Ep9. The Attendee Journey: Creating Relevant Meaningful Experiences

September 6, 2016 John Woo



Creating the best experience requires relevant, meaningful paths and journeys attendees take as they progress through an event. With five generations of people now coming to corporate events and a new influx of generation Z into consumer events—the attendee journey has never been more cluttered, complex or critical. Different types of attendees require different paths and journeys.

In this episode of EM All Access, learn about creating events that are shared and shareable, allowing attendees to choose their own experiences and new technology tools for engaging target audiences.

Video Transcript:

Hey there, event marketers. Jessica Heasley here. Welcome to another episode of EM All Access where we get you up close and personal with some of the biggest brands, the most interesting events, and the most innovative marketers.

I spoke with GES’ vice presidents John Woo and Jeff Youngs about the attendee journey. Let’s listen in…

Q: How are today’s B2B event attendees different than those a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago?

WOO: With mobile devices and technology enabling us to reach out faster, be more in touch with the information that’s all around us. They’re becoming just better informed.

YOUNGS: You know, with the technology, everybody has that screen that they can carry around all the time. How to grab their attention and engage them has changed dramatically in the last five years and at least a little bit in the last year just because different platforms come out and different ways of interacting with each other keep emerging. So we need to be very clever and creative in ways of grabbing their attention at an event more than we used to. It used to be much simpler. Now it may be a little bit more fun, more creative but you enjoy that.

Q: How is that changing how they interact with the event experience, the event content, and then with each other at B2B events?

YOUNGS: One thing I’d say is it moves much quicker. You (Woo) touched on that a moment ago. They’re quickly talking to each other, moving from thing to thing, and consuming information and experiences as quickly as they can. “How much can I get in today?” is kind of the mindset sometimes if the event is well-crafted.

WOO: I think it’s just deepening experiences too. It’s becoming much more experiential. It’s no longer about just going to classroom to classroom. The old-school way of educating people may not be relevant anymore. People learn through engagement. If you tell me something, I may forget. But if you show me, then I can do it. I can learn from what I’m doing. So the act of participation becomes much more important. And I think you’ll see experiences that are littered with content to the hilt, but it’s going to be smaller groups engaged in an activity that’s going to make them remember through either muscle memory or a new way of learning.

YOUNGS: Those traditional methods still have a place, but it’s a little bit of a different place and needs to be blended with some new, more innovative approaches depending on the audiences and the messages and the need at the time, you wouldn’t want to just throw out the old and bring in the new. We want to blend them in in an appropriate way.

WOO: It’s that mix. It’s being able to program the event so that you have the right blend and symmetry between those hands-on engagement experiences, the large formats that shows the breakouts. It’s being able to create that continuous learning through different methods that makes it really effective at shows.


Q: I think a lot of people in the industry look to millennials as a driver for this behavior change. Would you say that is the biggest change in behavior driving what’s happening in B2B events or is it just one of them?

WOO: I would ask, “Who’s looking?” Is it millennials that are looking at what’s driving the event, or is it people that are my age looking at it, or baby boomers that have been doing it and now they’re looking at this generation to see how they’re changing the event? It’s from the perspective of the user. If it’s a millennial, then they may think the event is already (dynamic?). I think people are just understanding that there are five generations that are coming into our event space now. And you have to be able to carry the message in order to be effective amongst all generations. It’s not just one message that can overlay across all of them, and one delivery mechanism that will fit all of them. It doesn’t work anymore. It has to be customized and it has to be personalized. The attendee journey can happen en masse, but ultimately you’re trying to get the one-on-one engagement to turn them into evangelists, into advocates of what you’re trying to say and promote so that you can ultimately have them share that information with somebody else. And then you look at amplification that way. It’s just a different strategy.

Q: How are you studying behavior of attendees and then implementing that into your event strategies?

WOO: We actually do a lot of behavioral studies. We actually work with people that are, say, in anthropology and understand behavior and talk about Maslow’s hierarchy about how we take the need for food, water, shelter out of this equation so that we’re not distracted at the conference. How we use methodologies of play in order to elevate across Maslow’s hierarchy to get to a higher state of learning and understanding so that you’re having a richer engagement. Just because you’re engaging doesn’t mean that it’s a good one. It could be a poor experience. But ultimately you need to try and help people move their thinking and change their mindset about what they’re learning and then how they can adopt that information quickly. So we apply a lot of different philosophies. But ultimately what we love to do is, everybody’s got a trend deck. Everybody talks about trends that are occurring. And we actually took a couple of them that are very prominent right now: gamification, data visualization, we take vignettes, scenes that provoke an immediate response to tell stories. Those are all vehicles. But why are they effective? We look at the behavioral modes of why they’re effective. Because it immerses the audience, it immerses the viewer into that scene. Or it makes people connect to relevant content or to each other. Or it gives an opportunity for that person to share that information. That’s why those trends are very effective at communicating, as a communication tool for stories and message and content. So we try to understand the behavior and then we design to the behavior and figure out how the message and the content is going to craft the environment to make it most effective for that person to learn and then be able to share that out to somebody else. So it’s really more behavior-driven rather than saying “hey, design me a structure, a kiosk, and a counter and put my brand up on the wall.”

Learn more about GES’ top influencers and problem solvers through our in-depth EM All Access video series on thought leadership.

About the Author

John Woo

John Woo is VP of Design & Creative at GES.

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