Creating Events with Purpose

Skift Take

A radical shift in global consumer attitude is underway - the rise of the conscious consumer. Today’s events must evolve with them. How can you innovate your events with purpose to build brand love and loyalty for your clients?

People no longer want just products or services – they want authentic experiences with a deeper purpose. Experiences that reflect our values.

The best, most competitive brands in our world today increasingly gravitate toward greater social purpose, sustainability and a net positive impact. They want us to get outdoors instead of shop Black Friday. Or celebrate our imperfect bodies as our real beauty.

What’s behind this shift?

It’s the rise of conscious consumers.

The Opportunity for Event Planners

People want to connect with brands that stand for more than just profit. And we want to know that our market choices reflect our values and how we see the world.

At the same time, younger consumers increasingly want authentic experiences over material products. They know that while experiences themselves won’t last, their impact does and it can bring deeper personal meaning and connection than a product that sits in a drawer or on a shelf.

These two culture trends – a shift toward greater brand purpose and more immersive experiences – are great news for event producers! Our core industry was built on experience design. But how do we capitalize on this bigger shift toward a purpose-driven world? The answer is to deliver events with a smarter conscience. We must design experiences that not only tell a brand story, but also connect with our own human values and reveal the promise behind the brand.

Environmental Innovation

Most people agree it’s no longer okay to be an oil baron by day and a philanthropist by night. We want to live authentically across both our personal and professional lives. This creates a drive towards greater sustainability and environmental innovation, and it’s an area where events can really maximize brand love and minimize impact. Think of this as your event S.O.S. – smart, original, sustainable.

Recycling today is a no brainer. We naturally expect it at home or at our events. But we can go much deeper to make our event waste streams smarter. Think first about right sizing your products – you don’t need a 12” plate for a 3” slider – and choose reusable over disposable. Even disposables now have creative options, from cool compostable to genre-bending biodegr(edible) cups. We produced a 300-person launch event this summer that had just one 4lb 2oz bag of garbage, and nothing about the event felt overly green.

Globally we waste 40% of all the food we grow and nearly half our landfill waste is food. Consumers and industry both play a role. Work with your chefs to innovate all of this. Source delicious but imperfect (ugly) produce that otherwise gets tossed at the farm. And integrate food rescue into your event to make sure any excess food goes on to nourish the food vulnerable.

Ditch imported fresh cut flowers. Instead source killer succulent centerpieces that can be replanted or design micro-tabletop herb gardens that guests bring home to their kitchens.

Push for zero carbon. We’ve popped up solar micro-grids to power food trucks and run entire stage performances off green energy. Local talent sourcing and using the share economy to transport your staff also helps cut fuel and carbon emissions.

Go paperless with digital apps. And honestly, scratch the useless gift bags. The goodies almost always feel cheap or promotional and no one keeps them. We believe it just creates a negative consumer touch point. Instead, create guest experience bags – like test-drives in a Tesla or carbon offsets for their next trip – items that are useful or sexy. We’ve even popped up a farmer’s market by the exit where guests fill up a bag with baby organic produce before leaving.

Social Impact and Community Innovation

There’s no reason an event should only enrich or delight the people attending. Be exponential and use an event to build even greater human capital.

Staff hiring and vendor selection are your biggest line items. Make these dollars count for more than just a top service. Have your decisions reflect your values. Give preference to LGBT, minority, or women-owned businesses. We hire certified B Corps – exceptional companies that are proven to use business for good.

Partner with nonprofits that can provide core event services that are still exceptional. For instance, Homeboy Industries (a gang rehabilitation nonprofit) offers a fantastic catering service in LA and ACE (a nonprofit helping the homeless find jobs and work training) can provide event clean up and maintenance in NYC.

We all know to source our food locally, but go further. Integrate the grower or cheese monger into the event itself. They become part of the event narrative that connects your guests to the food’s origin and the people who power it.

Measure Your Living Data

Big data is all the rage. Entire conferences are dedicated to it. We know it matters but why exactly? To start, it’s less about big. We must first measure what matters. We already do this for our event marketing with KPIs like ticket sales, hashtag reach, and return guests. So why don’t we measure our values?

We can actually learn from our friends in the financial and insurance sectors. One of the fastest growing frameworks to evaluate big investments and global risk is ESG – environmental, social, and governance indicators. These leaders understand that factors beyond profit determine a brand’s performance, longevity, and customer loyalty. The same is true for events and more.

When it comes to events, we should measure what matters with our environmental, social, and community impact. We call this an event’s Living Data. Everything from carbon footprints to waste diversion rates to the social impact that comes from hiring more minority owned businesses. Why does it matter? Living Data adds depth and purpose to our client’s story. It rewards bold performance. It’s super bite-sizeable and socially shareable. It promotes innovation and transparency. It lets us improve constantly. And it connects us to people right where it matters the most – their values and emotions.

Tell Your Story

Measuring impact is not enough. Data must be brought to life and made engaging for guests. For instance, interactive touch screens can help us visualize the food rescued and livestreaming Go Pro cams can let us actually see (virtually) our donations in motion.

Sensor technology that leverages the internet-of-things allows us to watch our event footprint live. As it grows and shrinks, making adjustments based on behavior and performance. Or some gaming apps let guests track their micro-impact as they experience a weekend event and get rewarded for energy saved, water conserved, or waste avoided.

Technology and creativity let us measure and enliven event data like never before. Purpose-driven metrics will help you walk-the-walk while inspiring brand loyalty and guest delight alongside.

Human Centered Design

Humans are at the center of every event. Yet events can feel more about a brand activation or superficial guest experience. We can go deeper than just technology and brand experience to focus on human-centered design and animating guests with purpose. It all starts with the spaces we use.

Too often, we’re forced to rely on conventional venues – windowless conference rooms or commercial spaces that feel soulless. And yet our cities teem with original, dynamic venues hidden from the planner’s eye. The circular and share economies can offer us new venue opportunities. Some startups are using our peer-to-peer economy to open up unconventional more personalized spaces – like urban lofts or family vineyards – while others are repurposing under-utilized commercial space into innovative conference centers with natural light, better space flow, and healthy foods.

We can also design smartly for the unconscious human mind. Biophilia is our innate connection to nature. It’s why when you ask a room of 100 people to picture where they’re most at peace, 90% pictures somewhere outside and near the water. Biophilic event design can leverage these tendencies to design experiences that elicit desirable guest reactions – like creativity, focus, collaboration, or relaxation. Biophilic events start with introducing plants, grassy lawns, or indoor plant walls but we can be much more influential with designs around circadian and dappled or and smarter airflows and temperature controls.

In Conclusion

Audiences today want brands that stand for more than just profit and causes that reflect their values. In an age where people are turning down higher-paying salaries in pursuit of doing well by doing good, our events must evolve to target this emerging consumer mindset and reflect our audience’s values. We must strive to produce killer events with a smarter conscience and welcome the opportunities that this brings.