Events are among the oldest business models in history. People have been meeting face-to-face to trade goods and conduct business for thousands of years—and the model remains relevant because it continually evolves to meet seller and buyer needs.
Today, delegates don’t simply want to consume content and network with industry peers, they want to be inspired, enlightened and leave with meaningful connections.
An experiential core is now required to attract and engage the right attendees. More than a business or knowledge exchange, exhibitions must incorporate a sense of play and discovery to create defining, memorable moments.
So as event marketers, how can we create these defining moments?
According to Chip and Dan Heath, New York Times bestselling authors of The Power of Moments, people often assess experiences by recalling flagship moments —peaks, the best moments; pits, the worst; and transitions, the beginning and end.
“In our research we found that [defining moments] are made up of one or more of the following: elevation—moments that rise above the everyday; insight—moments that rewire our understanding of the world or ourselves; pride—moments that capture achievements and courage; and connection—moments that are strengthened because they are shared.”
As human beings, moments are what we remember and cherish. ‘Pits’ can occur due to error or negligence—like when the wifi doesn’t work—but ‘peaks’ need to be engineered by design.
Engage the senses
Boosting sensory appeal is one way to create peak moments, says Cato Hunt, director and head of innovation at Space Doctors, a London-based cultural analysis and semiotic insight agency, with offices in Singapore.
“For sensory encounters to be truly effective and powerful, the environment must be primed to deliver the intended experience,” she says. “All the aspects of an event must be congruent, but sensory elements are often forgotten and left to the last minute—such as the choice of music, or what the experience should smell like.
“All sensory experiences are uniquely personal, but people often have common visceral responses to sensory stimuli if they have the same context.”
Space Doctors recently worked with outdoor holiday provider Canopy & Stars, on an event that included building in a treehouse ‘hotel room’ suspended over Bristol Harbourside.
“We helped them develop the concept of a natural haven in the city, influencing the experience journey and design through sensory semiotics—for example, recommending specific materials and scents like moss, ferns, clay and wool, which connected to the rejuvenating qualities of the British woodland.”
According to Hunt, the more a brand stimulates the senses, the more memorable it becomes. So how can we use semiotics to imbue an exhibition hall with an emotional, sensorial experience?
Hunt says: “Appreciate the idea that ‘everything communicates’ and that the smallest of details matter, like colour, lighting, spatial layout, signage and furniture design.
“Remember to ‘experience’ and ‘feel’ your exhibition as you’re creating it. Don’t get lost in the process. Many things that make exhibitions underwhelming can be remedied with this perspective,” she adds. “Of course, creativity is always at the heart of the best experiences, so don’t be afraid to break with the norms, or disrupt them in some way.”
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) embraced this approach at the ITB Asia travel trade show held in October. Keen to flaunt to its new ‘Passion Made Possible’ destination brand, STB teamed up with ad agency TBWA to create a series of multi-sensory encounters that brought the brand to life on the show floor.
Three immersive ‘Passion Kitchens’ were set-up with a collection of interactive spice trails that took attendees on a culinary journey through Singapore. Attendees could smell, touch and even taste local ingredients like sour plum, curry power and ginger, while a 360-degree virtual reality experience offered a look inside Singapore’s renowned restaurant kitchens as chefs prepared popular dishes like chilli crab and fish head curry.
At the end of the journey, attendees were given packets of ready-to-use curry mixtures to recreate the dishes at home; a small touch that adds value and keeps the (brand) moment alive well beyond the three-day duration of the show.
Engaging the senses through ‘moments’ is a vital element of live communication and can help brands create stories with emotional ‘stickiness’.
And according to Hong Kong-based event industry veteran, Darren Kerr, we all need to get a little more emotional. “Let’s be frank, people say they make decisions based on rational judgment—and it certainly features in the process—but ultimately we know the trigger is purely an emotional one,” he says.
“That’s why people have such strong preferences and allegiances to one brand over another, even when the differences are often negligible at best. It’s how they ‘feel’ about the brand. Not just what they know.”
He adds: “People are driven by their emotional core and are naturally drawn to the magic of stories, which have the power to elicit emotions. They will engage with brands that provide a strong narrative.”