CEIR Predict: The Changing Event Landscape

Published by on September 17, 2014 4:59 pm
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Future-Proofing Your Events:
Make Way for Millennials

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“Good times are ahead!” declared Senior Economist Ryan Sweet of Moody’s Analytics during an opening keynote on the global economy at the CEIR Predict conference this September. The daylong conference analyzed and provided updated forecasts from the CEIR Index – a key performance barometer for the exhibits industry.

As the global economy continues to stabilize despite blips on the map including slowed growth in China and secular stagnation in the EuroZone, the U.S is a bright spot in the world’s financial forecast with noticeable acceleration.

Steady growth in U.S. GDP, which is expected to reach 3.5% in 2015 and 4.5% in 2016, directly correlates to an upward trend for the tradeshow industry. Brian Casey, President and CEO of CEIR claimed 1% growth in Q2 2014, and projects a 2% increase by the end of the year.

More optimistically, attendance is on track for faster growth in future years, which is a leading indicator for increased square footage, revenues and tradeshow exhibitors. Simply put, as attendance increases, so does your ability to sell more exhibit space.

Who are these attendees that are going to grow the industry? Millennials.

And according to several CEIR Predict industry expert panelists from various business sectors, this next gen breed of attendee will shake things up while they’re at it – forcing event organizers to look at their offerings in new ways, perhaps changing the entire event landscape in the process.

Preparing for what’s ahead starts with a deeper dive into their psyche. Millennials have come of age during a time when consumer confidence has reached all time lows. They’re pessimists at heart with preferences that challenge the status quo, change rapidly, and can be hard to predict.

This intensely widened and diverse difference in viewpoints and values between the audiences of today and tomorrow has organizations rethinking everything – from their knowledge of consumer buying behaviors and the way they recruit and train fresh talent to how to balance their education and event offerings to meet the needs of both groups, and everyone in between. So how can you future-proof your event experiences by embracing your changing attendee profile?

The consensus of CEIR Predict panelists – embrace change overall, particularly in event formats, technology and personalization. Freeman President and COO, Bob Priest-Heck, said experience marketing at shows is “as relevant as ever,” adding that organizers need to let attendees take control of the event. “If we’re going to engage them, we’re going to have to take risks.” He added, “A lot of folks are still doing the same thing. I am fearful for those (who) don’t change.”

We’ve heard it time and time again – innovate, or die. This sentiment was echoed over and over by several experts in their fields during CEIR Predict 2014.

“The biggest challenge in our industry and at our conferences is that the cycle of innovation moves so quickly,” said Marco Pardi, President, UBM Tech Events. “If we don’t stay on top of it, we’re dead in the water. With our content, our focus, every year we need to start fresh.”

SmithBucklin’s Executive VP of Event and Education, Carol McGury added, “You can’t simply repeat yourself year after year with minor tweaks. When your demographic is changing, you’ve got to completely reinvent yourself.”

Pardi suggests we take cue from “brick and mortar companies” like IBM, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, and HP that are adjusting their event experiences to attract a new demographic. “They’re constantly reinventing because they’re competing with newer, lifestyle conferences like SXSW which also vie for their core attendee base.”

Specifically, for the hyper-social and over-connected Millennial attendee, relevancy and authenticity are essential to keep them engaged.

“New audiences want to be part of it, not talked to, so think about how you engage them in the creation of the events – on the show floor, in how you set up exhibit space,” said McGury. “We must re-think this every time.”

Pardi says it’s also about the right content and the right programmatic offerings, as well as more social engagements and more networking. “Not just bar and table-top networking either but how they find each other better and connect in tribes during your event.” And designing networking opportunities for people to connect over your products and/or services for discussion.

In the tech world, innovations in live social networking are even more difficult to conceive, as their gamer-centric audience is so accustomed to only engaging online. “Yet the trouble with virtual interaction is that you don’t know who you’re interacting with until you’re face to face,” said Pardi. “This gives me hope for the event industry. For instance, the Internet is great for researching anything you need to find but what you can’t find on it is the credibility you can only get from being together.”

Learn more about the evolving nature of event audiences along with other disruptors coming to face-to-face engagement, and find out how well positioned you are for the future by ranking yourself on the Freeman Connections Index.

To learn more about event marketing to millennials, download our Insights Paper.

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