The annual XLIVE Conference & Expo, which just wrapped last week at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay, is a celebration of big ideas that make live events extraordinary.
The XLIVE community ecosystem boasts an impressive cross section of music festivals, e-sports, event technology, culinary, and brand activations, and each year brings together the biggest names across these various event industries to share ideas that will revolutionize experiences and experience learning.
In the heart of the buzzing XLIVE Expo floor stood a beautiful AirClad structure which housed more than just comfy white couches. This quiet retreat in the center of the chaos would be where speakers took refuge before and after dropping the mic at panels or keynotes.
As the XLIVE 2017 speaker lounge sponsor, Cramer had exclusive access to XLIVE's top speakers, and we decided to capitalize on that by sending part of our content and activations team, Jonathan Ronzio and Tim Owens, to dig into a candid interview series with some unsuspecting industry leaders.
Okay, so Pete Rose wasn't an XLIVE Speaker, but hey, it's Vegas baby! You never know who you'll run into.
All of those interview videos with the official XLIVE Speakers can now be enjoyed on our Facebook page, but to summarize, the "Elements of Extraordinary" series focused on discovering what exactly makes a moment memorable. We aimed to break down the pieces of impactful experiences to understand why, at their core where concept met consumer, they worked.
And what we found were five big ideas resonating across industries, across backgrounds, across speakers—the five elements of an extraordinary experience.
There were several vendors at XLIVE, presenting as well as in the exhibit area, providing services around personalization and customization. From onsite data collection and tracking services to onsite t-shirt or hat design and printing services. This is proving to be more and more important for a host of reasons.
From an attendee perspective, it allows the event to personalize their experience based on pre-event data collection, and continue to customize their journey as they explore their onsite experience.
From a brand perspective, you are able to better customize the attendee journey as well as use the data collected onsite for future event planning and experience customization.
From an event perspective, it allows them to have data on their attendee in order to better service and set up their sponsors for success in future years.
Two of the speakers we had a chance to chat with were Valerie Cox, Director Data Insights at Experient, and Jennifer Justice, President of Corporate Development at Superfly. Here is what they had to say on the importance of personalization.
"You want insight, to know what they're interested in, and excite, to keep them engaged the whole time. That's really the ideal experience for any attendee. It's, show me why it's worth being here, and show me that you know me and what's going to make me happy. Using a insights data provider like Experient really looks at that onsite experience, and really looks into what was the most important event element to one participant versus another." - Valerie Cox
"Personalization has to start with the research, the narrative, and the storytelling. It has to have a purpose. It can't just be I want to make a bunch of money and I'll put up some stages, and here's a bunch of banners, and I'll find some sponsors. You have to have a purpose, and that story will inform everything about the experience. From content to activations to the bands you book, and how it all connects."- Jennifer Justice
2. Relentless Discovery
Giving the attendee the choice to explore is hugely important. Millennials especially expect their journey to be genuine. They can sniff a marketing and sales play from a mile away.
Building honest and natural brand experiences into an event are essential.
Vince Kadlubek is co-founder and CEO of an award-winning Santa Fe, New Mexico-based arts collective called Meow Wolf and is an experiences curator of "chose your own adventure" immersions.
"Letting audiences have control over their experience is critical. It's about reconnecting people with the scientist inside of them. The person who's curious, and wants to discover, and wants to learn, and wants to explore. And that feeling is mind-blowing. Businesses are designed to put you on a track, and control you. There's not much exploration happening. But for the exhibits we create, it's completely do what you want. We want to open up the art world to everyday families, to let people touch the art and not be so precious about it. That's what's refreshing." - Vince Kadlubek
HTC VIVE's Executive Director, Vinay Narayan also chimed in on the matter of immersive storytelling and leaving room for curiosity.
"So much of what we do is about providing a foundation for ideas. The amazing thing about AR and VR and all these immersive platforms, is that the technology is a tool. There's so much the industry already knows about what makes a good educational experience, a good event, what makes a good concert, all those things. And it's really about us platform developers to create the foundation for you to take your experience, and then use this tool to make it even better." - Vinay Narayan
3. Community, Connection, Cause
Just about every event has an organic community of like-minded individuals, that have chosen to come to that conference/concert/festival.
They all like hip hop, or food and wine, or consumer technologies, before they get there. Rarely is there a case that someone just has time on a Saturday and goes because they have nothing to do. It is planned, and they are excited. Getting all these attendees from like communities together fosters powerful connection opportunities.
Experient's Valerie Cox had a cool story about how strong a connection to a community can be as she recounted her final Tom Petty concert.
"I had an opportunity to see Tom Petty play before he passed away this year, and I paid for an additional experience, to get in early. It sounds funny, but I stood in a line, it was hot, New York City in June, and I'm sitting on the sidewalk just waiting to be let in. Now you would think initially, that's not a great experience, but I realized the people I was with also cared enough about him and his music to have this experience as well. We all had a bonding experience. Some people had met Tom Petty back in the 80's and had stories to tell, or we would compare how many shows we saw, but just having that opportunity to be there with others who wanted to have an experience in the same way I did, was pretty magical. Community, and that connection, is everything."
More and more events are understanding that one of the most powerful ways to connect a community goes beyond bringing individuals together under a shared music taste, industry, or hobby banner, but is really about connecting to a cause.
Aligning your experience and your community to a non-profit, with a purpose-driven cause element, pulls the heart strings and forges connections around shared purpose like nothing else.
Jan Gourley, the Co-Founder and Director of Savanah Food & Wine Festival among other popular culinary celebrations, had this to say about cultivating a community around a cause.
"Non-profits are not only important as far as community involvement, but they're also a way to give back to the community with an event. You can really work to raise the profile for a certain location or partner with a charity. For instance, with Savannah Food & Wine Fest, we've given back over $200,000 to local nonprofits since the beginning of the festival, and we have a nonprofit called CHEF, the Coastal Hospitality Education Fund, and we create scholarships for folks aspiring to work in hospitality. Finding a way to give back within your industry event will be a rallying point for your community." - Jan Gourley
4. Frictionless Attendee Journeys
Ever-evolving event technology allows now more than ever for attendees to seamlessly make their way around a festival without feeling any pain points. For instance, in event-app scheduling means no waiting in long lines or missing out on opportunities because of not knowing where to be an when.
Not only can RFID/NFC technology help with ticketless entry, or cashless pay at concessions, but it can also use notifications throughout the event to reach out and let attendees know that there are no lines at a sponsored VR experience even the bar. We can also use data collected from previous event years to know where traffic patterns exist and better move attendees around the event, creating a smoother consumer journey.
Shopify's Senior Experiential Producer, Rose Welch, dug into why a frictionless attendee journey is crucial to an extraordinary event experience.
"I think at a baseline what makes an experience incredible, it's that seamlessness and friction. When you come to an event from an attendee perspective, if you're never thinking 'wow there was trash out,' or 'the bathrooms were really clean,' when you walk away from an event as an attendee and there was never any injunction in those elements, I think that seamlessness created from the experience is baseline. Everything else, you can build on top of that." - Rose Welch
5. Access and Exclusivity
Sometimes access and exclusivity means you needed to apply to even attend the event. Sometimes it means a VIP dinner with a keynote speaker, or Snoop Dogg. And sometimes, it might just mean a 30-minute nap time reservation in an AirClad.
People are coming to your event looking for experiences they can't have anywhere else. They want to connect with a community they wouldn't meet at their local bar. They want to learn fresh ideas they might otherwise only hear years later in a viral TED talk. And they want the chance to meet newsworthy figures. Celebrities either A-list in general, or A-list in their field. That access to people, content, and experiences, is what keep event attendees coming back.
We had a fun chat with VP of Marketing and Business Development at Merry Jane, Jim Baudino, who spoke to the importance of providing access to otherwise exclusive talent and experiences and cited the success Merry Jane has had in doing this with events like The High Road Tour.
"With the High Road Tour, we had Snoop and Wiz Khalifa on stage, performing at the same time, and that had never been done before. We've found success in bringing live talent to different audiences, whether that be artists and musicians or comedians like Seth Rogan, as we expand our arsenal of talent, more and more communities are engaged and enticed to be a part of something that gives them access to the celebrities or music acts and a culture they identify with." - Jim Baudino
Uncover the Elements, Live From XLIVE
Check out some of the vendors and technologies we saw at XLIVE 2017 with Jonathan and Tim going live from the expo floor as the event wrapped up on Day 3 in Vegas!
Be sure not to miss the Elements of Extraordinary video interview series, now available on Facebook!