davies tanner takes a look at the ways in which the MICE industry can embrace the positives and avoid the pitfalls presented by a more discerning consumer.

In recent years we’ve become used to hearing about previously untouchable retail store brands struggling and going under. The high street retail establishment’s collapse and failure is blowing a wind of change which established venues and major destinations must navigate before it becomes a storm.

It’s too simplistic to say bricks and mortar retail has failed because online retail is cheaper and more convenient. While compelling, this view is too simplistic – it’s only part of the picture. Social media and digital technology have also had a significant impact by giving momentum to hot-topic focussed social groups, by putting information on undesirable production processes and dodgy business practices in the hands of consumers and by promoting alternative lifestyle ideals and populist movements.

It’s led to the proliferation of brands that seek to appeal to consumers who subscribe to the idea of spending their money in ways that are better for them, better for communities and better for the planet. This has left us with a mass of craft and artisan brands, personalised products and customer expectations of unlimited choice, when they shop online.
The consideration for the events industry is whether this new model has changed more than shoppers’ behaviour – has it also changed people’s values across the board?

Clearly, our natural instincts relating to where we spend our time and money are evolving. This means the same motivations that lead to the demise of the high street could do the same to leading and traditional event destinations and venues in favour of alternative, more authentic and socially aware types of meeting and event spaces.

Small and rare is bigger than ever

The artisan breads and craft beers of the global business events industry are characteristic midsize cities and authentic alternative venues. However, whereas artisan and craft products come at a premium price, these cities and venues offer premium experiences at online shopping prices.

Mid-size cities compare to craft products because they enable organisers to craft their events to match corporate brand style, while including premium elements, such as the mayor of the city welcoming delegates and city-wide branding opportunities that make them feel like they own the place. These impressive trappings that are possible in the likes of Stuttgart and Durham, simply would not happen in London or Paris – these cities are just too big to accommodate such intricacies.

The venue alternative to craft brands are venues that have an authentic back story – one that connects to certain ideals. The events industry alternative to personalisation is venues and destinations that deliver ‘real’ experiences, be it gritty, nostalgic, getting to know the local community or benefiting from the city’s university’s academic specialism and intellectual property. And all at a great price.

What the success of craft products can teach the high street, is a lesson that should also be learned by conference planners, meetings venues and business event destinations. Today’s consumers are more engaged when a product or service feels authentic, rare, crafted with care and compassionate. Instead of traditional conference venues and restaurants, they’ll meet in aromatic gin distilleries surrounded by fermentation vessels and high-pressure stills, they’ll forage with expert guides along rocky coastlines, then cook their wild fare over open fires and eat it in the outdoors. Or they’ll choose one of thousands of other alternative programme ideas.

And that’s a reality the industry must face, if this trend continues – many more viable venues and destinations will become available to the event organiser. It points to a market that is more fragmented and much more competitive. Now we see the link between what has happened on the high street and what could happen to some venues. Too much choice leaves those venues whose brand is off-key and premium-priced in danger of going the same way as big brand high street retailers.

Speak from the heart

Building a strong brand has always had great story telling at its heart, and this is now more important than ever for venues.

Creating modern brands that appeal to the ‘craft-mentality’ takes playing to people’s emotions to a new level. It’s showing a unique personality, compassion, genuinely caring about your customers and – most importantly – being authentic. You must truly live the brand persona you communicate.

It’s so important to be personal and creative in this space. Creating a brand that truly differentiates your business and connects with your target audience takes time and skill. It’s a highly-strategic enterprise that you must never let up.

Craft brands use a variety of media and media formats to connect and engage their audiences and venues can do this too – videos on social media, humorous memes, interactive quizzes, infographics and slideshows – along with the traditional PR tools of press releases, award wins and big editorial pieces in leading target media.

The number of viable and attractive venues and destinations will inevitably continue to grow, and event budgets are unlikely to become any less squeezed; consistently winning events business is going to become ever more difficult. Building a craft-style brand that’s packed full of character, values and authenticity will deliver results by appealing to the increasing number of more conscientious buyers. You only need look at the unbelievable array of this type of brands in almost every category of food and drink to see how powerful they are. Start creating yours soon, and you’ll be one of the first.