Author: Kevin Cobb

Event Customization 101: 3 Tactics to Deliver a More Personalized Experience

People attend events and annual meetings for a variety of reasons, yet increasingly, they share a common demand: a customized experience that feels tailored to their interests and goals.

“With the overwhelming number of conferences, panels and happy hours taking place in a given event cycle, the personalization factor is a marketing must,” writes Kristen Alexander for AdWeek. “Understanding attendees’ personal interests is critical to standing out and marketing to all of these individuals.”

Here’s the kicker: customization, like other strategic marketing initiatives, can seem daunting, especially if you’re not yet doing much—if any—customization.

The good news? Making small changes to deliver a more customized experience can add up to a big impact on your attendees. And you can work with what you have, including an event itinerary, messaging and collateral to begin your journey to a fully customized attendee experience.

Let’s take a look at three key tactics you can use to shift toward a customized attendee experience that feels more thoughtful and personal.

Know Your Attendees

Just how well do you know your attendees? Collecting and analyzing attendee data and input is a critical part of event customization. After all, you’ve got to know to whom you’re customizing and what they want! Consider the following questions:

  • Why is this person attending your event?
  • What is their role, company and industry?
  • What information is this person interested in?
  • What does this person hope to accomplish during and after the event?
  • What event feedback does this person have to offer?

Depending on your existing attendee engagement plan, you may already have some—or all!—of this information at your fingertips. Post-event surveys can be a valuable resource, for example. Another possible goldmine of information? Your event’s social feed. Do some basic research by searching your event and related hashtags to get a sense of what attendees are saying about your event, including their impressions and takeaways.

And if you find you don’t know much about your audience, don’t panic! Simply make a plan to learn more. Again, effective starting points can be your social channels and feedback surveys, whether administered via a mobile app during the event and/or with a survey link sent in a post-event email.

Knowing your audience helps you better understand why they’re attending so that you can deliver a more customized experience. Let’s say a number of attendees are coming to your event to solve some sort of challenge. You could modify your event itinerary to include a breakout work session or roundtable discussion, which would be more conducive to knowledge sharing and problem-solving.

Maybe your attendees are interested in networking, but would prefer something besides the standard networking reception. Instead, you could ask people to gather in a memorable setting, like an unconventional space or rooftop, which helps you take advantage of your host city while also giving attendees a welcome change of scenery. Another great option is to invite attendees to an activity—a walking tour, for example, or a trip to a local landmark—that helps them combine networking and sightseeing.

We mentioned this before, but keep this important tip in mind: you don’t necessarily need to overhaul your entire event agenda. Instead, start small. Gather the information you have about your attendees and assess it. Then, make a plan to begin implementing meaningful changes that increase the customization of your event experience. We all have to start somewhere, right?

Refresh Marketing Materials

Pro tip: effective customization goes beyond simply addressing event communication and collateral to your attendees by name. Instead, examine your existing marketing materials to identify opportunities for customization.

Do you welcome attendees with a gift? If so, consider adding a handwritten note that lets each attendee know how excited you are to have them with you. This particular tip certainly depends on the number of attendees you’re expecting. If it’s in the hundreds or thousands, handwritten notes can quickly become unrealistic!

Or try this basic starting point: separate your attendees into two groups, returning and first time. Then, tailor your marketing accordingly, especially pre-event communication. For returning attendees, you could emphasize what’s new and exciting this year and underscore how glad you are to have them back with you. For first-time attendees, you might offer some tips for an optimal event experience (a short testimonial from a recurring attendee would be an effective resource). Also include travel tips and local recommendations so that first-time attendees can make the most of the experience, especially if they’re traveling in for your event or meeting.

Segmentation can also extend to your attendees’ roles and industries. Let’s say you have a pool of attendees who are vendors or partners. You could create a customized marketing piece that shares recent company highlights, product or service changes, and even testimonials so that this group of valued stakeholders can easily get up-to-date on what’s happening and why they should continue the relationship.

This is when it’s especially helpful to know your attendees’ “why”—what brings them to your event and what they expect to take with them. Then, you can supply them with the content that helps meet those goals.

Build Tracks

Understanding why your attendees are with you—and how they like to consume information—will give you the insight you need to make a particularly impactful change: creating topic-specific event tracks.

You might already be doing this, and if so, excellent! Yet there still might be room to make additional changes. The first step, of course, is to create tracks focused around a specific topic. Maybe your tracks are as loosely defined as “B2B” and “B2C,” for example, or more nuanced, depending on your event.

Consider also incorporating different content styles in those tracks. A mix of presentations, panels, breakout discussions or workshops can help ensure your attendees learn in the way that fits them best. And again, this is why it helps to know how your attendees prefer to consume their event content. Perhaps many of your attendees prefer a more structured, traditional style that’s largely comprised of presentations and keynotes. If your attendees want to take a more active role in the event, an unconference format might be a better choice. That way, attendees have ample opportunities to roll up their sleeves and collaborate.

You could further customize your event tracks by adding a special event to each. Let’s say that one of your tracks is technology-focused. Why not set up a small exhibit area so that attendees can drop in and out and demo new tools and gadgets? For those interested in cultivating their thought leadership, you could host an author talk and signing with someone who’s written a relevant book. And if you find you have an event full of bookworms, setting up a small bookstore or book swap is a fun and thoughtful way to give your attendees easy access to more resources.

We hope this list has sparked some inspiration so that you can start your own event customization! Remember: it’s perfectly fine to start small and to work with what you already have. With regard to customized event marketing and experiences, small changes really can have a big impact. Plus, those small changes will give you a foundation on which to build a more comprehensive customization strategy.

Keep an eye on our blog. Now that we’ve covered the basics of event customization, we’ll periodically revisit this critical topic so that you have no shortage of information and inspiration. And if you find yourself interested in customizing your next event but aren’t sure where to start, let’s talk!

Small Businesses, Big Impact

small business

Kansas City is known for a lot of things – fountains, barbecue, a winning baseball team. It’s also known for its thriving entrepreneurial culture and an ecosystem that supports local businesses, large and small.

We are thrilled to announce that, along with nine other phenomenal local businesses, we have been selected as one of the Top 10 Small Businesses by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. From a group of 75 applicants, a panel of judges from the chamber selected the top 10 companies to be in the running for the Mr. K Award as Small Business of the Year.

We work with companies large and small, local and international, to create brand experiences that are focused, strategic and memorable. Our roots in Kansas City run deep – one of our very first projects was the grand opening of the expanded Bartle Hall. We also work regularly with the Kauffman Foundation, the Kauffman Center, KBP Foods, Kansas City Southern, and other fantastic Kansas City businesses.

The annual Small Business Celebration is hosted by the chamber, and began 32 years ago to shine a spotlight on Kansas City’s flourishing small business community.

Congratulations to Blue Nile, Charlie Hustle, International Express Trucking, Lead Bank, Orbis, Pro Athlete, Royal Services, SwimZip, and Veracity! We’re in great company.

The One Thing That All Successful Meetings and Events Have in Common: Creativity

Meeting and Event Planning: 3 Ways to Get More Creative

Corporate meetings and events haven’t traditionally been associated with creativity, but that’s quickly changing.

It’s easy to take a more formulaic approach to planning a corporate event like an annual meeting, a tradeshow or a conference. Yet as attendees continue to demand engaging experiences and corporate events become a more significant driver of business strategy, meeting and event planners are under increasing pressure to step outside of the box.

And that’s why creativity plays a growing role in both planning and execution. In fact, survey results highlighted in the 2018 American Express Global Meetings Forecast indicate that creativity is one of the things that most excites meeting and event planners, especially in the next few years.

“‘There is a need to mix it up and make sure we are engaging the audience,’ said a North American meeting planner in the American Express report. ‘The expectation is that we’ll create a level of excitement and engagement so attendees want to be there and part of the conversation.’”

The looming question, of course, is how to tap into the power of creativity when planning your next event or meeting. We’ve compiled a few ideas to help capture your imagination. Ready to think big?

Change the Venue

One of the easiest ways to leverage the power of creativity at your next meeting or event is to change the venue. Think about trying another city. Or, if the logistics of a geographic move aren’t feasible, consider different venues in your host city. It’s amazing how a change of scenery can refresh and invigorate not just your event, but also the attendees themselves.

And here’s the thing. It’s absolutely fine to start small. Perhaps you host a large group of attendees with a presentation-heavy agenda, and it’s easier to keep using conference or convention facilities. No problem! But can you also experiment with adding a different venue to your programming? Try an evening happy hour or networking mixer at a creative space like an art gallery or a museum. Or coordinate with a local coworking space to host smaller breakout sessions or workshops. Just one creative change can make a big difference to your attendees, and give you room to expand and refine your creative approach in the coming years.

Try a Different Format

Event agendas are another area that’s ripe with creative potential. You may have heard about the rise of the “unconference”—a more informal approach to a conference that includes ample opportunities for collaboration, learning, and sharing. As you plan your next event or meeting, take a look at your agenda (as well as your event goals). What do you want attendees to do, learn and feel while at your event? And what sort of impression do you want to leave them with? The answers to those questions can help you identify opportunities to make some creative changes to your programming.

Again, it’s perfectly acceptable to start small. Let’s say your event or meeting always includes a keynote address and a mix of relevant, topic-specific presentations. Can you modify your agenda to also include some informal breakout discussions organized by attendee role or area of interest? Even a small change like adding some welcoming collaborative areas throughout your event venue, complete with comfy seating and refreshments, can help your attendees feel a greater sense of connectivity to the event and to each other.

Embrace Experiences

Whether they’re on vacation or attending an annual meeting or company event, people want experiences. This is especially true for young professionals, who are focused on seeing, doing and sharing.

Delivering an immersive, experiential event is one of the most effective ways to captivate and delight your attendees. And that means that they’re not only likely to return next year, but they’re also more likely to spread the word about what they experienced in a way that makes them influential brand ambassadors.

As you consider ways to add experiences to your meeting or event programming, it’s always helpful to go back to the basics. What are your event goals? What do you want attendees to know about and associate with your brand? And what are some ways you can tap into the allure of your surroundings?

We recently worked with an automotive client who wanted to kick off its annual incentive program in a memorable way. Not only did they want to make an immediate impression on attendees; they also wanted to highlight the warm, rustic aesthetic of the event’s Utah location. Our approach? An authentic farm-to-table dinner with five mouthwatering courses cooked open-kitchen style. The client had a chance to highlight the incredible culinary talent and array of local ingredients in a way that also set the tone for the event.

There’s no shortage of ways to add experiences to your next meeting or event. Some of our favorites include private musical performances, behind-the-scenes tours of local attractions or points of interest, rooftop dining or networking, and off-site workshops or demonstrations.

Embracing creativity as an integral part of your event or meeting not only delivers a more enjoyable, memorable and effective attendee experience—it’s also fun! Because let’s face it, if you’re planning a recurring annual event, it can be easy to slip into auto-pilot and follow the same tried-and-true format. Now, however, is the perfect time to shake off the cobwebs and try something new that makes a lasting impact on your attendees and your brand.

And if you find yourself in need of a gentle push to take that first step outside of the box? That’s why we’re here. We relish the opportunity to help you deliver innovative, engaging events that produce results. Whether you want to start small with a few key changes or go in a completely different direction from past events and meetings, we’ll help you bring your creative vision to life. Let’s explore the art of the possible.

5 Reasons You Should Ditch Your Conference and Plan an Unconference

unconference

For many companies and industries, annual conferences are a critical part of doing business. After all, it’s not always easy to gather employees, clients, prospects and industry stakeholders in one place! It’s easy to take a formulaic approach to conferences, especially if your company’s hosted one for several years. But as strategy plays a bigger role in conference and meeting planning and attendees demand more engaging, memorable experiences, this is the prime time to ditch the traditional conference format and, instead, plan an unconference.

Where a conference is typically guided by a formal agenda that includes presentations and breakout sessions, an unconference is more informal. The focus is on the participants, giving them the power to drive the conversation while collaborating and exchanging ideas. You can still provide structure in an unconference with an agenda that helps attendees navigate the available opportunities throughout the event. Yet instead of focusing the schedule on passive learning opportunities and little free time, an unconference offers a chance to learn, share and engage in a participant-driven setting.

Intrigued about what an unconference could do for your business? Let’s take a look at 5 reasons you should swap your next conference for an unconference.

Make a Lasting Impression

Your annual conference is likely a significant branding opportunity, as well as a chance to get attendees excited about what your company is doing and what’s ahead. There’s no better way to make that powerful and lasting impression than with an unconference. The goal with an unconference is to engage, and that extends beyond the conversations and learning opportunities. That also means an opportunity to capture your employees’ attention and imagination with a mix of insight-driven discussions, collaborative opportunities to learn and build, and experience-focused downtime that provides a brain break without extinguishing the spark of inspiration.

As you consider the art of the possible, it’s important to first ask yourself what you want to accomplish at your unconference, how the event ties into your business goals and what you want attendees to feel and think about your brand. Then, you can begin brainstorming the unconference elements that will get you to those end points.

Break Out of a Rut

If an annual conference has been a longtime part of your company’s event strategy, you might feel like you’re in a rut. And an unconference is the perfect opportunity to ditch the tried-and-true in favor of something that’s new and exciting.

Here’s the thing. If there are elements of your existing conference that work, you don’t have to eliminate them. Instead, look at how you can weave those things into a more participant-driven unconference. Keynote remarks, for example, can be a great way to set the tone for what’s ahead and provide that initial burst of energy and inspiration. Rather than immediately following a keynote with a day of presentations, why not add more workshop-like sessions so that attendees can build on the momentum you’ve just established? Or intersperse a few collaborative discussions—similar to a focus group—that help give attendees with similar interests and challenges a chance to connect. These sorts of opportunities don’t just make for a more interesting and engaging event; they also help give attendees solid, actionable steps that they can implement as soon as they get back to the office, extending the value of your unconference far past the event’s end date.

Less Talk, More Action

It’s time for a little honesty. Conferences can be exhausting, right? You wouldn’t think that listening to speakers for 2 or 3 days could be so draining, but it certainly can be!

Learning elements like keynotes and presentations can still be a focal point at an unconference, but the key is to give attendees more opportunities to act on what they’re hearing and help drive the event format. One way to do that is to give attendees something to accomplish during the unconference. For example, a non-profit that’s focused on empowering entrepreneurs recently hosted an unconference that kicked off with a rooftop barbecue. During the barbecue, attendees were divided into teams and were tasked with creating a team banner that would be displayed throughout the event. Teams were also given opportunities to work together during the summit, including at an interactive science fair.

Learning is a critical part of any conference. But action is equally important. And that’s one of the reasons that an unconference format is so compelling. How can you give your attendees opportunities to take action and do or build during the event? Not only will this help engage their brains in different ways; it’s also an effective way to help attendees connect and build lasting relationships. And speaking of…

Go Beyond Networking: Collaborate

Meeting other people in your industry is always a favorite conference outcome. Yet rather than simply go with the tried-and-true mixer or dinner, why not shake things up? We talked earlier about how unconferences can be ideal opportunities for attendees to collaborate on a shared project. Creating an environment that fosters (and encourages) collaboration can be an equally effective networking tool. After all, there’s no better way to get to know someone than by tackling a project together!

We also mentioned workshop- or focus group-type sessions earlier in the post. Those sorts of collaborative discussions are also a helpful way for attendees to not only learn from others in their field, but also build relationships with industry peers. Those lasting connections—in addition to lessons learned and action-oriented next steps—are one of those most effective ways to provide value to your attendees long after the event ends. And that’s a key consideration. You don’t want the learning and sharing and collaborating to come to an abrupt halt when the unconference ends. Instead, you want to keep that momentum going as you build excitement about what’s ahead, both for the company and the next unconference.

Value Your Attendees’ Time (and Expertise)

When you think about it, conferences are a big ask. They’re informative and (hopefully) fun, but attendees also have to adjust their workload and current priorities to attend. That’s why it’s important to give them maximum value in exchange for their time, attention and commitment. And that’s where an unconference can deliver a significant return.

One of the things we love most about an unconference is that it gives attendees a chance to collectively pool their insight, experience and lessons learned. Think about it this way: your conference attendees are there for a reason. They want to learn—but they also have a wealth of knowledge to offer. Why not tap into that in a way that benefits the rest of the group? That isn’t to say you need to completely eliminate presenters or keynote speakers. But one of the advantages of an unconference is the chance to let participants take a turn in the driver’s seat and guide the conversations and sessions in a way that delivers optimal value for their day-to-day responsibilities and challenges. An unconference is a chance to learn and connect. But it can also be a welcome (and rare) opportunity to think big. What can you and your attendees dream up together? And how can you work together to make that vision a reality? As we mentioned earlier, conferences are a chance to unite a knowledgeable, talented group of people in one place. What can you do to inspire that group to share, discover and build?

Just as you want unconference attendees to have the freedom and space to dream big, we hope this post has helped you consider how you can embrace the concept of an unconference to bring both immediate and lasting value to your attendees. We’ve had some incredible success with helping clients plan and implement recent unconferences, and we’d love an opportunity to do the same for you. Feel free to send us a note and we’ll explore how an unconference fits into your larger events and business strategy.

4 Ways to Make Your Incentive Gifts Stand Out (Without Breaking Your Budget)

incentive gift

Incentive gifts can be tricky. You might feel like you’re under pressure to continually push the bar higher and deliver gifts that are always more: more luxurious, more distinctive and more expensive.

Yet a price tag isn’t necessarily indicative of an incentive gift’s success. And while you undoubtedly want to make recipients feel rewarded and appreciated, you don’t need to wreck your company’s budget to deliver the incentive gift that your employees deserve.

As you examine the strategy and details of your incentive gifting, we’ve compiled four ways to help your gifts stand out from the crowd and deliver the “wow” factor that will surprise and delight your employees. Just as you approach your corporate meetings and events with thoughtful intention, effective incentive gifting takes some planning, strategy and problem-free execution. The following tips will help get you on the path to successful incentive gifting that will keep your employees feeling engaged, appreciated and valued from start to finish.

The gift of experience

People increasingly crave the immersion and memories of experience. It’s a rising trend that’s sparking change in a variety of industries, including travel and corporate meetings and events. And it’s one to consider as you plan your incentive gifts, especially if they include travel.

Experiences not only indulge our senses; they can also pique our curiosity, giving us an opportunity to step outside the familiar and try something new in a way that makes us feel more connected to our surroundings. Think about how you can deliver an incentive experience that evokes similar feelings. Enrich your guests’ itineraries with immersive opportunities like cooking lessons, walking or other tours, or a hands-on class, demonstration or workshop.

Delivering a one-of-a-kind experience can be especially impactful if you opt to return to the same location for your incentive travel. There’s certainly something to be said for the convenience and familiarity that comes from returning to a favorite spot, but you can also add a dash of the unexpected with new, experiential additions to the itinerary.

As you’re planning, it sometimes helps to look ahead. What sort of impression do you want to leave with your guests? How do you want them to feel at the end of the trip? What do you want them to remember most about the incentive gift and how it validated their hard work and dedication? Use those answers to guide your gift planning as you consider experiences that produce your desired end results.

Take your luxury local

Even as the rise of technology-enabled verticals like eCommerce continues to reshape the retail industry, consumers still prefer local, small retailers. The top two reasons, according to the 2015 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, are finding unique products and the ability to find items that aren’t available from traditional sources.

Why not leverage the advantages of local businesses and products in your incentive gifting? You could take it a step further and weave together a travel experience that capitalizes on local flavors and signature events—an intimate meal with a renowned local chef, for example, or a behind-the-scenes tour of a celebrated local landmark.

A recent incentive trip we helped plan and execute is a prime example. Guests traveled to a refined, charming beach resort in Georgia. We found a vendor that created gold-plated versions of Georgia’s state shell to offer as a one-of-a-kind parting gift. And in celebration of two favorite Southern beverages, guests had a choice of a local single-barrel bourbon whiskey or high-end sweet tea concentrate. Guests also received marble coasters engraved with a map of the resort’s location.

As you plan your own incentive gifts and getaways, think about what sort of local elements you can add to not only pay homage to a location that’s important to you and your guests, but that also leaves a lasting, treasured memory that makes the incentive gift truly special.

Add a philanthropic twist

Incentive gifts haven’t traditionally been associated with philanthropy and social responsibility. Yet in the wake of the last decade’s economic turbulence—as well as a widespread, increasing focus on both individuals and companies giving back—philanthropy adds a genuine, heartfelt touch to an incentive gift.

To look for opportunities to add an opportunity for giving to your incentive gift, think first about your company’s values. What’s important to your business? And are there any organizations you currently support that might offer an opportunity for a philanthropic outing or team-building activity? Adding this sort of experiential community service opportunity to your incentive travel isn’t unlike volunteer tourism or “voluntourism,” which continues to be among the fastest growing travel trends.

If a service project or other philanthropic outing isn’t possible for your scheduled incentive trip, you can still find ways to add a service-minded element to the gift package. We already mentioned a recent incentive trip that we helped plan at a Georgia beach resort. That travel and gift experience also included endangered sea turtle nests that were adopted in each attendee’s name as a reminder not only of the trip, but also the impact of their brand. Consider similar opportunities to help local wildlife and treasured natural areas for a gift that’s not only unforgettable, but that also makes a difference where it’s needed most.

Leave your mark with branded touchpoints

Incentive gifting—especially if it includes travel—is similar to a corporate meeting or event. You have your signature offering (the equivalent of a meeting), and then you have the branded gifts to support that offering—similar to the gifts and swag you might include at a meeting or event.

These sorts of supporting gifts may seem like small details, but they’re just as important when it comes to delivering a larger message or narrative. In the case of incentive gifts, branded touchpoints can add a sense of thoughtfulness and personal attention that resonates with each guest.

Let’s use an incentive trip as an example. Perhaps you could set the stage for the adventure with a branded luggage tag, a kit of travel essentials and a branded notebook in which to capture notes about the experience. It’s also a good idea to have a few small gifts waiting for each guest when they arrive at their destination. Try to strike a balance between gifts that evoke your company’s brand and are also connected to the experiences to come throughout the trip. That way, you can help establish an inextricable link between your business and the incentive experience, which leaves a more powerful impression on your guests and gets them truly excited and passionate about not just the incentive gift, but also how they can continue to play a key role in your company’s success. And when in doubt about branded touchpoints, think of some of our favorite attributes: custom, interactive and memorable.

We hope the aforementioned tips will help inspire you to shake up your incentive gifts and step out of the box to try something new. And if you need a sounding board for your ideas—or help executing your gifting plan—we’re just a message away. Reach out to us anytime!