Lessons from the Past for the Future of Experiential Marketing

Insights from a seasoned event professional who has seen the winds change, and what stays the same.

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The year is 2008. The world is in the middle of a recession. Apple is making news, but it is not for launching the latest iPhone. Apple announces it is pulling out of Macworld. The mainstream press said it was the end of conferences and trade shows. At the time, one of my responsibilities was press contact at the Trade Show Exhibitors Associations. My phone started ringing looking for quotes.

My general statement to each reporter was simple; Apple has made a business decision that is right for them. This does not signal the end of conferences and trade shows. It signals Apple will no longer participate in Macworld and will instead produce its own propriety events.

Around 2010 virtual event platforms started receiving a great deal of interest. I started receiving calls again that trade shows and conference were a thing of past and did I have a comment about virtual replacing in person events. My response was simple again. Virtual events are a great supplement but cannot replace face-to face interactions for everyone. People like to buy and learn from people in person and virtual cannot fully replace it.

Not long after, the virtual events hype faded away. They were still happening but not as a replacement to live events, but as a way to engage audience members who could not attend in person. Fast forward to 2020. Conference, events, trade shows, and most in-person meetings are on hold or going virtual, but they are not going away forever. As human beings we crave being with other people. I wish I had an exact answer on when but, based on thousands of years of human history, people will gather in large groups again.

What I have learned is do not let one moment in time keep us from looking at what’s next for experiential marketing. For now, and always, we need to think of creative ways to keep our world connected that will help our brands stand out.

There are many options to consider such as corporate virtual/hybrid events, live broadcasts, virtual exhibits at trade events, mobile promotional/educational tours, and retrofits of existing briefing centers, facilities, and exhibits. What we cannot forget is the one core ideal that is not ever going to go away. We must look at each of our audiences, the purpose, our goals, and our objectives to see the best way to stay connected.

We all want to step away from our computer screens and cameras but let us seize this time to do something special that will have long lasting ROI. Let us find solutions that not only work today but can work for the future too. Let us always keep our eyes on our goals and objectives. Let us think a little different, reimagine, reinvent, and develop new strategies for success.

To borrow a phrase from Mahatma Gandhi, we need to be the change we want to see in the world. I suggest we look at what worked well in the past, take the best of today, and build the new future of experiential marketing. Who else is with me?

About the Author: David Brull has over 20 years of experience in sales and marketing for brands, associations, and agencies. He is Vice President, Global Accounts for kubik, a global leader in exhibits, events, and environments for businesses, institutions, and museums.


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