6 Takeaways From the 2020 Experiential Marketing Summit

Jill Anonson
Jill Anonson

event attendees social distancing at outdoor meeting

For this year’s Experiential Marketing Summit, brands gathered around the computer screen. But the virtual event was still full of big names, with marketers from YouTube, Burger King, General Mills, FX and more. In fact, this year’s summit was five days packed full of twice the content of the physical event. Executives discussed the buzziest topics in event marketing today, including safe and hygienic events, future of virtual and hybrid events, diversity and inclusion, and exceling in the new normal.

On the virtual stage, top experiential marketers shared experiences and offered lessons and insights on the past year in and how event marketers can find success within their own organizations. Below are six takeaways not to take lightly.

1. Greater Focus on Community & Hyper-Local Interactions

To accommodate attendees’ changing comfort level—as well as adhere to health and safety guidelines—events will be condensed (i.e., local and smaller).

Advantageously, this also means events have the opportunity to be more personal and engaging.

“Portable planning” is currently trending for many event planners—the use of flexible building and structures—to take the event to the attendee versus the attendee going to the event. This allows attendees the freedom to choose their location, limit travel and participate in an outdoor setting. It is an opportunity for smaller cities to highlight their unique and local culture—often overlooked when previously only considering major metropolitans.

2. The “Lift & Shift Tactic” Does Not Work

While many of us are doing our best Ross Geller impression these days, the option to “PIVOT” isn’t a permanent one. Event marketers are understanding that they cannot just move their live event online.

While we get to work figuring out what our future looks like, let’s not forget all the things we know as foundational to great event design. They need to go through every event element to decide which elements need to be unbundled and rebuilt. Look at existing data and determine what activities stay and what goes to build a strong and engaging user experience.

It’s not so much about more content, but better and relevant content.

Same for your audience—is a larger audience better, or should your investment be focused around a more qualified audience?

3. Address the Challenge of Capturing a Saturated Audience

Nicola Kastner, SAP, said it so perfectly: “Registration is a mouse click, not a commitment”

Just because a person has registered does not mean they will attend, let alone pay attention. That’s why it’s important to understand how to capture the attention of your target audience when there are so many distractions.

Attention needs to be earned (recognized and affirmed) constantly.

Think about the attendee’s goals: What are their professional aspects? How would you describe their lifestyle and personality? What is it they wish to get out of the event you’re hosting? Your event should aim to create a hyper-targeted and personalized experience that includes networking and other breakout opportunities which might lead to meaningful peer exchanges.

4. Design & Create a Physical Experience to Share Digitally

The desired experience will be a more consumer grade experience (think Netflix and their near perfect customer experience)—personalized and easy to access on the attendees’ time and schedule. Technologies will continue to expand with extended reality, remote crowds (think of the NBA) and virtual viewing parties, to name just a few.

Paid social, organic social and influencers/national partners will become even more relevant and imbedded into the platform technology.

5. Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I)

Did you know: Corporations, which commit to more than just profitability or growth, are 63% more likely to survive the pandemic than similar-sized businesses? Marketers, along with HR, are becoming the influencers in DE&I. Be thoughtful about your programing. And these leaders must be willing to step up and challenge their organizations to act in alignment with their values.

Inclusion is the number one thing brands need to stand behind.

Build a diverse partner list—current and potential customers are watching and will be asking about your commitment to hire and source through diverse companies. And prove the value of these investments—track engagement and data to show how it positively impacted organizational goals and objectives. Have the right people in the room, right voices at the table and have the necessary courage to take part in uncomfortable conversations.

6. Be Human & Have Fun

It is important, more than ever to always be human. Keep that human experience in the back of your mind—empathy, connection and relatability. Too often we take what we do very seriously, and sometimes the content we are building around can be a bit dry. Tracey Shechtman of America Express mentioned in her podcast that we should “try to infuse fun into everything you do.” This mentality will help to build engagement with your team, and in turn improve the attendees’ experience.

We will gather together again, and when we do are you prepared to mitigate health risks? Download our white paper to learn best practices for assessing risk as well as other operational considerations. 


Jill Anonson

Jill Anonson

Jill Anonson has over 20 years of diverse experience in event management, incentive travel and sales strategy, and serves as the Events Strategy Advisor at ITA Group. Focused on continuous improvement and challenging standards, she consults clients and team members with impactful strategies and innovative ideas that deliver successful business outcomes. She is a Certified Engagement Practitioner, and certified through Pragmatic Marketing.