Consumers Yearn for Personalization at Events. Are Brands Taking the Hint?

Trends show that visitors expect to feel a deeper connection now

Events, when done right, will help you network and connect with potential consumers. Getty Images
Headshot of Kristen Alexander

With the 2018 event season in full swing, many marketers are in full sprint mode as they face the challenge of implementing the best strategies, campaigns and tactics they designed to turbo boost results at their global events. Events can be a double-edged sword as they are an invaluable opportunity to connect with customers, prospects and partners—but only if they’re done right.

What makes a successful event? To learn from those in the trenches, I connected with a variety of marketing technology top influencers to get their take on 2018 industry predictions. The most interesting finding was a clear agreement that personalization is no longer simply “nice to have”; it has shifted to an expectation and a clear “need-to-have.” Marketers who can create personalized physical experiences and also yield higher engagement during the lifecycle of an event through personalized, real-time marketing will drive outsized results for their business.

Experience matters

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

This year, we’ll see event marketers start to mix everything from data and new tech to influencers and speakers to create a personal experience throughout the cycle of an event. After all, marketers should take advantage of face-to-face engagement since it is the number one opportunity to accelerate and convert for revenue teams.

It’s time marketers also tap into richer intent data, whether it’s interest by product line, pain point or where a prospect is in the buying cycle.

Josh Steimle, author and founder of Influencer Inc., noted that it’s important to understand if an attendee wants to network and connect with peers or if they prefer to find vendors. Marketers need to understand if attendees are interested in speaking with presenters, are just there for the afterparties or would prefer to have discussions in smaller groups.

Event technology vendors can provide immeasurable value by implementing this level of personalization so that each attendee walks away with a customized experience.

Data signals engagement

Think of the event lifecycle in three phases: pre-event, during event and post-event. By capturing behavioral context across each phase, marketers can start to use data in more practical ways. For example, marketers can identify the prospects who express interest in a product by attending a relevant content session in conjunction with seeing a booth demo to determine those that have high purchase intent. They can then use that data to recommend a tailored agenda for the next day.

Event automation is a necessity for marketers looking to personalize each attendee’s experience. Companies exhibiting at an event can analyze real-time data on prospects and customers that shows which sessions they’ve attended, what content they’ve engaged with or which specific products they are interested in so conversations can be tailored accordingly.

David Raab of Raab Associates mentioned that we’ll start to see real-time data gathering about session attendance, audience response and polls during sessions, all serving to make the conferences interactive and responsive to attendee needs. He noted that there will be audience-driven content as attendees have lots of expertise to share and that technology should make sharing easier as the conference unfolds and even during sessions.

My hope is that 2018 is the year where marketers truly leverage the power of data for real-time marketing during events in order to further drive this theme of personalization. Marketers kick butt when it comes to the registration sprint, ensuring they’re enlisting every strategy they can think of to drive the highest possible number of attendees. But it’s time marketers also tap into richer intent data, whether it’s interest by product line, pain point or where a prospect is in the buying cycle. This type of data can be used to create messaging that’s highly relevant and meets the attendee where they are mentally, whether it’s used to create a recommended agenda for the next day at an event or in crafting a great next step, such as a technical product demo.

Influencers amplify

Influencer marketing has come a long way from the days of simply measuring by impressions. Marketers are starting to tap into the power of influencers and their incredible reach. The unique nature of influencer marketing is the genuine enthusiasm and authentic opinions, which can impact campaign results.

Neil Patrick Harris and Shaq, both speakers at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), are clear examples of leveraging well-known names to attract interest. As Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group, notes, “Event marketers are increasingly realizing that they need professional speakers to both attract attendees and to deliver better content experiences when folks show up.”

As Neal Schaffer, a leading social media consultant and author, put it, “Event marketers will finally realize and act upon the potential that influencers have for their event. … Influencers are the missing ‘human’ piece that promises huge potential for event marketers who understand their potential in today’s digital age.”

The road ahead

The experts weighed in, and it’s clear: 2018 will be the year event marketers embrace everything from real-time data to new technologies to create personalized experiences throughout the lifecycle of every event.

People come to events to learn, make connections and find new inspiration to elevate their companies and their own contribution to business results. This year’s theme of personalization will be key in not only attracting audiences but capturing and keeping their attention before, during and long after the event ends.

Kristen Alexander is the CMO of Certain.