By Daria Knupp, Senior Content Marketing Manager
Over the last two years, the association events sector has experienced significant changes. We swiftly pivoted from in-person events to offering virtual experiences that required out-of-the-box thinking.
2021 did see the re-emergence of in-person events, but each new Covid-19 variant offered us a new curveball. Despite the recent concerns around Omicron, we believe the events industry is eager to come back bigger and better than ever. This enthusiasm has driven new trends that we see developing over the coming months in 2022.
During a live webinar, “22 Association Event Trends for 2022,” Personify’s marketing leaders, Erin Sullivan, MBA, and Rich Vallaster, CEM, DES, recently spoke to more than 800 association professionals about this widely discussed topic.
Here are the 2022 event trends they delved into during the discussion:
Trend #1: The Big “O”
Vallaster stressed that other variants such as Omicron would continue to impact our lives, and we must react quickly.
“Given the desire to react quickly, our attendees and exhibitors will be impacted as policies change at the local, regional, state, national, and international level,” explained Vallaster. “We all have to adjust faster.”
Trend #2: Virtual Scars
Sullivan mentioned that shortly after the pandemic hit in 2020, virtual attendance increased due to convenience and flexibility. “But let’s face it, in 2022, we are all exhausted from virtual events,” Sullivan added.
A recent study found a negative 48 net promoter score from exhibitors regarding their experience at virtual events.
In addition, it is difficult for exhibitors to engage at virtual events, so it is no surprise that many people are turning their attention to hybrid and in-person events, which historically drive significantly more revenue.
Trend #3: Hybrid Redefined (Again)
For most organizations and events, cost, ability, desire, audience needs, and demand will prevent subcutaneous events from occurring online and in person.
“Due to the costs, I think what is going to happen is hybrid will focus on community and the online experiences surrounding in-person events,” said Vallaster.
For example, a keynote speech may be recorded and later shared but not broadcast live due to monetary constraints.
Trend #4 Economic Pressures
Inflation, wage increases, “the great resignation,” and supply chain challenges will not only impact your event but will also impact everyone involved with your event.
“I encourage you to think about the levers you can pull to adjust to some of those pressures,” Sullivan said.
Some ideas introduced were to reduce your food and beverage expenses and select a smaller venue space to make up for some of the differences you may see in attendance revenue.
Trend #5: DEI
As event organizers, we must be careful to maintain a consistent level of professionalism and quality throughout all parts of the event. Everything we do, from the content to our team – both accuracy and quality – needs to represent our audiences.
“It’s critical for businesses to examine their DEI processes throughout the planning process for 2022, and not simply commit to them but also follow through on them,” Vallaster added.
Trend #6: Politics Play a Bigger Role
Another 2022 event trend discussed was the role of politics. And not COVID-19 politics, but laws in your event state and location.
“If there are controversial laws where your event is, some attendees and exhibitors may walk with their dollars,” Sullivan said. “This is troubling because many events are planned way in advance, but new laws may take effect fairly quickly.”
It’s more vital than ever to keep an eye on the situation in your event’s host state and prepare for contingencies.
Trend #7: Agile Everything
Never has budgeting and planning for various scenarios been so important.
Vallaster and Sullivan stressed that content needs to be timely and adjusted to reflect current conditions. In addition, marketing and communicating to your audience must be a cross-functional effort with the ability to change at a moment’s notice.
Trend #8: Association Complacency
On the next trend, Sullivan talked about how associations now may be facing new and unexpected competition.
“Show organizers are entrepreneurial by nature, and you may find yourself in an unexpected situation,” Sullivan added. “It’s important to be aware and prepared for that scenario.”
Trend #9: Irrational Pricing
Despite increased costs, price sensitivity concerns for exhibitors and attendees are driving less than optimal increases in pricing.
While event organizers may lock in the price of their venue, they have no idea what the price of a sandwich might be a year from now.
“We must be sensitive, yet we must also communicate that expenses are going up,” Vallaster added.
Trend #10: Streamlining Efforts
To make the most of our time, Sullivan stressed the importance of utilizing technology to save time and simplify our life.
Due to simplified paperwork, organizers will have more time to focus on relationships and engagement. Sullivan recommended not wasting your time filling out paper contracts; instead, calling your exhibitors. Then, send them an online contract to complete after the call.
Trend #11: Three Attendee Types
Both Vallaster and Sullivan approached the three attendee types next:
- Hard No (They will not be attending an in-person event this year.)
- Maybe (They are on the fence.)
- Hell Yeah (They will be there for sure.)
“You have to put your attention on the ‘maybe’s,’ regardless, ” Vallaster said. “They’re undecided. It will be crucial to a successful event if you can persuade them that it is safe, and they will make the decision to participate.”
Trend #12: ROTI (Return on Time Investment)
There is no doubt that the pandemic has forced us to pay greater attention to work-life balance than ever before. And, because of recent events, your audience members are looking for ways to make the most of their financial and time resources away from home.
“Make sure you are giving your attendees a compelling reason to come,” Sullivan said.
Trend #13: Just in Time
We need to adjust our marketing and event timelines. You need to incentivize registering for events early. You need to think about your registration policies too.
People sign up later and make their selections closer to the event, so your procedures must adapt to this new mindset.
Trend #14: Print Shrinks (Again)
Print Week reports that paper alone has increased 8-15% this year along with increased shipping, ink, labor, etc.
Change is occurring at a quicker pace. Your print is outdated if your keynote speaker gets COVID-19 the day before the event. Sullivan advised attendees to embrace digital and mobile technologies.
Trend #15: Listening
In this ever-changing environment, the ability to respond quickly and in-flight (if feasible) is essential, from social listening to market research and focus groups.
You must consider your communication strategies and adapt to continual changes.
Trend #16: Bespoke Approaches
Exhibitors and sponsors now want custom-designed approaches. You need to work with them on what they want to do at their event.
“I am a firm believer in collaborating with them so that you can comprehend their needs,” Vallaster continued.
Trend #17: Harness Community
A significant trend is to continue developing event communities and engaging your audiences year-round, and this will increase satisfaction, in-person revenues, and attendance.
Consider your online community like an ATM, where your attendees have access to your exhibitors at any time of year. Engagement can happen even after the event.
Trend #18: Showcasing Value
Vallaster said that your event offers the complete buyer journey in a few hours to a few days. Vallaster continued that events bring people together intelligently and curated access.
“Events create an environment where it all happens at that moment. That exploration, all that value, happens at that event,” Vallaster added.
Trend #19: Solution Messaging
Solution messaging has become so critical in the past two years, and it is imperative that you communicate how you solve your audience’s challenges. Identify the problems and offer comprehensive solutions.
Trend #20: Focus on What Matters
Streamline (or cut) the frills. Many are going unnoticed.
People are cutting things that people aren’t noticing. People are so focused on networking that they care less about frills.
“Do it the best that you can with budget constraints,” Vallaster added. “Focus on what matters, and that will ultimately drive up your satisfaction scores.”
Trend #21: Rethink Success
Both Vallaster and Sullivan agreed that we must alter our definition of success. Fewer attendees do not equal less for the exhibitors/sponsors/speakers etc.
“I think it’s critical to take a step back and rethink success,” Sullivan added. “Think about quality versus quantity. The people who choose to attend your conference are more likely qualified buyers.”
Trend #22: Incrementalism
Most attendees are just trying to get back to the new normal. It’s a lot of the same, however. It’s essential, though, to be realistic, be bold, and be confident.
It’s vital not to waiver in your commitment to show that you can, and you will safely return to in-person events.
That’s a Wrap
As we continue to face uncertain times, remembering the importance of in-person events is more important than ever. They provide an opportunity for us to come together and share our knowledge, experiences, and ideas. We hope these 2022 event trends will help you plan your events successfully in 2022 and the years to come.
Click here to watch a recording of the webinar.