Author: Jacinda Hoehn

3 Things Attendees Expect at B2B Events — And How to Deliver

Conference breakotus

Just as many B2B companies have taken marketing, product development and other cues from B2C companies, B2B event and meeting planners are seeing increased attendee demands influenced by their experiences at consumer events.

That’s the key word: experience. No matter what industry you’re in, event attendees want an engaging, immersive, even emotional, experience. This helps them get more excited about what they’re seeing and learning, and more likely to stay engaged after the event concludes.

To help you identify opportunities to deliver this sort of experience, we’ve highlighted three key attendee expectations. We’ve also included some insight on how to implement these expectations within your existing event framework. Let’s dive in! 

A More Exciting, Engaging Experience

We’ve already mentioned attendee experience multiple times, so let’s dive in and examine some experiential attributes. To start, it’s how an event looks and feels. Think lights, music, eye-catching displays and interactive elements, for example. Many consumer events tend to have high production values, and B2B events can certainly follow suit (and many already have, especially in the B2B technology space).

Does that mean you need to dedicate your entire budget to AV production? Not at all. Look at the different elements of your event or meeting and identify opportunities to increase excitement and engagement. How can you set the tone when attendees arrive? Pipe in some upbeat music, to start. You could even crowdsource attendee music suggestions ahead of the event, then create a playlist that you use throughout the event’s duration.

If your event or meeting includes a keynote, see if there are opportunities to enhance the production of this particular session. After all, keynotes often serve as an event kick-off, a chance to energize attendees and get them excited about what’s ahead. Adding music, lights and even an unexpected element — a stage in the round, for example — can help make a big splash.

New Event Formats

It’s easy to get stuck in the traditional “keynote-presentation sessions-networking” format that’s become a B2B staple. By shaking up your event format, you’ll make big strides in delivering a better attendee experience that can also help with attendee education and info retention.

Try interspersing presentations with smaller, more interactive opportunities like breakout sessions and focus groups. This is also a prime chance to introduce attendee customization, another key event trend. You could group attendees with similar interests, challenges or professional roles, then facilitate a discussion or even a hands-on activity that gives them a chance to share, learn and connect.

If you’re looking to make a big departure from your existing event format, try an unconference, a more informal, immersive approach. Rather than an agenda filled with passive presentations, unconferences use elements like unexpected event venues, activities and workshops to spark collaboration and discovery. Unconferences also tend to be driven by participants, giving them the chance to lead discussions and also share thoughts on large discussion boards or with other interactive elements.

Departing from traditional event formats in favor of more interactive, collaborative agendas can also help with another attendee goal: making connections. Let’s be honest — not all of us love networking, but that doesn’t make building professional relationships any less important. By focusing more on connecting and less on traditional networking, you’ll help attendees foster these relationships while also deepening their connection with your company.

More Effective Event Tools

Tools like websites and mobile apps not only help your attendees navigate your event, but can also help them stay in-the-loop outside of the event or meeting.

Take a look at your event website (if you have one — if not, now’s the time start building!) What updates can you make to create a more user-friendly experience? And how’s the mobile version? Most attendees will likely access the website on their smartphones, especially during an event, so you want to ensure the integrity and usability of your responsive design.

A mobile app can also help attendees navigate your event agenda, connect with other attendees and get other pertinent event details. Before you start building, approach your mobile app like you would any other business initiative and outline your strategy. What sort of experience do you want your mobile app to deliver? How can it reflect and extend your brand? What functionality do your attendees prioritize? And what elements could you include, like polls, so that your attendees can share feedback and feel more like event stakeholders?

Consider other tools, as well. Do you have company social media channels and a branded hashtag so that attendees can easily interact with you and share takeaways and photos throughout the event? Are you keeping attendees informed and engaged before, during and after your event with strategic communications like emails? These are just a few examples of how you can use technology to improve the overall attendee experience.

Remember this: you don’t need to transform your B2B event overnight to make a big impact. Instead, take a close look at your event from start to finish and decide where you can make a few strategic improvements. Let attendees help guide that process, too, by weighing in on what changes they’d like to see. Then, continue to build on that momentum by staying dialed in not only to industry trends, but also on your attendees and prospects so that you continually deliver on — and even exceed — their expectations.

If you want to chat about any ideas based on our experience with both B2C and B2B clients, we’re always here to listen and help you brainstorm. Send us a note and we’ll be in touch!

The One Word That Makes Your Consumer Activations Extraordinary — and Effective

Virtual Reality Activation

Those in the live experience industry know that consumer activations play a critical role in a brand’s sales and marketing strategy. Yet amid the challenges poised by a competitive market and skyrocketing consumer expectations, brands may have difficulty standing out, let alone making a lasting impact. That’s why it’s more important than ever to embrace this word in your consumer activations: experience.

Consumers in all industries are demanding more from the brands with which they do business. It’s no longer simply about a purchase — instead, they want an experience. An immersion. An emotional connection. And sometimes, an escape.

Our Director of Marketing, Kevin Cobb, doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to touting the importance of creating experiences.

“Marketing has been turned on its head,” he says. “Many mass-media tactics are nothing but noise. If you don’t create an experience — and, by extension, an emotional connection — for and with your customer, the rest of your marketing strategy will fall short.”

At Wellington, we believe in the power of experiences so much that we’ve made creating signature experiences the core of our brand. That includes extensive work with clients across a wide range of industries, including planning and executing creative and unexpected activations.

That planning typically starts with a question: what sort of experience should we create to build a connection? If you find yourself at a similar starting point, consider the following tips to make your activations more experiential, more engaging and more effective.

The Pillars of Making Your Consumer Activations an Impactful Experience

Connect with your location. Embrace the nuances and specific benefits of your event location, including the venue itself, the surrounding city and the local culture. Look at where you’ve held past activations (if applicable) and consider opportunities to shake up your logistics. Perhaps you could step out of the convention center and into more immersive surroundings like a national park? On a smaller scale, tap into local flavors and favorite regional cuisines, engage local artists and performers and, if your activation schedule allows, plan a social activity at a local landmark or a new hotspot. The important thing is to look past the top-level trendy parts of your “where” and see what is teaming below. The things that make a certain city, venue, or group of people unique and different – and then infuse that into a part of the activation.

Be authentic. When shifting your activation strategy to an experience-first mindset, it can be tempting to sink your budget into every bell and whistle. Luxury certainly makes an experience memorable, but it’s more important to be authentic.

“Many brands tend to focus on consumer activations as doing something big and grandiose, which has its place but can also struggle to connect with people,” Kevin says. “Successful activations combine the unexpected with the authentic, which can be difficult to execute unless you’re willing to approach and think through the activation at a deeper level.”

That’s why it helps to start out with a vision. Consider these questions:

  • What sort of connection do you want to create with consumers?
  • What do you want attendees to think, and do while they attend the activation? What do you want them to do once the event is over?
  • How do you want to make them feel throughout the experience journey? (hint: if it’s just one thing, you are missing out on a whole lot of what makes us experience things as human beings…)

With that information, you’ll have a foundation on which to build an impactful, authentic experience. An activation — and any branded event — is an opportunity to do much more than make a sale. It’s a chance to build connections with your customers and other stakeholders, developing a brand loyalty that lasts long after the activation concludes. And to surprise them.

Perfect your personalization. In the “State of the Connected Customer” report by Salesforce Research, which includes input from more than 6,700 consumers and business buyers, a whopping 84% of customers said that being treated like a person, not just a number, is critical to determining where they’ll buy.

An activation is a prime opportunity to deliver a personalized experience that shows you know and understand your audience. Start on a large scale by customizing the event itself. Perhaps you want to target a younger audience by hosting an activation on a college campus. Make the most of your surroundings — and keep your audience engaged — by delivering an interactive and informative experience. A festival format, with a mix of demonstration areas and live entertainment, is an effective way to appeal to your audience’s interests. And make sure you create plenty of opportunities for online sharing (more on that in a moment)!

You can personalize on a smaller scale, too. Let’s say you’re including a giveaway in your activation. Think about the people who are signing up for the giveaway. What sort of prize would make a lasting impression and delight the winner? Thinking through those sorts of details ahead of your event is a strong signal to your audience that you’re invested in them and their interests, which makes the overall activation experience that much more powerful.

Deliver an insider’s perspective. In addition to receiving a personalized experience, attendees want to feel important and valuable (don’t we all?!). Consider adding a peek behind the curtain to your activation experience.

Delivering an insider’s view can take many different formats, depending on the specifics of your event. The key to your approach is exclusivity. See a new vehicle before anyone else, learn how a favorite product is made, get a guided tour of a behind-the-scenes locale, enjoy access to designers or creatives who aren’t normally accessible. If the opportunity is right, you could even put an attendee (or several) on stage to bask in the spotlight while they share a relevant brand story or participate in another way.

Broaden your target audience. An activation’s audience can help drive (no pun intended) the experience, which is why it’s worth examining your attendees. You likely have a core group of targeted prospects and brand stakeholders.

Are there opportunities to cater to this existing audience while also adding new people to the mix? For example, you could combine the activation with a socially relevant movement or theme that sparks a different sort of experience, one built on engagement, sharing and discussion, rather than sales. This is an opportunity to inspire a wider range of people that includes your target demographic and can help lay the groundwork for brand loyalty with a long-term payoff.

Encourage social sharing. In today’s social media-focused world, online sharing can have a big impact on a brand’s perception and long-term success. Whatever form your activation takes, make sure that social sharing is part of your strategy. Create a branded hashtag and encourage attendees to use it throughout the experience. Help facilitate Instagrammable moments with photo booths, eye-catching displays and intriguing demonstrations that make for compelling digital content. Not only will this help get more people interested in what you’re doing; you’ll also increase your brand reach and impressions.

Here’s another social media tip: remember that it’s a conversation. Dedicate at least one person on your team to watch the hashtag and brand mentions so that you can share what your attendees are saying and capturing. That makes them feel validated that what they’re sharing resonates with your brand, and is also an easy way for you to maintain an active online presence during a busy time like an activation. You could even reward people for sharing the event with their networks with surprise-and-delight tactics like a piece of branded swag or another small prize, simply for participating.

There’s no doubt that creating experiences can be challenging, but it’s also incredibly rewarding work. Just imagine the possibilities for how you can captivate and delight attendees in a way that also benefits your brand. If you want to talk through any ideas or get more information on the client examples we mentioned earlier in the post, feel free to contact us any time.

‘They Said it Was Life-Changing:’ 3 Ways to Make Your Incentive Trip a Cultural Experience

Fijian Basket Weaving

If you’ve planned an incentive trip, you know it can be a challenge, albeit a fun one! Since incentives are viewed as coveted rewards (often requiring hard work to achieve), expectations are high. Think bucket list, not simply another beach excursion. Regardless of what (enviable) location you choose, there’s one way to ensure you deliver an unforgettable incentive trip: make it an immersive cultural experience that connects attendees to both the place and local people.

That’s what Wellington did when planning an extraordinary incentive experience for an automotive client. After a collaborative brainstorm on possible locations, we picked Fiji for its unsurpassed beauty and dynamic culture. Now, we’ve compiled a few tips to help you deliver a more impactful incentive getaway that embraces local as much as luxury.

Understand your destination: Once you’ve selected your location, study up on its history, its customs and its people. By getting to know more about the destination, you’ll likely spot opportunities to enhance the trip in ways that are a natural fit with the local culture.

During initial conversations with vendors in Fiji, Wellington account executive Michele Woods noticed just how important customer service is to Fijians.

“They’re nurturing, always looking to take care of people,” she said.

The commitments to helping others, along with hospitality, became two of the primary themes of the trip, and attendees had an even better experience as a result.

“At the resort, guests had villa buddies and villa mommas that took care of the resort and made sure guests had everything they needed,” said Michele. “They might overhear that a guest likes chocolate chip cookies and would bake them for that guest.”

Villa buddies acted as expert guides, ready to take attendees on an adventure. If a guest wanted to kayak, for example, the villa buddy would plan a specific tour based on the water levels, the wind and what would be the best experience on that day.

“It was like having a personal tour guide, which was outstanding,” Michele said.

Experience like a local: The most effective incentive trip includes a number of thoughtful experiences combined in one unforgettable escape. Planning these smaller experiences is another opportunity to infuse the trip with local culture.

In Fiji, for example, guests attended creative workshops and learned how to make hats and baskets. Culinary enthusiasts went to a local market for fresh produce, then caught shrimp and worked with a local chef to prepare a beach picnic for the group.

Michele and her team also spotted an opportunity to tap into Fiji’s creative community. During a welcome dinner on the first night, guests browsed a market featuring painting, clothing, baskets and jewelry made by Fijian artisans. Once guests made their purchases, the wares were shipped to their homes.

Another hands-on experience? Building bamboo billy-billy rafts, then taking them for a ride down the river. One of the village buddies took the group to his family’s village for a heartwarming experience that included a traditional welcome ceremony in the village chief’s home.

Among the most memorable cultural experiences was the celebration on the last night of the trip. The resort staff came together and sang a song to the group to thank them for coming, a festive occasion that quickly became emotional.

“Our guests were crying and hugging,” Michele said. “It was one of those meaningful things that they walked away from and said it was life-changing.”

Be respectful: Part of understanding your destination and its people is learning to follow local customs, including business etiquette. For Michele and the Wellington team, that centers on one primary motto.

“We need to leave every place better than when we arrived,” she said.

That often means dealing with factors like considerable time differences — in the case of Fiji, the local time was 17 hours ahead of the U.S. And in the Fijian business community, people don’t typically work overtime, which meant that much of the planning discussions for Wellington happened between 9p and midnight.

Yet by putting in the effort to be a courteous and responsible business partner, the entire incentive experience will be even better.

“Try to be as authentic as you can to the location,” Michele said. “In every case, we adapt to the place and people we’re working with, then they get on board with what you’re doing.”

That mindset also helps foster lasting connections, both for the planning team and the guests themselves. Michele said she still stays in touch with a couple of Fijians after they bonded during the planning and the trip itself. By incorporating Fijian people and daily life into the incentive trip, we delivered an experience that left as big an impact on us as it did the guests.

“This was the best thing I’ve ever done and I’m so lucky that I was able to be a part of it,” Michele said. “A trip like this stays in your soul and doesn’t leave you.”

Focus On One Thing — Regardless of Budget — to Make Your Event Successful

Small Group Communication

As more event and meeting attendees demand and seek out experiences, it’s easy for event planning teams to sink large amounts of money and time to deliver a show-stopping event. But is that creating the impact that is the objective?

Regardless of your budget, there’s one element you can focus on to deliver a memorable attendee experience while accomplishing your event goals: the human element.

“Think more about the human aspects of an event, which aren’t always tied to funding,” said Callie Motz, account director, Wellington.

Motz and the Wellington team did just that when helping a client combine two distinct conferences into one large event. Communication—always a priority at any meeting or event—was especially important for this client, given that one of the key event goals was to encourage and collect firsthand feedback to help guide civic development and start-up resources.

“Encouraging conversation doesn’t require a lot of money,” Motz said. “Instead, it requires intentional connection between attendees and a space that allows for discussion.”

Embracing the human side of meetings and events is one of many reasons that the unconference format continues to become more popular. Discussion and collaboration are among the primary goals of an unconference. You’ll typically see a departure from structured agendas that focus on presentations in favor of workshops, custom breakout sessions and other hands-on activities that give attendees a chance to learn and share in a more informal setting.

As you plan your event or meeting, look for opportunities to highlight the human element. Set up a few comfortable seating areas and encourage attendees to converse with others, whether during between-session breaks or scheduled breakout sessions. If your agenda includes networking events, try introducing something new to see what response you get. Attendees could collaborate on a creative activity, for example, or gather in a local venue that’s tied to your event’s industry or theme.

You can also enhance the human side of your event’s digital presence. Encourage dialogue and sharing by creating and prominently displaying event-specific hashtags for use on social media. If you have an event or meeting app, make it easy for users to connect with each other, whether through chat or similar functionality.

And when your event concludes, keep that commitment to personal connection going by reaching out to your attendees for feedback. In addition to getting their input on the event and its various components, you might also seize the opportunity to find out what attendees would like to see added or done differently, especially if the event or meeting is recurring. Giving your attendees a chance to feel like stakeholders is another effective way to make your event feel more personal while demonstrating that you’re committed to giving attendees the best possible experience.

Be sure to include yourself in those feedback opportunities. We’re guessing you’ve attended quite a few events and/or meetings by now. Think back and identify what made an event or meeting stand out in a positive way. Did you make any connections that you still use? Do you remember feeling particularly connected to an event attendee, speaker or element? Jot down some ideas or memories that immediately come to mind, then use that list as a springboard to refine your event plans.

If you’re looking for more ways to make your event feel more human, we’d love to share insight based on our experiences with clients in a similar situation. We can show you some fun and effective examples of what works, including from the client event that’s linked earlier in this post. Drop us a note and we’ll schedule a time to chat.

Planning an Unconference? Try These 5 Things

As demand for a memorable and engaging attendee experience continues to climb, more companies are ditching a traditional conference format in favor of an unconference.

While the details of an unconference vary, the purpose is the same: encourage discussion and collaboration in an informal setting that’s designed to spark creativity.

We’ve helped a number of clients plan and execute their unconferences. Through that experience, we understand it can be challenging — even scary! — to take that first step, especially if you’re revamping a long-running event.

“Planning an unconference requires taking a calculated risk,” said Callie Motz, account director, Wellington.

The good news? It’s perfectly fine — even encouraged — to start with some small yet important changes. And to help kickstart your planning, we’ve compiled five tips that will help you plan an unconference.

Ready to shake things up?

5 Tips to Help You Plan an Unconference

Encourage discussion

Unconferences are built on conversation and collaboration. As you plan your event, look for any and all opportunities to encourage discussion. One effective tactic is to replace at least a few presentations with a workshop-style format. Gather attendees in small groups — with or without a facilitator — and have them share their thoughts on a particular topic.

That’s not to say that you can’t still welcome presenters or keynote speakers. Perhaps you could kick off the day with a keynote presentation, then divide attendees into groups to discuss. Or, depending on the size of your attendee pool, you could kick off your unconference with a roundtable discussion that examines questions like why your attendees are here and what they’re hoping to take away from the event.

Change the seating

As part of an unconference for a large food franchiser client, Callie said they introduced non-traditional seating that included couches and coffee tables, as well as high-top tables strategically placed throughout the venue.

“By taking people out of the traditional classroom or theater-style set-up, you’re immediately putting them in a different headspace,” she said. “They felt like they were sitting around a living room, casually chatting.”

Add activities

Give attendees a chance to move, share, create or think by adding some activities to your agenda. For example, you could start the day with a yoga or other exercise class, or schedule an energizing mid-afternoon break.

Another effective approach is adding a continual activity that attendees can enjoy at their own pace. Perhaps you design a large writing surface and ask attendees to answer a question or share a thought. Or try something as simple as a large display with a question written at the top, followed by several answers separated by columns. Attendees could place a sticker in the corresponding column to indicate their response. This could be an especially helpful way to gather feedback about a particular topic or challenge in a way that lets attendees know their input is valued yet not feel like they’ve been put on the spot.

Give a gift

Everybody loves conference swag, but do we all really need another generic gift? While you’re shaking up your event as an unconference, don’t hesitate to channel that same creativity into your attendee gifts.

A natural starting place? Your event theme. For example, our food franchiser client wanted the unconference focused on journey — and more specifically, each attendee’s journey with the company. For a fun twist on that concept, Callie and her team suggested giving attendees branded Converse sneakers.

Keep this in mind: unconferences are about emotions and experiences. Think about what you want your attendees to feel and take away from the event, then brainstorm a few gift ideas that will support that goal.

Tap into your sense of humor

Here’s one of the best parts of planning an unconference: having fun! An unconference is all about stepping outside of the box and trying things that are new and different. And if you find yourself wanting to get a little silly, that’s great!

“We used some unexpected elements like the Dr. Seuss book ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go,’” Callie said. “We did an installation of company leadership reading the book because it connected to the event and made sense. People connect to different things and, for some people, a children’s book could really hit home.”

We can already hear those wheels turning as you think about how to make your next event an unconference! Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if we can help you plan and execute an unconference. We live outside the box, and it would be a pleasure to show you more about how an unconference can delight your attendees while helping you accomplish your strategic business goals.