7 Noteworthy Lessons From the Experiential Marketing Summit

Jill Anonson
Jill Anonson

2017 Experiential Marketing Summit

The Experiential Marketing Summit might be a wrap, but, along with conference swag, we packed away a suitcase’s worth of takeaways for event marketers of all kinds.

The conference, which took place May 3–5 in Chicago’s McCormick Place, gathered hundreds of the top minds in experiential events and marketing, representing companies such as Twitter, Adobe and IBM, among others.

If you missed out—don’t worry! We took notes. Here are seven useful lessons we took away from the Event Marketer Experiential Marketing Summit.

1. Harness the Totality of Your Event Data

Across the board, the hottest topic that every keynote speaker touched on was capturing data and utilizing it to improve events. Understanding the data you receive and how to apply it is a game-changer for the events industry, and it’s growing more and more indispensable. No longer will events be designed with guessing—data will back up our decisions.

You can create real value by taking data and turning it into insights, then converting those insights into action. Also, with finance and procurement seeking quantitative budget justifications, data can provide a variety of measures from the impact of the experience to consumer consideration to sales performance.

Colleen Bisconti, Vice President of Global Conferences and Events at IBM, takes the idea of data gathering to another level, beyond the data gathered exclusively from your event.

“To be truly effective, we have to harness the totality of data we have on each and every person,” she said. “What products do they use? What other events have they gone to? How else have they engaged with us, even going so far as to look at their social media footprint?”

2. Immerse Attendees in Your Brand

Your brand isn’t just a logo and color palate. With a well-orchestrated event, it’s a feeling that can be experienced with all five senses. And you’ll see results when your audience is totally immersed in your brand.

Ryan Thompson, Brand Director for Mirrorball, helped propel beer franchise Dos Equis to 14% year-over-year growth since 2005. What was his secret? Placing the intriguing story of “The Most Interesting Man in the World” at the center of their events and telling the story of the character’s charisma and charm.

By thinking outside of the ordinary, focusing on the importance of the story and relating every element of your event to it, your audience will be absorbed into your event brand.

Jameson Whiskey took the idea of brand immersion and made it more permanent through the creation of a “brand home.”

As John Carroll, Project Director for Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard, explains, by converting their 18th-century Dublin distillery into a beloved consumer experience—where people can see, feel and taste the brand with depth, history and sensory engagement—tourists and locals alike flock to the destination.

3. Look at New Event Technologies

Carroll also emphasized the importance of event technologies that you can weave into brand experiences. Not only do they create an impressive presence, attendees see that you’re not afraid to push the envelope a little—both important traits of a powerful brand.

An immersive event experience can be made even deeper by incorporating new event technologies into the mix: virtual reality, wristbands for wallet-free mobile payments, emotion recognition technology, retargeting advertisements and more.

The new hot tech tool: chatbots. By including artificial intelligence (AI) components to interact with people over messaging apps, these apps can personalize content delivery and have meaningful conversations with customers at scale, opening enormous doors for businesses to connect, collaborate, learn and innovate.

4. Connect Your Story to the Experience

Helen Stoddard, Head of Global Events for Twitter, hit the nail on the head: telling a story without having an experience is just a book, and an experience without a story is just a cocktail party. Event marketers are where story meets experience.

Put another way, the message of your event must be ironed out before anything else. To create that valuable story, make sure you define your narrative: What is your message, and what do you want your audience to understand? Then how are you going to communicate that message?

For every event she touches, Stoddard uses a three-part criteria to ensure success:

  • The experience must be unique. If your competitor can copy your whole event, it’s not really unique to you.
  • Amplify your message. Make sure you’re getting credit for your message. It’s not about a celebrity visit, it’s about a celebrity visit at your event.
  • Give a call to action. If you don’t ask people to buy, sign up, download—whatever your goal is—it won’t happen.


Story w/out experience is a book. Experience w/out storytelling is a cocktail party. YOU are where story meets experience. @helenjstoddard

— Sunshine Joy (@sunshinestyles) May 4, 2017

5. Continually Transform  

“We, as event marketers, often find ourselves being reactionary instead of strategic as we build our event plans,” said Bisconti in her keynote.

That means event marketers must continually look for ways to improve and engage new audiences and transform our own capabilities to best address business needs. That’s the difference between planners and event marketers, she said—event marketers are innovators and strategists, not order-takers.

Two major aspects where continuous transformation will soon come into play, said Bisconti, is the utilization of AI and hybrid events.

Through AI such as IBM Watson’s cognitive technology, event marketers can put data to use in understanding what attendees want and creating elements of the event to allow attendees to experience things their way.

Bisconti also reiterated that events need a digital platform that brings the event to people who are unable to be there. Executing hybrid events, where elements of a digital meeting are incorporated into in-person ones, reaches a much larger audience than a traditional face-to-face event.

No matter how your audience experiences your event, it’s important to personalize it and make the event experience memorable.

Watch the keynote speech from Colleen Bisconti, Vice President of Global Conferences and Events at IBM.



6. Build Your Sales Pipeline Around Events

Today, 91% of CMOs are responsible for their pipeline and events are an undeniably important part of the marketing mix to help generate that revenue. Accordingly, a top priority for CMOs is converting leads to sales.

That’s why it’s important to know how events as a marketing channel contribute to sales activities for your company.

A good place to start this alignment of sales and marketing priorities, according to Parth Mukherjee, Head of Marketing at Jifflenow, is to focus on planning events around your sales pipeline. By focusing on your pipeline, event marketers can target leads in all stages of the lifecycle:

  • For top of the funnel leads, digitally nudge them towards your event and bring in net new qualified leads.
  • For middle of the funnel leads, nurture current prospects and use the event as an opportunity to advance any stalled deals.
  • For current customers, build on current relationships and use the event to establish trust.

7. Emotions Inspire Action

As Stoddard said, if you don’t ask your people to do anything at your event, they won’t. Further than that, the way you make that ask plays a part, too. Emotions matter in communications and they inspire real action in your people.

Emotions are universal. They allow you to connect with a universal audience, long after the event is over. To effectively design an emotional event, map out what emotions you want the attendee to feel throughout, then create experiences designed to deliver those emotions.

Don’t forget to consider the interactions your people have with each other, the story you have to share and the space itself to create unforgettable experiences.


Strategic events—sales kickoff meetings, global and user conferences, expos, product launches, press events and more—are central to any successful organization’s overall marketing strategy. If you’re looking for ways to make your event more strategic, check out our ebook.

Strategic Events

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.