According to Racounteur Business Events special report, business-to-business events are focusing on creating immersive environments with content that aims to engage all the senses.

When software giant Salesforce kicked off its Dreamforce 2015 event, it dedicated an entire keynote session to mindfulness training, bringing in technology and meditation experts including Google’s Chade-Meng Tan and Goldie Hawn.

For Dreamforce 2016, it used the same tactic but on a bigger scale, with mindfulness and meditation sessions led by 20 Buddhist monks.

Edweena Stratton, vice president for employee success for Salesforce Asia-Pacific, says Dreamforce aims to be more than a business conference, with mindfulness helping the brand to engage further with attendees, by deepening their awareness and appreciation for life.

“The keynote served as a great avenue to allow our attendees the chance to look inwards and reflect while at Dreamforce,” she says, adding that it also offered them moments of calm and clarity to avoid burnout.

Kim Benjamin contests that this is how business-to-business (B2B) events are focusing on creating immersive environments that aim to engage all the senses.


Damian Ferrar, senior vice president and executive creative director at agency Jack Morton Worldwide, says B2B clients recognise the importance of igniting a relationship with their customers based on a mix of logic and emotion, by providing richer experiences, meaningful narratives and one-on-one attention.

“Designing an experience that established a context of creativity was an important lever for success,” he says. “Instead of designing a stand, we designed a platform for a community – a physical platform with multi-layered content and a visitor journey to deliver a consistent, coherent and compelling experience.”

He adds that while the importance of content should not be underestimated, it is no longer king. Rather, content has to reflect the needs and values of individuals to engage with them successfully.

Agency WRG managed Ricoh’s stand at Drupa. WRG executive creative director Mark Gass says that time spent at a B2B event needs to be far less passive. In other words, more ‘asking’,” he says. “It’s no good having great content if you fail to engage on other levels like venue, format and networking, really engaging all the senses to create something unforgettable.”


Clients recognise the importance of igniting a relationship with their customers based on a mix of logic and emotion

Allegra Group produces the annual London Coffee Festival, which includes two industry days alongside public sessions. Its founder Jeffrey Young believes “infotainment” is driving brand engagement at B2B events, where the pre-event, at-event and post-event content storyline is woven into the fabric of an event via a mix of media including online, mobile and live activity.

“The visual appeal of the event layout, the flow and the multi-sensory experience is paramount to creating an environment where a lot of business gets done,” he says.

For Clarion Events, which produces exhibitions such as Internet Retailing Expo, B2B events have evolved to be more about sharing knowledge, generating opportunities and creating a memorable experience.

Its portfolio director Sam North says that to facilitate this, Clarion invests a significant amount of effort ahead of its events, enabling pre-event connections between visitors via social networks and bespoke systems, as well as creating networking and relaxation areas on-site for exhibitors.

B2B events have long since moved on from the classic booth or stand format and one-sided product launch. Event companies recognise that B2B customers and their audience are people too. As such, engaging live experiences, with content that is both exciting and enticing but which engages all the senses, and across different channels and formats, is increasingly key to success.

What B2B events can learn from Ted

Ask speakers to give the audience something they can use or learn from and that lights up their world view, says Chris Anderson, curator and owner of the TED Conference.

“In our experience, talks that might come off as self-serving – touting a product or service, for instance – have the ability to turn eager audiences off instantly,” he says.

Pushing speakers to cut everything back to one single idea, what TED calls “establishing a through-line of a talk”, is key.

“By narrowing the focus, speakers stand to make more of an impression,” maintains Mr Anderson. “Too much information and the audience’s eyes just glaze right over. One of the biggest pitfalls of business-related talks is the tendency to use jargon. Experts are often so immersed in their industries, they forget what it was like not to know their field’s specific terminology or concepts. We encourage our speakers to keep language accessible for a general mainstream audience.”

Vincent Ng, founder of 1+1=11 Productions and vice president of education at the International Live Events Association of Hong Kong, is a former TEDx curator.

He says that creating engaging content is a combination of sourcing great content and producing it right – the selection, speaker preparation, staging and production.

He says: “With our TEDx speakers, we begin coaching them three to four months before the event and some speakers go through five or six sessions of coaching. For great content, go where the experts are, but also go where people are pushing the boundaries with experimentation and new paradigm shifts.”

brand experiences

According to Claudia Stephenson, vice president of business development at FreemanXP in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, creators of Vodafone’s Future Breakers Live event at Capital’s Summertime Ball, believes brand experience plays an increasingly important role in the marketing mix.

“Live, face-to-face experiences allow brands to achieve just that, which is why we’re seeing a rise in demand for brand experiences, whether it be from existing clients, who are looking to increase the number of events they execute annually, or new clients who have witnessed the effectiveness of the medium first-hand and are eager to enter the space.”

Institute of Promotional Marketing’s managing director Carey Trevill says: “Time away from the office has to be balanced with what you will gain from the experience, insights and take-away value. If these are not evident quickly to the potential delegate, it is unlikely to convert to a booking, even if the event is free. Leadership conferences and events have become more popular, with recent economic events adding to the urgency to attend ‘critical’ happenings to keep on top of a fast-paced marketing environment.”

And this sense of urgency and staying at the forefront of industries remains key to brand interaction, says Olympia London’s managing director Nigel Nathan. “In today’s world, where information is delivered in many forms and at an ever-increasing rate, the most meaningful brand relationships are still formed face to face,” he says. “Even with innovations in technology and the explosion of social media, we as the event industry still maintain an edge as the only channel to offer a holistic marketing experience, facilitating true connections between people and brands.”


Business events facts

Integrating events and tech

Creative experience agency DRP recently delivered the global launch of Triumph’s Bonneville Bobber in front of 1,000 guests at Printworks London, recording a social media reach of 68 million. The agency’s head of insight and innovation Callum Gill believes events devoid of technology will have little resonance with the millennial generation, yet argues that the right tech must be deployed to gain a strong and measurable result.

“This year the buzz is around augmented reality and virtual reality,” he says. “The latter is immersive and powerful but actually quite isolating in an event environment. Large-scale shared virtual experiences are still a way off, while augmented reality is shareable at the event which encourages wider participation, plus it is scalable pre and post-event, and easily accessible on devices everyone already has. As it becomes more a part of everyday life, such as Nike just launching their NIKEiD AR shopping experience in their Parisian flagship, augmented reality will become a must-have like an app or even wi-fi.”

Status is no longer determined by the car we drive or the watch we wear, but rather the experiences we’ve had

Printworks also worked with Toyota and Adidas, and Vibration Group’s creative director Simeon Aldred believes that content remains key for the brands. “Creating the right content for sharing by key influencers is everything. With brands like adidas, these super fans are not just propagating through the traditional native social channels, but increasingly using apps such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat and Facebook Messenger. Brands know this and are working hard with their agencies to create the best most engaging, and ultimately, sharable content possible,” he says.

Meanwhile, across the exhibition halls, event organisers are embracing the new wave of tech that tracks visitor movement, to gather anonymised analytics about flow of movement, including a visitor’s preferred route around an event and dwell times at particular areas. Olympia London’s head of eForce Amir Vered explains: “We’ve recently concluded several successful trials of a visitor movement tracking programme and we expect to roll this out in its entirety this year, and for event design around this insight to become commonplace across the industry.”

So be it consumer engagement or business outcomes, events are increasingly seen as a core solution and this is set to further augment in the future as Generation Z fuels the experience economy. For this social media savvy generation, the FOMO – fear of missing out – factor will extend from consumer gatherings to business events, conferences and networking opportunities as experience becomes the new currency.

Mr Gill at drp concurs: “Status is no longer determined by the car we drive or the watch we wear, but rather the experiences we’ve had. The more unique and interesting, the higher value we collectively award. Secret Cinema, Punch Drunk, experiential pop ups, guerrilla events all fall under this category. Now events within marketing must be part of this zeitgeist to stand any chance of delivering engagement. Alongside this, personalised event journeys and experiences are vitally important to win a share of attention in a desperately crowded marketplace.”

Even with innovations in technology and the explosion of social media, the most meaningful brand relationships are still formed face to face.
The Business Events special report, published in The Times, reveals how to make your events stand out in the digital age.
The report covers how to harness the latest tech innovations to create immersive experiences and use engagement data to get to know your visitors.
In addition, it reveals what marketers can learn from Comic-Con and includes a pull-out infographic highlighting the latest event technologies.