by Florian Dieckmann, teambits GmbH, Darmstadt.
A couple of month ago, I was invited to give a seminar on meeting design for an international MICE company. My audience were battle proven meeting planners. Skilled professionals, real world project managers, in short: heros, regularly fighting with corporate communication dragons and the necessary evils of live communication moments, trapped in a mandatory, company-wide, face-to-face training week. I was invited to give an insight about how value chains and value creation changes upon the impact of „digital facilitation“. The first day in Munich in front of about 10 people and the second day in Berlin in front of about 25 people. The first day did not go very well. While I slammed my audience with a long list of our new world’s opportunities, people did not catch fire. The question was: Why? On my feet at 5:00am, I caught the train to Berlin. A four-hour train ride to rethink again. Here is my recap, which won on day two.
The meeting planner I know, at least his manager, prefers a rather simple way to calculate his world: He or she substracts the costs of an event from the customers budget to calculate his margin. And, by applying the company’s incentive calculation scheme, he or she is motivated to increase the profit margin by bringing down the costs. Those are the rules.
Now, if you look at the cost pyramid, what does the average meeting planner see? Like Maarten Vanneste puts it: Mostly the shell of the event. Venue costs. Hospitality. Eventually accommodation. And so on. The average meeting planner might not even be aware about the other costs that customers face. Advertising the event. Paid labour hours of the participants (in case of e.g. internal corporate events). Travel costs. And so forth.
Let’s have a look on the industry’s mantras. What are you trying to achieve while bearing all of these costs? In a nutshell: a return on the participants experience (ROX) and a return on your, or your customer’s, investment in the event (ROI).
Broken down into smaller bits, it means to bring a brand‘s values to life. To gain credibility. To be authentic. To build and deepen bonds with the customer‘s stakeholders. The participant shall feel thrilled, gain motivation, meet great people, shall feel seen, perceived, important, useful and espoused. Participation shall make the participant feel wanted and special. Part of the group. To an extent somewhat much like a worship service. Breaking down the expected returns on investment, it sounds less glittering. From a sales perspective, events are about demand generation, sales opportunities, countable transactions, at least contacts and relationships. Marketing may seek for opportunities to build, test, and measure marketing ideas in a real-world situation, in this case the event. Or other perspectives such as the one of the general management, the organizational development department or the public relations or public affairs people, it is about awareness, about a change of behaviours, or about the improvement of processes by those who are represented by the audience.
So, imagine, you are trained to create as much excitement, emotion and fun, as you can. In the best case, at zero costs. And now, trapped in a mandatory seminar, there is a someone telling you about all of those new and fancy gadgets which the digital world provides for the event industry. What do you see? I guess: Potentially more costs on top of your cost pyramid. You’ll be right. But also sorrowly wrong. The fundament of this misconception lies in the way the event industry tends to think about budgets.
Question. Why is it that a business consultant can drive up a company‘s expenditures by selling days, weeks or months of being around with his team? The answer is simple. Business consults argue advantages, benefits, gains, and profits. They reveal mechanisms of value creation and leverage their potentials by rearranging or creating processes. They drive budgets instead of bemoaning them. As a meeting planner, that should make you think. The key to embrace the full potential is to think like a business consultant. It means to rethink how new event formats, together with digital tools, enable new mechanisms of value creation which did not exist previously.
Fig.2: Where data is driving the value cration in digitally facilitated events in case of marketing automation
So, how do formats and tools change the ROX and ROI during the event cylce? Let me give you some ideas. If your brand‘s values are about listening to your audience, or about being adoptive and open, or about participation, or about an idea you can identify with, your audience might like to experience that you are actually open for participation, that you actually listen, and that there is actually immediate and enduring response. Moreover, if you intend to build and deepen bonds, it helps to be in touch. As each and every participant has a smartphone, they all have a device to be actually in touch before, during, and after being at your event. Now, it is your job to create and direct a conversation that makes actual sense before, during, and after your event. And I particularly mean: A conversation which involves each and everybody individually. Technically speaking, this conversation will involve data. And there, you have the choice to become a business consultant.
Using digital tools as a core part of your event concept, participants will feel thrilled and will gain motivation as soon as they truly can experience a chance to make a difference. People make a difference by their input. They have something to say. They want to express themselves. The tool to express yourself in an event can be, and will be, your smartphone. Its usage is highly complementary to a classic microphone. But in contrast, everybody on site today has a smartphone. By using the smartphone, everybody is an author. A photographer. In short: An artist. The smartphone enables your audience to chat with each other. It enables people to meet other great people. As soon as participants‘ contributions turn up on stage, the contributor will feel the excitement of being heard and seen. He or she will feel perceived, important, useful and espoused. Digitally facilitated events make the participant feel wanted and special. Part of the group. Changing the world.
There is more. Digitally faclitated events deliver far more return on investment than non digitally facilitated ones. If you seek for appropriate key performance indicators, you may start to ask questions such as: How many topics, issues, ideas, products have been described by the participants? How many solutions have been drafted in writing? By whom? Which one have been prioritized and legitimized by the audience? And what are the estimated costs of those which were ranked as the top 5 accordingly?
From a sales perspective, digital facilitation actually documents demand generation and leads to sales opportunities. Your digital infrastructure enables you to count actual transactions. And, if integrated into a digitized follow-up concept, contacts and relationships created during an event will feed back into CRM driven sales operations. You see where this is heading to. The generated value depends on the specific perspective taken by each of the customer’s buying centre stakeholders. Changing awareness, change of behaviours, or improving of processes by those who are represented by the audience. Digitization is about information processes. Look out for those first if you want to join the future of the event industry.