and connected to today’s generation of meeting and event attendees means clearly defining the voice and conversation you want to have with your audience and then humanizing that experience. It means adding dimension to the entire process and creating a journey and a story that the target audience can relate to and adopt. And it means harnessing the ways life and lifestyle are positively affected through brand engagement, moving beyond product attributes.

Accountability – More and more, brands and corporations are demanding proof of performance. Often this can be a challenge, particularly with experiential consumer programs. On-site polling can certainly support and justify quality of experience and immediacy of purchase, but things like purchase intent and brand advocacy are elusive. It is much easier for B2B agencies to measure how their meetings or events have impacted and influenced corporate audiences through pre-post evaluations of emotion, knowledge, quality of content and ultimately performance. Social media channels are providing richer data than ever; the question is can it best be used to gauge success.

Event Marketing Summit 2014

Engaging Gen Y’s with “experience bursts” onsite is becoming a crucial event component.

Conversation Currency – The increasing value of conversation as a catalyst for adoption and change seemed to resonate throughout the summit. Creating goals, strategies, messages and experiences through traditional and digital channels are now table stakes. What’s new is the need to find more holistic methods for engaging audiences through various combinations of communication channels that increase interest, immersion and action. As one speaker put it, we all have to learn how to maximize our “communications ecosystem.”

Live Digital Hubs – More than ever, corporate clients are discovering that setting up public “digital headquarters” during large meetings, trade shows, and events can create an interesting and dynamic congregation point and a place where real-time opinion and trends can be viewed and discussed. Social listening was also a pervasive theme, meaning, it is vital to have a real-time pulse on what is being said about your brand or your company. The term “digital triage” was used frequently to discuss how negative trending data during events needed to be attended to and neutralized on the spot.

Scalability and Flexibility – Audiences and what they want to see and hear are more diverse and fragmented than ever. To use event marketing dollars efficiently, concepts must be conceptually elastic enough to work in multiple sizes and configurations without compromising the essence or impact of the message.  In the B2B space this applies more to audience flexibility than to size and scale.

As technology continues to evolve in our industry one thing is certain. Building meaningful, personal connectivity is the most important catalyst for driving the success of any experiential program or meeting. Without it, the most elaborate idea or production will miss its mark. We’d love to hear back from you with your thoughts. What are your clients telling you is important to them and what do you think will be the new “it” trends in 2015?