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Friday Finds: 6 Experiential Event Planning Trends & Ideas

You’ve seen the sentiment on a T-shirt, a bumper sticker, or an Instagram feed: ‘Collect experiences, not things.’

The events industry has heard the call to action, and today, experiential event planning is hot like a marshmallow roast at a beach bonfire. Or a wok in a cooking class during a corporate retreat. Or a pop-up cafe’s patio heater.

And the trend shows no sign of slowing.

How to embrace experiential event planning

Experiential events get your audience’s attention and leave them with a positive, personal experience they will remember. This kind of event increases engagement, promotes personal connection, and can have a long-lasting impact.

Don’t get left behind, twiddling your thumbs. As a subset of the 19 top event trends of 2019, here are 6 big trends in experiential events.

And here’s a tip: it’s not just millennials who are interested in experiences. Experiential events can appeal to a wide variety of audiences. Marketers, take note: According to Statista, a whopping 93-percent of consumers claimed that live events had a larger influence on them than TV ads.

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1. Turbo-charging creativity: Anything goes!

Think outside the box—in fact, use that box for a playful building project that fosters community,  or fill the box with notes about experiences people dream about. Today, people crave opportunities to work, share, create, and enjoy things—together. Here are a few ideas to kick things off for event marketing, outdoor weddings, and corporate retreats:

Event marketing ideas:

  • Pop-up events. Cafe, store, playground, rest-and-refresh station. If it’s where your intended audience might be anyway, surprise ‘em!
  • Public transportation. It’s definitely where people are already, and something out of the ordinary can really grab their attention. Think bus stops with a furniture ‘makeover’, subway stairs that look like piano keys, or even decor on subway poles.
  • Shift perspectives. Decor + mirrors = unlimited creativity. Travel companies sometimes use this to take people on a vacation; one taxi company in South Africa used it to remind people that drunk driving is a crime.
  • Your product in use. This event marketing strategy stands the test of time. Make yoga clothes or ski clothes? Host yoga events and ski events!

Popular activities for outdoor weddings:

  • Huge games are…huge right now. Lawn versions of games like Jenga, Connect Four, and checkers abound.
  • Set up a photo booth—complete with costumes, of course.
  • Designate a corner for kid-style games for kids and adults: hula hoops, Twister, piñatas, and more.
  • Lay out Mad Libs written just for the occasion
  • Organize scavenger hunts teams by table.

Popular activities for corporate retreats:

  • Cooking classes. Yum!
  • Work together to escape puzzle rooms.
  • Get teams laughing together with a comedy improv workshop.
  • Scavenger hunts–collect the items as in a traditional hunt, or arrange a photo scavenger hunt.
  • Volunteering puts the team together for a purpose they can feel good about.

2. Taking technology out of the equation—at least for a little while

Even the tech-heaviest events are organizing face-to-face, tech-free interactions for attendees. Provide a range of recreation opportunities suited to the space and the audience: board games, mini golf, yoga. Or set up breakout rooms for unplugging with a range of seating options and games, fidget toys, and/or snacks.

When events do use technology, they’re thinking about using it to connect people, not separate them. Build excitement in remote audiences by showing event prep, for example, or let remote and in-person attendees interact via hashtags.

Other event-related technology needs conscious planning to become connective. If there is a big AR, VR, or robot draw everyone’s jazzed about, provide an opportunity for them to discuss it with others who tried the tech.

Create a gathering space around the action to facilitate conversations.

3. Using social media to make events truly…social

With thoughtful strategies, social media can be useful—and connective—at every stage of the game:

experiential event planning

Create buzz before the event

This helps fill the event. Planners create shareable content (think pics of the venue, goodie bag stuffing, maybe a series about event prep, in the form of an Instagram story) and keep people connected to the event and looking forward to the big day.

Sustain buzz during the event

Snapchats and Instagram pics during the event continue the connection with remote audiences. Event staff can post pics of key moments as they happen, making far-flung people almost feel like they’re there (and wish they were!): “Registration tent is hoppin’.” “So-and-so makes her way to the stage.” “Lunchtime is the right time…for sammiches.”

If there’s a wide audience already, and/or a super attractive event lineup, live streaming can bring the event to even more folks. Announce the live stream timing well in advance, and stream for a MINIMUM of 15 minutes—ideally an hour or more—so stragglers don’t miss the whole thing.

Some events allow both remote and in-person attendees to interact with the event via hashtags. Regardless of location, people can make suggestions for an improv show, ask questions of a speaker, or tweet responses to questions that display on a screen.

Amplify the buzz after event

As attendees talk about their positive experiences and post their awesome pics, the event reaches far more people than it actually hosted. Score!

Social media is also a great way to address the bane of experiential marketing: tracking that impact. Shares and likes give you insight into how far your event reached online. Use that information to demonstrate the impact of the event to clients and entice sponsors to future events.

Strike the right balance and events will be popular for using technology creatively while also providing that tasty, sought-after non-tech-augmented human interaction.

4. Going local and ultra-authentic

‘Local’ and ‘authentic’ are big in all types of events right now—not just experiential events. But there are obvious opportunities for experiential event planners to get super creative with these trends.

To start, look at unusual venues, especially ones with local flavor. Think art galleries, local cafes, historical venues, parks, piers, libraries, lakes, showrooms. And don’t discount private homes—especially homes typical of a locale: A Hollywood mansion, a New York penthouse, a Kentucky horse farm, a Vermont ski chalet.

Then go local with your sourcing. If it makes sense, incorporate authentic dishes in the F&B mix. You don’t have to adhere strictly to a location-based theme—your Memphis shindig can serve more than iced tea, BBQ, cornbread, grits, and okra. But do consider serving some of those things. (Especially fried okra. Mmmm.)

Let attendees know if you are supporting local businesses, especially when it comes to food and entertainment. The local flavor will be a draw, and your event will reap the goodwill benefits of local engagement.

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5. Targeting niche audiences, and giving them warm-and-fuzzy feels

An experiential event is like any other event: It has a set of goals and an intended audience.

With a scattershot audience, a relatively large percentage of the attendees will never help you meet an event’s goals. That means a lot of hard work is going to waste before the event even gets off the ground. But with a targeted audience that can largely support its goals, the event will yield the greatest possible return on all that work.

So experiential events aren’t necessarily big–and they aren’t necessarily frequent. Planners and businesses are deciding it’s better to have fewer and/or smaller events that better target a specific audience, or a small handful of complementary audiences.

Within those target audiences, though, planners want to make sure everyone is welcome! Successful planners are thinking carefully about ways to invite the widest possible spectrum of people from the target audience(s).

For example, are families likely to make up a part of the target audience? Don’t provide barriers for them; welcome them. Advertise your kid pricing (12 & under are free) and say what there will be for kids to do at the event.

At a minimum, consider providing a safe place for kids to enjoy some low-tech, unstructured fun: to run around with capes or wings and blow off steam, or— in smaller spaces— to blow bubbles or build with blocks.

Provide a mothers’ room for nursing mothers. Make your event easy to navigate with kids, putting delicate or breakable items behind barriers.

If part of your audience might be expected to have special dietary needs—kosher or vegetarian meals, for example—be thoughtful about the F&B. If your event overlaps with a cultural celebration, have a nod to that in your decor for those attendees who will notice and appreciate the inclusion.

experiential event planning ideas

6. Making room for self-care

Brands are experimenting with offering self-care experiences and services that might appeal to their target audience. For example, shoe retailer DSW now operates The W Nail Bar in some stores. While they enjoy manicures and pedicures, customers can reflect on how great it feels to pamper themselves…and how cute that new pedi would look in some open-toed sandals.

Lush, the UK company famous for its handmade cosmetics, operates spas in some retail stores now. Customers get some relaxing self-care AND the chance to try Lush products.

Get inspired by these ideas and dream up self-care offerings that make sense in the context of your events. Chair massages. Guided meditations. Makeovers. These ideas would work best as breakout offerings within larger events, so your guests can decide on their own whether or not to participate—keeping the self in self-care.

Read more on combining traditional and experiential marketing. Increase your social media know-how with this free guide to social media for events. Or get inspired with 5 top experiential marketing companies!

30 tips to drive social media engagement for events

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