How The Event Industry Will Evolve in the Next 20 Years

Skift Take

In events, we always have to think one step ahead. So what can we expect from the event industry in the next 20 years?

Whether the current buzzword is ‘engagement’ or ‘event tech’ we #EventProfs are forever on the hunt for new ways to make future events greater, more influential, more memorable.
However, we often run the risk of being so absorbed in the pursuit of ‘The Next Big Thing’ that we miss the key signs of what is happening today – the signs that really indicate the trajectory of this industry, and how events will look in ten, twenty years time.

Event Tech: A Complicated Affair

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It seems we’re all clamouring to source the latest, most exciting piece of tech to make our events successful, without really sparing a thought for why we want and need it. We’ve become so dazzled by the what – having a flashy piece of kit – that we forget the why – what value aside from spectacle does it actually add, and how is it relevant to our message?

We all know the origin of any great event begins with the audience, understanding what will excite and emotionally engage people and creating an event that does that. It’s the final puzzle piece which really sets the bar; discovering which technologies can support that vision and help achieve those goals.

What we need is to rework our understanding of what tech can do for us.
In essence, believing we can just invent an app that will ‘make events better’ is going to get us nowhere. What we need to do first is to identify the problems and weakness that we currently face, and formulate technologies to facilitate solutions to them.

For example, if we look at a tech giant such as Uber – the founders didn’t sit down and say ‘I want to invent an on-demand taxi app’. They reverse-engineered the issues with the current system of ordering a cab: not knowing how long it will take to arrive, not knowing what car to look for, not knowing how much it will cost, and so on. And they said, ‘We’re going to fix all of those problems in one’ and lo and behold they did it, by partnering their creativity and with technology, and engineering an app which provides solutions to all of the above.

The truth is, technology can’t make a bad event great. But the opportunities are truly boundless when we adopt it as part of our creative problem-solving.

And as we move forward, a different league of success in this industry will be established by those who understand our relationship with technology, over those who rely upon it.

Power to the People

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One of the most fundamental changes we’ve seen in the past few years is the increasingly powerful role the consumer plays. In terms of marketing, the brand-customer relationship has always been pretty direct – you want it, we’re selling it. And if you don’t want it, we’ll make you think you need it. But the landscape is changing fast and becoming increasingly outdated, thanks, in large part, to the internet and social media.

Global hyper-connectivity has empowered the individual – You only need to go on Twitter for two seconds to see how important everybody thinks their personal opinion is. This empowerment has grown over the years to not only allow the rise of ‘social influencers’ but also given a certain amount of control back to the people. These days, an entire country can be changed by a few thousand people adding their clicks to an online petition. Therefore, consumers are at the point that they can demand more from brands to earn their loyalty – and be heard.

We are all becoming increasingly aware of not only the ethical and environmental values of our purchases, but also what intangible value each purchase has too.

The first thing that every brand says when it wants to create an event is, ‘How can we create an experience that will allow us to sell more stuff to more people?’ and that’s the first error. In reality, the brand experience today is “How can we create an experience that will allow us to build a relationship with our customers, and ensure their loyalty?’

And the answer to that is that intangible value that the modern consumer seeks; connection.

The flaw with our permanently online world, is that real life community and connection is becoming second-hand, when truly nothing matches it. We’re inventing technologies under the guise that they’re helping – online shopping, Beacons which geolocate nearby sales, bots that instantly generate recommendations – whilst forgetting that this only further isolates the individual consumer, instead of bringing that connection in and uniting the masses into a community.

The future is ensuring the valuable loyalty of the empowered consumer by giving them something more, something emotional, social, and real. That’s what events do. And that’s why events will never go out of fashion.

‘Freemium’: The Phrase of the Future

To conclude, there’s only one buzzword that we need to be focusing on moving forward. And that’s ‘Freemium’ – providing basic value for free, to be able to be able to charge for greater value. Free is the language of the internet, and everyone understands the value of their loyalty, and what they can demand in return for it. But the demands are simple.

Brands are the super citizens of the 21st Century. We trust the gospel of Whole Foods more than our local pastor. And so with greater power comes greater responsibility – to offer this intangibly free value, to earn the loyalty of the new consumer.

Online, we can see precisely what we can get for free. So when we pay for things, we’ll only do so – and pay more, for something that is right. Something that’s more than just the t-shirt we order. We now buy the philosophy, the brand message, the experience.

The brand experience is the funfair, the experience is the rides, and the products are the merchandise you buy at the end because you had such a great time.

And so the way to sell to the modern consumer, who has been bought up knowing the value of their purchase, is to offer them the most premium freemium possible, the greatest, most intangible free gift imaginable. Humanity.

In Conclusion

The emotional connection, sense of unity, community and demonstration of ethical values previously only seen in the likes of religion, is the currency of the future. And there is no other or better way to achieve that, than with an event.

The future of events is events becoming the most important facet of marketing. And I’m not sure about you, but I quite like the sound of that.