4 BIG Predictions for the Event Industry in 2017

2017 is nearly upon us, and it’s time for our annual event technology predictions.

Before getting into the predictions, let me start with a whirlwind tour of the state of the industry.

First, the event sector itself seems to be booming. IMEX, the industry’s bellwether event, set records in everything that they track with 3,250 exhibiting companies, representing 139 countries and generating over 60,000 pre-scheduled appointments for their hosted buyer program. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research is also predicting solid growth in 2017.

The macro industry looks and feels healthy, which bodes well for event tech spend in 2017.

Despite the positive macro tailwinds, the event technology landscape is in flux.  The Department of Justice has finally approved Vista Equity’s $1.65B acquisition of Cvent, the event tech industry’s 800lb gorilla. Vista will almost certainly merge Cvent with Lanyon, creating a short and medium term window of opportunity for up-and-coming vendors to gain momentum while this messy and complex merger works itself out.

Venture capitalists will likely also see this merger as an opportunity to fund new players.

While venture funding is available for event technology vendors as evidenced by recent raises from Social Tables, Event Farm, Splash, eTouches, and yes, DoubleDutch, the bar has been raised. No longer is it enough to show just fast growth, and flashy customer logos. Vendors now need to be able to show superior tech, a fast growth rate, AND healthy unit economics in order to raise outside capital from technology investors. It’s a subtle shift, but an important one which may lead to a more measured influx of new vendors.

The mega-trends of machine learning and heightened security concerns are also making their presence felt, adding pressure for vendors to add specialized skills to their teams. It’s no longer enough to cobble an app or a workflow tool together. You need to have a data story, and a team with real data chops to back up that story. You need to do the hard work to make your system secure, and to enable it to integrate seamlessly with other systems as the event tech stack becomes more complex.

On the planner side, it seems that every corporate planner wants to create the next Dreamforce. Every company above about $10M in revenue (and some earlier) are attempting to build their own event franchises. Why? Quite simply, because they work. Controlling every element of your own customer experience at events is more impactful than exhibiting at someone else’s events. And if you can get attendees to pay, and sponsors to pony up, the numbers make sense really fast.

As we enter 2017, the macro meetings industry is healthy and growing.  The pending Cvent / Lanyon merger signals a changing of the guard and opportunity for up and coming vendors.  And the trend towards every corporate at scale hosting their own customer and industry events bodes well for increased event technology investment and experimentation.  

I enter the year optimistic.

Without further ado, here are my BIG 2017 predictions:

Live is the New Black; a Desire for Personalization is Driving Hyper-focused, Strategic Events

If there is a single leading indicator to the continued health of the meetings and events industry, it’s digital fatigue. While the rest of the marketing organization is competing with waning attention spans, overflowing inboxes, and user-generated content, nothing compares to the kinds of bonds formed during live events. When coupled with a push towards more personalization as evidenced by emerging disciplines like Account Based Marketing (ABM), the pendulum is swinging back hard in the direction of in-person engagement and community building. Increasingly, organizations

Increasingly, marketing organizations across everyone industry are being more thoughtful and strategic about using events to support their business goals, whether it’s building pipeline, converting sales, and building a community of brand advocates. As they hustle to build flagship events for their category, launch roadshow programs and organize niche networking events, we’ll see a trend in more hyperfocused, strategic events starting to emerge. Rather than try to become the event for everyone, these teams will take a laser focus on their direct buyer to deliver highly tailored content and build a community around their brand and category.

Event Technology Vendors Finally Grow Up; Integrations, Stability, and Security Move Front and Center

The world of events has not been immune to the disruptive influence of technology (I wouldn’t be writing this if it were).  But heightened influence and reach brings increased expectations.

As an industry, event technology vendors need to start thinking in terms of platforms rather than point solutions. No single vendor, no matter how large, can hope to solve all of the problems facing event planners; as such, we need to adopt open architectures that allow the right solutions to be stitched together for each and every event.  While innovation will remain top of mind for everyone in the space, you will see a heightened focus on areas of security, stability, and integrations as the industry matures and the demands on event technology increase.

Machine Learning will Unlock the Power of Data from Live Events

With more events deploying more software, we are already seeing a massive increase in the sheer volume of insights we are able to glean from these events. To date, this data has mostly been applied towards optimizing the next event. What content resonated? What speakers bombed?  How do we take what we learned from the event to make the next event better? And how can we take the learnings and insights from one event to finetune and augment our overall marketing and business strategy?

The engineering discipline of Machine Learning is progressing at a pace that our industry is about to become more ambitious about its data in two primary ways.

First, I expect to see more real time applications of how this data is leveraged in the form of content recommendations to attendees, planner alerts for critical data insights, and action oriented triggers for various members of a host team.

Second, I expect more people – more departments, more executives, more decision makers – to care deeply about data from live events.  For corporate planners, I suspect your marketing teams will want to leverage event data sets to inform everything from email campaigns to demand generation to content marketing.  For association planners, I suspect your membership teams will care greatly about live event signals to inform retention campaigns.

Machine Learning is arguably the most exciting discipline emerging from technology today, and its impact will be profound on the event ecosystem.

A New Breed of Modern Event Marketers

Historically, the best event planners have been masters in how to design face-to-face experiences.  From venue, to content, to ambiance, to entertainment, the best among us have left nothing to chance, and no detail unexplored.

But as technology continues to encroach on live meetings, there is a new dimension taking shape that is becoming critical to our success: the design of the digital experience to complement the face to face.

I believe we will see a new breed of meeting and event planners emerge in the form of Live Engagement Marketers. These new event professionals will think not only about logistics and experience, but also in terms of how they can design a digital experience that generates meaningful data exhaust – A/B testing along the way to identify which triggers to pull and when to drive your desired business outcomes and tie yourself closer to revenue.

Any way you slice it, the world and impact of live meetings is surging. Technology is playing a role in the industry’s resurgence, but it’s not the whole story. Face-to-face has always been the most impactful channel of business, and tech is not replacing that… just augmenting it.  But 2017 is bringing new dimensions, challenges, and skills requirements that the modern event planner will need to master to stay current.