From exhibition to experience, by GES’s Jo Webber

GES’s, VP Client Relations, Jo Webber looks at how events are evolving to better serve their customers. She discusses CX, VX, HX and more.

As the pandemic raged, the world went into lockdown and the live events sector paused. Businesses around the globe went into pivot mode to reignite their marketing strategies.

Pre-Covid exhibitions featured in most face-to-face marketing strategies. When the pandemic made this impossible, we took to the virtual realm for a solution. Virtual experiences (VX) became the pivot response to the freeze on travel and the inability to bring people together. VX is enabled anytime, anywhere and facilitated the continuation of brand experiences.

Throughout the pandemic the digital world became the dominant business and customer environment. With people suffering from videoconferencing fatigue, ‘death by PowerPoint’ was not an option and delegates’ expectations were for content. It was ever more important to provide an empowered, ‘curated’ experience.

The biggest challenge of VX was quickly finding solutions for user-generated content. Just as most live events have ‘Insta’ moments or use social media as a driver for registration and networking, so it was necessary to recreate the same for VX. Ensuring the audience actively shares its involvement amplifies the brand and increases the reach exponentially.

A key driver of VX is robust data and measurability; from social media reach, cost per acquisition (CPA) of delegates, sales and conversion data linked back to customer relationship management (CRM), to return on engagement, the VX data exhaust is extensive and invaluable for both cost attribution and behavioural insights.

Why are brand experiences important?

Positive experiences foster deeper connections. This can be the difference between customer loyalty or loss of business. Empowered engagement has been a key trend for live experiences, and VX is no different. When deployed with a clear objective and significant content, experiences enhance interaction with the brand, information and even other delegates.

As we saw with the bricks vs clicks commerce phenomenon that assesses the success of the physical shopping experience (bricks, in-store) vs the digital (clicks, online), ‘CX’ is focused on the physical customer experience. Corporate experience centres are often built in a company’s headquarters and involve strategic interior design and fit-out layered with interactive content and technologies.

CX centres are a great place to host delegates and provide a unique experience to your visitors. Far from being eclipsed by VX, the two channels have proved to be complementary. Our essential need for human interaction has been magnified by the pandemic, and brand marketers are taking full advantage of both platforms.

It is not always possible to create an in-house CX centre, or we have situations where the experience is better placed elsewhere, in a strategic location with higher footfall. The response has been to create semi-permanent experiences and activations. These are all around us.

With the upcoming Dubai Expo, we will have an excellent opportunity to immerse ourselves in an array of experiences – from country pavilions to the three leading thematic experiences of sustainability, opportunity and mobility. Woven throughout Expo will be individual brand experiences. GES is excited to be partnering with one of the sponsors to bring their brand to life. Viswanathan Iyer, Cisco’s vice-president of architectures, recently said: “Experience is the new currency for the digital era,” reiterating the importance of CX to brands.

How to do experiences well

Sensory engagement has long been the topic of psychological marketing and is at the forefront of memorable experiences. Uncovering true behavioural insights and measurable data is invaluable to marketers and allows us to produce the most compelling experiences. Technological innovation has empowered us to augment experiences that resonate and promote change. Consistency ensures there is a common identifiable brand experience across every channel. Leaving a lasting impression defines success.

So, what does the future hold?

Just as we saw commerce strategies straddle clicks and bricks, experience strategies are much the same. Hybrid experience (HX) is the buzzword as experiences cross the physical and digital realms – a beautiful convergence of CX and VX. HX enables reach to a wider audience and every HX is unique. HX makes it possible to capitalise on thought leadership, experience-design and content, reimagined for application in both dimensions. Considering the objectives, context and end user will dictate the magic formula to the perfect HX balance.

Whether the experience is a CX centre, a semi-permanent activation, VX or HX, the engagement statistics are at an all-time high. The results are significant: increased brand engagement and behavioural change are there for the taking.