We need to design events for the eventual decision makers.
I can’t remember a time when companies weren’t interested in understanding what their customers wanted, but I have lived long enough to witness an incredible acceleration in our ability to gather and analyze pertinent data. In the events industry — and I assume this is true for most business sectors — our ability to mine robust data about our end users (event attendees) has informed our growth strategies. This is all good, but a recent study — the Freeman Trends Report – Q1 2023 — conducted by Freeman serves as a reminder that future growth in the world of B2B events requires that we understand how industry trends are already shifting with the emerging generation of attendees. We need to look beyond the batter’s box to see who’s in the on-deck circle and who is waiting on the bench.
In the events industry, and especially for event managers, this means we need to rethink the implications of our data. The audiences we targeted for our research, based on what we know about who traditionally attends events, is based on a broad demographic profile aged 20 to 55+. But our data show that the age of attendees has dropped from a pre-pandemic average of 51 to 45 in the last 18 months. The average attendee is getting younger, and we must adjust our acquisition strategies accordingly. By considering more closely the preferences of the group we call the Next Gen Event Goer (NGEG), meaningful differences emerge. How meaningful? Well, if we fail to offer relevant value to the demographic group that is already dominating our current audience, we won’t have a future audience. We must continuously monitor our data to make sure we are offering relevant, valuable content and formats in order to keep the pipeline of event attendees filled with people eager to participate.
Case in point: Traditionally, business event attendees have given a nod to the value of professional development; they prioritized seeing new products and business solutions. But for the NGEG group (20- to 44-year olds) the value they place on event participation is strategically focused on how the content and programming help them achieve their professional goals. It’s as if this group is wary of being pulled in too many directions; they look at their time at a conference as a chance to really concentrate on what matters in terms of their career goals. Period.
This emerges not just a need to learn, but to discover. NGEGs aren’t looking for another echo chamber or Intro 101 course. They are eager to attend educational sessions for the purpose of truly learning something new. And while they value in-person experiences, they are choosing events and the format (online vs. in person) based on the opportunity for a unique experience.
Here’s another interesting differentiator. While our survey of the general population of eventgoers indicates that in-person events provide the most trustworthy information sources, the NGEG audience is resistant to considering a single source as trustworthy. When pressed to rank-order sources of information, they favor academic leaders as the most trusted and discount both political and social media influencers.
It’s also significant that the NGEG group is demographically more diverse than previous generations and sees inclusivity as a core workplace tenet. While 34 percent of all survey respondents indicated that a commitment to diversity was seen as “very influential,” 41 percent of NGEGs listed diversity as a priority. It will be interesting to see if this number increases as more Gen Z players join the ranks of B2B event attendees.
There are a number of insight-rich nuances that the Trends Report makes clear. (I’ll be back with a follow-up blog to consider another of my favorites.) But what is irrefutable is this: regardless of an event audience’s stated preferences for formats and offerings, event managers will need to be intentional about anticipating NGEG preferences. They are already deciding where to turn for career-advancing resources. They are already scrutinizing your brand relevance. They are already redefining the next 15 years of business-to-business events. If you build it, they will come.
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