Nigel Ruffell: Branded Events – The 2020 trends that will transform marketing events

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Nigel Ruffell: Branded Events – The 2020 trends that will transform marketing events

A leading live brand experience creative is predicting more brands and event creators will follow the early adopters of innovative technology that has raised the bar in the events space in the past 12 months.


Nigel Ruffell (above), the founder of The Company We Keep said personalisation – AR, holograms, VR, A.I. and sustainability are the way forward as branded events are surging.

Latest research shows a massive 32% jump in the number of marketers who believe events are the single-most effective marketing channel over digital advertising, email marketing and content marketing within the past 12 months according to event software company, Bizzabo.

Between 2017 and 2018 the number of companies organising 20 or more events per year increased by 17%. The buzz has continued to grow, led in no small part by new technologies that have injected creativity into event appeal.

Says Ruffell: “Some trends are continuing to grow and develop. VR-enhanced events are ever-evolving and the introduction of AR for events, for example, aids immensely in storytelling. But one of the strongest emerging trends is the personalisation and customisation of the experience.”

He pinpoints five trends we can expect to gain momentum in 2020.

1. Personalisation

It’s no longer a one solution fits all scenario in which people turn up and all have the same experience, do the same thing and leave with the same feeling. Everyone wants to be recognised as an individual. So what is going to matter even more in 2020 is taking people down a journey that they will get the most out of. That depends on finding out what individuals are interested in, what their challenges are and what they’re trying to get out of the event, and creating a journey within the event that actually solves that. Obviously, we can’t get to a point in big events where everyone has an exact individual experience but what we’re trying to do is curate those journeys so that each person who is interested in certain aspects goes down one route, meets the best people for their needs and goes to the relevant sessions for them so that their experience is tailored and they get the best rewards. The aim now is about offering, “We recommend you see this. We recommend you listen to this speaker…etc.” rather than simply, “this is what we’re selling at the moment,” and letting attendees find their way through the event on their own.

2. VR gives way to AR

With VR, you can put a client into the experience so they can understand and assess the experience beforehand. Now by integrating VR and AI, attendees who have chosen the things they’d like to get out of it can have a virtual assistant guide them through the event. That guide may be visual or using prompts like bots. Two of the major assets of AR over VR are that it doesn’t require a great deal of hardware because it’s almost entirely software-intensive and it can be operated through event participants’ and guests’ own devices. What matters a lot, though, is being careful not to put in new technologies just for the sake of having them there for wow factor. They have to make sense. Be useful. The reason we run a live event is so that people can get that face-to-face experience. The VR or AI additions must make that experience better, not replace those one-to-one conversations and live elements.

3. New Technologies

The rate of technological advancement is not going to slow down in the foreseeable future. Being at the forefront of new technologies gives an event an edge, adding in elements that make it stand out in a densely populated, highly competitive environment. At the moment we’re looking at a very new solution that has been rolled out in Hong Kong but hasn’t been rolled out here yet, for example. It’s 3D holograms. We’re looking at it first to bring characters to life. It can also be used to bring people into the event virtually when they can’t physically take part. Then there’s the other side – bringing in attendees virtually. That’s one of the related advances of VR technology. With the use of Oculus, for example, people can feel as though they are actually there, look around the event and see the live presenters on stage. Personally, I don’t ever want to create something that loses that one-to-one experience though. As immersive and as great as VR is, I don’t think it will replace asking advice, having those face-to-face interactions. For us, it’s if you can’t get there, then here’s the most real alternative experience.

Soon to come, too, are online sponsors and online sessions, and packaging up individual experiences of an event so that people can take it away with them, take it back to the office to share with their team. This will create longevity of the event. Gone are the days when an event can afford to last just for the day or days during which it is open. The appeal of virtual attendance is also that it has a cost-saving element, especially for companies who might otherwise have to send a number of people overseas or interstate.

4. Sustainability

More and more clients want to make their event sustainable or be seen to make it sustainable. For example Zoom, the video conferencing people has a very stringent travel policy which aligns with their product – they can video conference anyone from anywhere in the world. At The Company We Keep our sustainability considerations go down as far as the badges, which used to be plastic. We make sure that they are material that can be recycled and assess everything for its ability to be recycled and/or saved and reused for events.

5. Sensory Experiences

Long gone are the days when you “visited” an experience. Now you experience it, and increasingly that sensory experience gets closer to reality. The outdoors can be brought inside, for example, with night sky ceilings, real plants, natural materials, like wooden beams and trellises. Elements that you can touch, hear and smell. For the Salesforce World Tour event we created a national park space, with rock and water, Astroturf grass and real plants. We had fruit on the trees so that you could actually pick it off the tree yourself rather than get it from a counter. The aim is to transport people from their everyday life and make them part of the world that your event is trying to create. This ties in with the most important part of an event – storytelling. A great event is very much like a great theatre experience. You watch a musical or a play and it takes you on a whole journey with the characters. Any live event should do the same. It should hold attendees in the palm of its hand. Attendees should be taken in by what the event means and why it’s there, should feel an emotional response to the experience.