Author: Aleksandra Milewski

Ready, Set, Gift: 4 Corporate Holiday Gift Trends for 2018

Brace yourself: the holiday season will be here before you know it!

And that’s why early to mid-fall is the ideal time to plan your corporate holiday gifts. You’ll feel less rushed and you’ll be able to explore your options to deliver a thoughtful gift that delights the recipient and supports your larger brand goals.

To help get the ideas flowing, we’ve compiled four corporate holiday gift trends based on our recent client collaborations and market research. Let’s dive in!

Quality, not quantity

We all love a tower of chocolate as much as the next person, but current corporate gifting trends indicate a preference for quality over quantity.

It makes sense, right? Most people would likely prefer receiving a well-made and/or valuable gift that will bring lasting enjoyment, rather than a handful of tchotchkes that will be tossed in a drawer and forgotten.

Plus, opting for a high-quality gift is an effective way to extend your brand experience. The message: “Our company cares about you and values our relationship.”

Yet you don’t have to bust your budget to deliver quality over quantity. Think first about the experience or emotion that you want the gift to evoke. Then, brainstorm some options. Perhaps you can source a locally made gift—a set of two or four glasses, for example, and a local beer or wine.

Or, instead of the classic “coffee mug and coffee” combo, what about swapping that for an insulated travel mug and a bag of locally roasted coffee? Bonus points if you can work with the roaster to create a blend just for your company!

Regardless of the gift you choose, you want your recipients to feel valued. Opting for a higher quality item that shows the thought you put into the gift can help you do just that.

Wellness is always welcome

Kara Quinn, senior brand experience coordinator at Wellington, recently attended the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market and said she noticed “a huge trend in wellness.”

Corporate holiday gifts can be an ideal time to incorporate items related to improving health and wellness, especially with the new year just around the corner (hello, resolutions!).

Kara noticed several innovative wellness gifts at the Atlanta Gift Show, including gem-infused water that offers a variety of health benefits; blue light-blocking glasses; and essential oil blends.

Again, think back to the experience and emotion that you want to evoke, then brainstorm options for a gift that will be the most effective in helping to create that experience.

For example, the holidays might be a high-stress time for your recipients. To help counter that stress, you could give some relaxation-themed gifts that might include a calming candle or tea, yoga accessories, or, depending on how many recipients you’re buying for, a gift certificate for a spa service or massage. Talk about surprise and delight!

Tech (still) rules

Think high-tech gifts already had their time in the spotlight? Not so fast! Kara noticed at the Atlanta Gift Show that tech-themed gifts continue to be popular. One of the current favorites: wireless charging pads.

One of the benefits of giving high-tech gifts is that you can hit multiple trends at once. Nothing says quality like a coveted, brand name device. Consider a smart speaker, noise-cancelling headphones, a foldable keyboard or a portable charger.

You could also combine tech and wellness with a fitness tracker or, if your gifting budget allows, a smart watch.

Because tech gifts are so popular, this is one trend category that definitely warrants some strategic planning. We’ve said it before in this post, but focus on the experience you want to convey and what will be most appreciated by your audience. Not all companies view them this way, but corporate holiday gifts really are part of your larger series of touch points with a valued group of recipients. By delivering an experience, you also help evoke lasting emotion, which benefits your company in a variety of ways.

Creative curation

Put your own spin on corporate holiday gifts with a curated gift box. Start with a theme and then stock a small basket or keepsake box with thoughtfully chosen items that support your brand experience.

A popular option is a “shop local” box that includes locally made or artisan gifts. Think of it as a way to treat your recipients while also showcasing some of your city’s talent. A “travel essentials” box is another ideal option, especially if your recipients are frequent travelers.

This is another chance for you to tap into multiple trends. A health and wellness-themed collection will likely be a hit. Or, you could compile a few thoughtfully selected tech accessories like a portable charger, ear buds and a screen cleaning kit, for example, to help your recipients get more use out of their devices.

If you opt for a curated gift box, don’t overlook the packaging. Gift presentation can be an equally effective way to support the intended experience. Instead of a cardboard box, could you opt for a wooden container? Acrylic boxes can also make an engaging first impression. Your packaging choices depend, of course, on your budget, and also how many gifts you’ll be shipping.

No matter which gift you ultimately choose, remember this: it’s all about the experience. You want to convey emotion and also make your recipient feel like a valued part of your brand. Adhere to that line of thinking, and we have no doubt your corporate holiday gifts will be a huge success!

Improve Attendee Engagement, Part 1: 3 Ways to Engage Attendees Before Your Event

engagement

In a market that’s crowded with conferences, meetings and annual events, it’s more important than ever to stand out — and that means keeping your attendees engaged, interested and entertained throughout your meeting or event.

Yet here’s an area that’s often overlooked — the days and weeks leading up to the event. This is a prime time to get attendees excited about what they’ll experience, but it can be easy to get distracted, even overwhelmed, by the need to finalize event logistics and details.

“It takes time and effort to come to any meeting or event, so people want to be captivated from the very start,” according to 2018 Meetings & Events Future Trends, a whitepaper produced by CWT Meetings & Events. “And that process now starts way before attendees arrive.”

Let’s take a look at some ways you can start to engage attendees in the run-up to your event. And if the timeline of your next event or meeting allows, go ahead and put one (or all) of these ideas in action!

3 Ways to Engage Attendees Before Your Event

  1. Share event details

One of the most effective ways to help create pre-event buzz is by keeping your attendees in the loop. Once they register, consider sending out something like an eye-catching infographic that will give them the scoop on important event details like the location, hashtag, social media handles, the event app and some fun facts about the event/meeting and/or host city.

If you think your attendees might have a fair amount of time for sightseeing, you could also share a few recommendations for things to see, eat and experience while they’re in town for your event. Again, be sure to brand any sort of conference-related collateral with applicable hashtags and social media handles and encourage your attendees to share their experiences with their networks.

  1. Simplify the attendee experience

The more enjoyable and seamless an experience you can deliver to attendees, the better it will reflect not just on your event, but also your company. And here’s the good news: it’s often the smallest details that make the biggest difference.

For example, once an attendee registers, consider following up with an email that offers help with travel arrangements. Maybe you’ve secured a block of rooms at a particular hotel — if so, share that information (or, if not, feel free to recommend a few nearby lodging options). CWT Meetings & Events also offered another great suggestion in their whitepaper: provide a link to an airfare booking site that’s already populated with a few applicable flights, so attendees can book their air travel with just a few clicks.

You might also check to make sure you’re giving your attendees plenty of information about the meeting or event before it starts. If you’re hosting a large event like a conference or tradeshow, supply attendees with detailed itineraries and maps so that they can plan their show experience (more on that in a moment).

  1. Start conversations

Why wait until your event or meeting starts to talk about it? Start the buzz early by initiating conversations on your social media channels. This is also an ideal opportunity to start engaging your speakers or featured guests, too. Consider hosting a Twitter chat on a topic related to your event and a speaker’s expertise. Or use your social media channels to crowdsource ideas and questions from your attendees. Examples include:

  • What are they hoping to take away from the event?
  • Who are they most excited to see or meet?
  • What one thing do they want to see or try in the event’s host city?
  • What professional challenges are they facing that could be solved with insights learned during the event?

If you’re going to host something like a Twitter chat or a live Facebook or Instagram Q&A, just be sure to give yourself some time to promote the event to your attendees (and larger audience) so that they can make a note to join in.

Here’s one more idea: can you incorporate sneak peeks into the pre-event promotion to get attendees excited about what’s ahead? Perhaps you could conceal the identity of a keynote speaker. Or book surprise entertainment, like a musical act, and then give clues and encourage attendees to guess who they’ll be seeing. Not only will this get attendees pumped about your event or meeting, but it also helps spread a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) among prospective attendees so they’re more likely to register!

As we mentioned earlier, you don’t need to feel pressured to put all of these ideas in action all at once. Take a look at your timeline, what you can do and what might resonate with your attendees. For example, if most of your attendees have already registered and booked travel, perhaps you could still reach out with some sightseeing and event recommendations or helpful logistical tips. It’s never a bad idea to start small and then grow your attendee engagement strategy, especially as you gather insights into what works (and what doesn’t) for your particular audience.

Keep an eye on the blog for the next post in our three-part attendee engagement series. We’ll look at ways to boost engagement during your event or meeting and why attendee engagement continues to be such a critical focus for meeting and event planners.

Put This Emerging Meeting Wellness Trend on Your Radar

wellness trend

Health and wellness is a big business. In fact, the value of the health and wellness market hit an incredible $168 billion in 2017, according to Statista.3

It’s likely not a surprise, then, that wellness has emerged as a meeting trend to watch throughout 2018. The fact is, more people are focusing on their health and wellness. And seeing that same emphasis reflected in an attendee experience is a powerful way to make a lasting impression, not to mention an effective way to break a longstanding habit among traveling attendees.

“ ‘Wellness is huge and it is growing as a factor in meeting planning, partly driven by a broader consumer movement or mindset,’ said Yma Sherry, vice president, North America, American Express Meetings and Events, in the 2018 American Express Global Meetings and Events Forecast. “You’ll see this more in hotels around food and beverage offerings. They may provide more organic, free-range, healthy options. In the past, meetings were where everyone broke their diet…now they’re not.’”

Not only does an emphasis on health and wellness improve the attendee experience—it can also boost the outcome of your event, too. No matter your industry or business, we’re betting you want attendees to stay informed and engaged long after your event ends. And if they’re feeling their best during your meeting or event, chances are good they’re more alert and involved as the event unfolds, which helps increase both their takeaways and motivation.

As you consider your upcoming meetings and events, why not experiment with an enhanced focus on health and wellness? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

 

3 Ways to Add Wellness to Your Meeting or Event

  1. Focus on the food. This is one of the easiest—and most impactful—ways to show attendees that you’re invested in their wellness. As Yma Sherry mentioned earlier, look for organic, free-range and healthy food options as you prepare menus and select snacks. Try to do what you can to accommodate dietary preferences including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free.

If a full menu swap isn’t feasible, try adding a few options instead. What about almond milk at the coffee bar, fresh fruit at the snack table and lean protein and veggies for lunch or dinner? Fruit- and herb-infused water is also a thoughtful touch. They’re becoming a popular addition to hotel lobbies, for example, and it’s relatively easy to set up a few dispensers throughout your venue.

  1. Add an activity. With so much focus on the attendee experience, it’s easy to stand out from the crowd by adding an active element to your conference or meeting programming.

Why not kick things off in the morning with a yoga session? Or during the day, combine both activity and sightseeing with a guided walking tour. In the evening, what about a socially focused activity? A few examples include Topgolf, an escape room, group volunteering or a healthy cooking demonstration.

You might also want to add a few shorter activity-focused breaks during the day, especially if attendees are sitting through several presentations or discussions. Giving attendees opportunities to move and re-focus with things like stretch breaks or short, guided meditations can help boost their energy levels and improve information retention.

  1. Switch your swag. Kevin Cobb, our director of marketing, noticed a definite increase in high-tech promotional gifts at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, and that includes fitness trackers.

As you plan your event swag and gifts, why not include health-focused items? If your budget doesn’t allow for fitness trackers for every attendee, consider purchasing a few and offering them as giveaway prizes. Reusable water bottles with your company or event logo are always a great idea (especially if you set up infused water stations).

Another idea? Tie one of your swag items into your agenda. If you host a morning yoga event, for example, give attendees mats or towels. If you plan a walking tour, how about giving attendees a comfy pair of socks and an energy bar? Or why not offer a gift that’s also an experience, like a short custom spa service or chair massage?

No matter how you opt to emphasize wellness in your next event, don’t forget to gather feedback from your attendees. What did they think of the health-focused changes? And do they have suggestions for the next event? That gesture will go a long way in helping attendees feel like they have a voice in your event, and they’ll be more invested in seeing how your emphasis on health and wellness continues to evolve. Plus, they’ll know you’re committed to providing them a positive, wellness-focused environment in which to learn and connect. And that’s how you transform attendees into brand advocates.

CES 2018: 3 Top Trends to Use At Your Next Corporate Meeting or Event

CES

The start of a new year brings goal-setting, planning … and the always anticipated Consumer Electronics Show. As technology continues to disrupt a variety of industries, including corporate event and meeting planning, CES is increasingly becoming a place to not only marvel at what’s new, but also get actionable inspiration to deliver an engaging, memorable event experience.

Nearly 200,000 people headed to Las Vegas this year to get the scoop on the latest technology and tech-related trends, including our own Kevin Cobb, director of marketing. Aside from some unexpected excitement (Desert flooding! A temporary blackout!), Kevin took away a wealth of trend-driven insight that can help improve the quality of your meetings and events.

As you look ahead to your company’s events calendar, consider the following three CES trends that can enhance the attendee experience and help boost the effectiveness of your meeting or event.

 

LED Displays Boost Interaction, Immersion

“Enormous LED screens were everywhere as the way to do production display,” Kevin says.

It’s no wonder, given the crisp quality of LED picture. LED screens are versatile, too, which makes them especially useful at meetings or events. Use a single screen, for example, to polish a booth display or presentation delivery.

You can also combine multiple LED screens to create a huge, eye-catching display with impeccable quality—it looks like one giant screen, rather than several screens combined.

Both the size and quality make large LED displays more than simply a way to showcase video. Instead, they offer a more immersive audio/visual display, immediately drawing the eye and capturing attention.

Just think: if you were in the midst of an exhibit floor and you spot a wall of LED screens displaying a video, demo or even used as an especially vibrant backdrop, there’s a good chance you’re going to make a beeline for the display and find out more about what’s happening.

Plus, top-quality audio/video production is becoming increasingly important to the attendee experience and the perception of success, especially at highly attended showcase events like annual conventions and company meetings. Expertly planned and executed A/V can elicit both an immediate reaction and a lasting impression. And as seen at this year’s CES, incorporating LED displays is a great place to start.

 

Promotional Gifts Are Going High-Tech

No knock on pens, notebooks and branded traveler’s mugs, but there’s definitely an uptick in high-tech promotional gifts.

“CES was filled with smart, wearable everything—watches, shirts, hats, socks and more,” Kevin says.

There’s a novelty factor to some of these gifts, but before you dedicate a significant portion of your promotional gifts budget to smart socks, it helps to take a step back (no pun intended) and think about the reason for the gift and how it fits in both your event strategy and branding.

As Kevin notes, questions persist with some of these smart gifts about what sort of data they track and how using a particular item will improve someone’s life. After all, there’s sometimes a fine line between trend and novelty, and you don’t necessarily need to up-end your promotional gifts to accommodate a rapidly changing marketplace.

That said, it’s an ideal time to experiment with some tech-related swag. Wireless charging devices were prevalent throughout CES and are always handy, especially as you encourage attendees to digitally share and broadcast during your event.

Giveaways are another way to effectively incorporate a few coveted, high-tech gifts and encourage booth visits, session attendance or survey completion, to name a few goals. Plus, you can leverage the “wow” factor of high-profile gadgets without derailing your budget.

 

Exclusivity vs. Grassroots: What’s Right for Your Business?

Sometimes inspiration comes from how an event is executed, rather than what’s being shown at the event. Such was the case at CES, where Kevin noticed a shift in programming.

“More events at CES are exclusive, invitation-only, ‘peek behind the curtain,’” Kevin says.

This sort of behind-the-scenes access isn’t surprising, especially given the rapid rise of influencer marketing. Compare that to another common event audience approach, which involves more of a grassroots feel—get as many people as possible excited about what you’re doing or showing.

The key is to examine your own event or meeting and your strategic goals. If you’re unveiling a new product, for example, consider kicking off the launch with an all-access sneak peek opportunity for vetted influencers. This way, you could generate some initial buzz, then follow it with a larger reveal to a more generalized audience.

For a company meeting or similar strategic gathering, it’s likely more effective to go for a more grassroots approach. In this case, you want to excite and energize attendees so that they’re invested in what’s happening and how they can be involved. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to make even a large audience feel like VIPs, so a sort of hybrid approach might also be an effective tactic.

Other CES trends to watch: the continued evolution of augmented reality, robots, smart cars and the arrival of the 8K television.

Were you at CES this year? Did you notice any other trends that might impact your meeting or event? Tweet us at @Wellington_US—we’d love to hear your input!

How to Prioritize Attendee Experience on a Budget

budget

An interesting pattern of activity is emerging in the corporate meetings and events industry. The focus on attendees—and more specifically, attendee experience—continues to grow. Yet more companies are opting to closely scrutinize their meeting and event budgets. The big question: can companies still dazzle meeting or event attendees and stick to a budget? You bet.

“While there is awareness that cost pressures will continue as hotel and air rates rise faster than meetings budgets, planners indicate a focus on the attendee experience,” said Issa Jouaneh, senior vice president and general manager, American Express Meetings & Events, in the company’s 2018 Global Meetings & Events Forecast. “When respondents consider where to cut and where to add as budgets shift, they are doing so with the attendee experience top of mind.”

So how do you keep attendees interested, engaged and coming back for more, even while dealing with a tight budget? The keys, of course, are strategy and planning. It’s always a good idea to look at your meeting or event strategy and remind yourself what you want attendees to get out of the experience.

Then, use that information and compare it to your event plan, keeping a careful eye out for areas to trim or expand. To help get your brainstorming wheels turning, we’ve highlighted four areas where you can prioritize attendee experience while adhering to your budget.

 

Look at logistics

When you want to ensure an optimal attendee experience without derailing your budget, your event’s logistics are an ideal place to start. Where are you hosting your meeting or event? What meals, refreshment and entertainment are you providing? How long is the event? Are there any changes you can make to these logistical areas that will actually deliver a better (and more cost-effective attendee experience?)

This year, for example, saw a greater interest in shorter meetings. Data compiled in the 2018 American Express reports indicates that the average days per meeting is expected to hold steady this next year, but there’s still a consistent focus on quality meetings or events in a shorter timeframe.

Another logistical detail to examine? Your guest list.

“Stakeholders agree that regardless of meeting size, length or frequency, more analysis is needed to determine whether meetings are successfully bringing together the people that need to attend,” according to the American Express report.

It’s tempting to want to invite anyone and everyone to a huge annual corporate event or meeting, but a little deliberation can go a long way. Again, revisit your event or meeting goals. What do you want attendees to take away from the event? What do you want them to do once the event or meeting is over? Then, use that sort of strategic information to help refine your guest list so that you’re inviting attendees that will help you achieve your goals and play a bigger role in your event or meeting’s success.

 

Go local

Speaking of logistical details like venues, why not go local for your next corporate meeting or event? Sure, it’s fun to give your attendees a chance to explore a far-flung location. But you can deliver just as memorable an experience closer to home (and you’ll likely save money, too).

Embrace local brands, points of interest and even people by incorporating them into your event or meeting. Try an unexpected venue, for example. Or treat attendees to some event swag that incorporates local flavors, art or other notable products. If you’ve saved elsewhere, maybe you’ll have room in the budget to book a high-profile local speaker, musician or other live entertainment. And that leads us to…

 

Deliver high-value programming

We mentioned earlier that event and meeting planners are increasingly interested in delivering a quality event in a shorter timeframe. Your event or meeting programming is a critical part of the overall attendee experience. And this is the perfect time to shake things up.

Ditch the traditional conference format in favor of an unconference. Or, start small by replacing a few presentations with more collaborative, interactive work groups. Another tip? Don’t hesitate to let your attendees take a more active role in how the event unfolds. After all, you’ve invited them for a reason, so why not give them a chance to share with and learn from each other in a more informal way?

This is another ideal spot to revisit your event goals. You’ll want to ensure your programming not only delivers an immersive experience, but also aligns with your strategic event plan and your company’s brand. If you can deliver the same impact with a shorter agenda, for example, don’t feel the need to lengthen your programming just to fill time.

Or, you could view your meeting or event as a way to start conversations, sharing and planning, and then encourage attendees to continue the work on their own. Build in some downtime on the agenda, for example, then provide them with a custom list of recommendations for nearby places to meet and mingle over coffee, a casual meal or happy hour. Attendees will likely welcome some flexibility in their schedule, and you might save some money by incorporating a block of time that doesn’t require any formal programming.

 

Generate excitement

One of the most effective ways to deliver a top-notch attendee experience is to excite your attendees! And you don’t have to whisk them away to a five-star private beach resort to make this happen (although we’re packed and ready to go if you do!)

Strategic, thoughtfully planned and seamlessly executed meetings or events can be exciting without a ton of glitz and glamour. We already talked about programming, but delivering information in an insightful and entertaining way goes a long way in making an impression on attendees.

And rather than sink your budget with a big spend on a fancy venue or costly presenters, focus more on the details—you know, the small stuff. Greet attendees with a small memento or handwritten note. Develop an engaging and thought-provoking agenda that will keep their attention. Treat them to an offsite event like a private tour or a stop at a favorite local landmark. Show them you value their presence and that they play an important role not just in the success of your event or meeting, but also your company. That feeling of being welcomed and appreciated is priceless—and it ensures you’ll leave your meeting or event with a group of loyal brand ambassadors that will continue to deliver on your initial investment.

Attendee experience and event budget doesn’t have to be a “chicken and the egg” scenario. It’s important, of course, to use your budget as an important planning tool. But if you find yourself needing to watch costs, don’t fret that you’ll also have to compromise your attendee experience. It might require a little extra planning and creativity, but you can wow your attendees and stick to a budget. Are you ready to embrace the challenge?