Emotional outcomes and non-linear thinking form the foundation of an all-new landscape for the experiences of tomorrow.
As we turn the corner on the next great era of event marketing, it’s time to take the opportunity to redefine and rediscover how we define events at their most fundamental level. As an agency, we don’t plan, design, and execute events. We architect experiences.
Re-examining events through this lens provides an opportunity to re-think how every strategic philosophy, planning framework, and operational process should work. We’re not talking about re-inventing the wheel—simply looking at events as an avenue to elicit an emotional response, first and foremost.
Over the next few weeks, Justin Boone, Opus VP of Strategy, will share a handful of event marketing standbys that can be retooled and supercharged with experience architecture thinking. Traditional metrics move beyond booth visits and badge scans. Content strategy gets rebuilt beyond email touchpoints and keynote decks. Attendee journey goes non-linear and holistic.
For right now, we’ll start with something small: using experience architecture thinking to determine why (or whether) to create an event.
Define Your Audience and Determine Your Strategy
Before we jump into selecting a venue or scoping a budget, we first need to spend some time thinking about our audience and our desired outcomes. Depending on what we’re aiming for, an event or experience may not even be the best format for our chosen method of audience engagement. By asking four simple questions, we can start building the foundation for an effective experience:
- Who is my intended audience?
Are they internal or external to my organization? Are they already familiar with my brand or newly acquainted? Locality, seniority level, industry, and many other variables factor into the equation when we’re solving for our given objectives.
- What does my audience really want or need?
As marketers, we can get stuck focusing only on our own objectives and goals. It’s crucial to approach strategic planning with a deep sense of empathy (one of the core tenets of human-centered design). Put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re trying to reach, and dig down to the core need that is fueling their decision-making. Prioritizing the value your audience will receive from the experience will pay dividends in engagement.
- How can my brand/product/service satisfy those wants or needs?
What makes your experience, and by extension your brand, valuable to the people you’re trying to reach? What can you give your audience that nobody else can? Differentiation is only the first part of the process—it all falls apart if you can’t personalize your brand promise to the individual needs and desires of your audience.
- Why now?
This may seem like the simplest question to answer, but plenty of people overlook its importance. While decisions like planning an event portfolio or mapping out cities for a roadshow are often driven by cyclical factors (yearly budgets, seasonal sales targets, annualized event series), it’s important to take a step back and consider whether your reasoning is still valid. “Because we’ve always done it that way” has never been a good enough reason to do anything—that kind of institutional thinking is even less valid now that the status quo has been upended.
Shape Your Experience to Fit Your Objectives
With these questions fully explored and the answers documented and internalized, you can start to think about what kind of experience will best reach your intended audience, and achieve your desired outcomes (ideally for both you and your attendees). While the prospect of simply “shaping an experience” may seem daunting, it’s a challenge that can be broken down and approached with a fairly straightforward system of thinking.
First, start by cataloging the core types of experience, and considering what each type would look like when manifested in service of your brand.
Brand experiences can be simply defined as the personification (or real-world manifestation) of your brand promise with the goal of creating a personal connection to your audience. In this framework, personal connection leads to deeper understanding and (ideally) appreciation. While brand may not always be the core focus of your experience, it should underpin and help shape any experience you might design.
These experiences are built to illustrate the value and purpose of a given product in a dramatic, personal, or unexpectedly delightful context. Most people don’t enjoy being sold to explicitly; carving out a home for your product in your audience’s reality in a fun, memorable way is much more likely to make it resonate.
Content-driven experiences all center on the consumption of information by your audience. Similar to the entertainment business, designing a content-driven experience requires packaging, designing, and delivering the right information in a compelling way, with the goal of shifting the audience’s perspective, imparting valuable knowledge, or instigating a desired action. Content strategy is a complex marriage of art and science that considers tone, cadence, medium, and myriad other factors to effectively communicate a message and, ultimately, entertain.
Using what you learned while exploring and defining your audience, you can align experience types with each audience segment and objective to build out the beginnings of your own “experience architecture.”
If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is! This strategic framework really is only the beginning; over the next few weeks we’ll dive into other more specific shifts in thinking that we see as the foundation of a completely revitalized event industry.
Not interested in going it alone? Luckily, we’ve had years to hone our practice, and more than a handful of successful experiences to show for it. If you’re interested in exploring your brand’s experience architecture, shoot us an email.