New Study Released on the Future of Experiential Design

The research from Marriott, PCMA and CEMA delves into consumer behaviors that help shape event design.

Attendees at the Exchange: Association Masters, held May 30-June 1 in Phoenix, participated in a case study.

Marriott International, the Professional Convention Management Association and the Corporate Event Marketing Association have released the "Guiding Principles in Experience Design," a study that provides insights into consumer behaviors that will guide the future of event design. The findings were published on June 5 after being previewed at Marriott’s The Exchange: Association Masters Customer Conference, which brought together 750 association professionals on May 30-June 1 at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown.

"Business-event professionals are looking to provide innovative experiences that break the mold for meetings, and drive lasting results with their event attendees and clients," said Tammy Routh, senior vice president of global sales for the hotel company. "Consumer patterns, behaviors and motivators are constantly evolving, and we are excited to provide insights our customers have been asking for." 

Researchers conducted more than 60 one-on-one interviews, each of which was followed by a series of global roundtables with experts and thought leaders in experience design, who assessed how these trends should be integrated into event strategies. 

Conducted by Storycraft Lab, the findings were divided into six guiding principles for event professionals:

1. Exploring identities

Humans seek the ability to find their own uniqueness, but also to find where they overlap with others. These intersections are fundamental to one’s ability to connect and emphasize a need for ties to local communities. The role of the event designer will be to reimagine networking and create an environment where people feel open enough to participate fully.

2. Architecting choice

Audiences desire choice and want to be involved in selecting the various pathways available to them. They also want adequate support and resources to make clear and informed choices. To develop the user experience, event strategists need to understand the problem they’re solving from the perspective of attendees. Asking the audience why they are coming to an event might be a first step in the right direction.

3. Designing for belonging

A sense of belonging for attendees should be a central mission for the experiences that event strategists create. When all audiences are able to participate as they are and feel included for who they are, they can have more positive and impactful experiences. Event strategists need to design events for inclusion, considering different abilities and varying needs related to mental health. As part of Marriott’s commitment to belonging, the company has collaborated with the Google Experience Institute on the Neu Project, a global community of event professionals working to make the meetings world more welcoming and productive for neurodivergent planners and participants to enable more neuroinclusive meetings.

4. Value of values

Audiences search for experiences that provide value beyond the dollar, prioritizing elements such as sustainability, inclusion, hybrid channels, community engagement, time and uniqueness. Distinct offerings and value propositions continue to be crucial in meeting the needs of attendees. For the time-conscious, the virtual-hybrid experience will remain essential to be connected to their communities wherever they are.

5. Emotional data

Understanding the emotional state of participants is key to driving loyalty and decision-making. Event strategists need to discover how to leverage emotional data, measure it consistently and analyze it effectively. Audience segmentation tools use personalization to create dialogue and encourage preference sharing. When used before an event as a vehicle for experience design, emotional data can be used to create better experiences for the audience.

6. Power of play

The process of playing with something, breaking it apart and putting it back together, creates opportunities for ideation and collaboration. Developments in AI are opening new avenues for experimenting and playing with new tech tools that can facilitate connection. Event designers might want to create play-first spaces that celebrate testing and experimentation to help audiences understand new ideas and synthesize learnings.

"Our ongoing relationship with Marriott International further underscores our commitment to delivering innovative education and resources for business-event strategists around the world," said Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of PCMA and CEMA. "We’re proud of this work, and hope the insights gathered from the report help drive lasting connection and engagement in the world of experience design."

Immersive experiences for the research will be set up at Marriott and PCMA/CEMA events throughout the year to be used as case studies, with a final report on "Guiding Principles in Experience Design" to be released in early 2024. The study will be featured at PCMA EduCon on June 25-28 in Montreal, and at the CEMA Summit on Aug. 6-8 in Salt Lake City.