The third-party, face-to-face meetings industry has, by design, placed itself in a silo. For whatever reason—lethargy, existing infrastructure or the lack of a compelling impetus for change—it has developed a superiority complex.
Meanwhile, another environment has emerged, courtesy of the Internet, where individuals can learn, network, establish relationships, buy and sell using digital platforms.
Whether or not digital environments compete with or complement the live-event platform is a matter of perspective as, increasingly, the lines are becoming blurred.
The indisputable fact is that the universe of companies and individuals who will connect and/or transact business online is much larger than those who will ever do so in person at a live event.
Remaining cloistered behind a singular ideology, business model or delivery system disregards the enormous potential customer base that is currently thriving in cyberspace. It leaves business on the table, hinders the evolution of the meetings industry and provides a disservice to existing customers.
There is a way forward:
Invest in a strategy, not a technology. The strategy for our time is to embrace the fact that the two dimensions—physical and digital—in which to learn, network and transact business are no longer mutually exclusive. The closer the live-events industry gets to being agnostic about where the products and services are delivered, the more quickly we can take advantage of the vast potential that exists from an expanded customer base.
Adopt new metrics. To continue using one-dimensional metrics—net square feet, number of exhibitors and/or number of attendees—to characterize and measure the growth of the meetings industry ignores the new multidimensional reality and underestimates the potential of the digital audience. New metrics, such as impressions, number of virtual attendees or the size of social networks can vastly improve the value, perception and opportunity of live events.
Flock to the bridges. The platforms, technologies and thought leaders espousing the existence and providing access to a much larger universe of customers are already here: content aggregation platforms, virtual conferences, online learning platforms, social networks and mobile applications. But, narrow thinking; an aversion to change and a lack of knowledge about what’s possible limits their potential.
Delivering information, networking opportunities, sales leads and services inside physical buildings is the chosen differentiator of the face-to-face meetings industry, but not its unique value proposition.
If this industry elects to iterate, it must change how it sees itself. We have to acknowledge that we are and should be a different industry now—one that takes advantage of the new facilities we have at our disposal and an expanded vision of what we could be.
We have to move away from the face-to-face only products and services business model if we are to be perceived as something more than a delivery system.
The industry needs a new name—one that illustrates its true point of differentiation—the profound understanding and intimate knowledge of specific business verticals and an ability to deliver education, networking, sales, services and community ubiquitously and agnostically within those verticals.
What do you think the new name should be?