2021 Experiential Marketing Data Insights: What’s Shaping the Road Forward to Live

April 14, 2021 | Experiential Marketing


It’s one of the most prominent points impacting the experiential marketing industry -- moving forward to live experiences. For event and trade show professionals, there continues to be a growing sense of hope around producing and delivering live events, especially when we look at 2021 experiential marketing data insights. We’re all eager for that irreplaceable feeling of in-person connection, but what does that look like in 2021, and more importantly, what do we need to do to get there safely?

We’re now quite familiar with finding new ways to bring people together, regardless of the format. But in a time when we’re seemingly re-emerging from the other side of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we’re taking a deeper look at how event professionals, brands, and attendees alike envision the future of live events and experiences.

And while we don’t expect the look and feel of live events to completely resemble what they were in years past, we do expect to see them return in some capacity later this year, albeit a bit differently. We’re using 2021 experiential marketing data insights and statistics to help give industry professionals a clearer picture of what they should consider when preparing for live experiences in the foreseeable future.

Expect to See More Localized, Regional Events and Experiences

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that for the majority of people in the United States, there’s still a real sense of reluctance when it comes to traveling by public transportation. In fact, according to 2021 experiential marketing data insights and statistics from as recently as February 2021, just 1 out of 4 adults in the U.S. feel comfortable taking a flight, or getting to a destination by bus or train.

And while Americans are indeed gearing up to travel again, as TravelPulse points out, it’s looking like those ventures are more likely to be road trips vs. long-haul treks, at least in these current circumstances.

“The latest Longwoods International tracking study of American travelers found that 88 percent have travel plans in the next six months,” notes TravelPulse this month. “The Longwoods study, which was supported by Miles Partnership, also shows that Americans are still shying away from longer journeys in favor of road trips. Domestic and drive destinations are favored over international and fly-to locations.”

What this tells us is that it’s going to be important when planning future live events, to meet your attendees close to where they are and embrace regional, localized experiences until there’s a more widespread feeling of ease when it comes to travel beyond driving.

“Consider your attendees’ frame of mind, says Smart Meetings. “If they’ve been less restricted with travel or social gatherings, then they probably won’t be as concerned about attending a live event. If, however, your event will be one of their first trips in months, or even a year, then the prospect of getting on a plane and meeting others face to face may make them uneasy.”

Overall, hosting a program that’s within driving distance to your core market, or even planning a mobile marketing tour to reach attendees selectively across chosen destinations, may help you achieve more success. And more importantly, it shows an understanding of what the majority of audiences are looking for right now and thus, meets their needs.

Smaller and Medium-Sized Events Will Be at the Forefront

Another trend we expect to see in 2021 are smaller or medium-sized events, a sentiment backed by 2021 experiential marketing data insights. As results from the Global Business Travel Association’s COVID-19 Member Poll reflect, the sentiment right now around live meetings and events is leaning towards the smaller side.

“Of those who report their company is planning to host/attend 2021 meetings and/or events, more than half are planning to host/attend small to mid-sized meetings or events with up to 500 attendees,” notes Hotel Business of the GBTA poll results.

One of the most notable examples of an upcoming smaller event is San Diego Comic-Con. Traditionally welcoming thousands of attendees from around the world, the 2021 in-person experience is being billed as Comic-Con Special Edition, and according to Comic-Con, will be a smaller than usual event.

There’s also the recently announced Met Gala, which is set to be held in two parts -- with a smaller, more intimate in-person version coming in September 2021 and then a larger-scale live event to follow in 2022.

“There was no immediate word on who the celebrity hosts, or chairs, would be for the galas, traditionally a heady mix of luminaries from fashion, music, film, TV, sports and other arenas,” notes The Hollywood Reporter. “The first gala in September will be smaller, and held in accordance with government coronavirus guidelines. The second next May is intended to be larger, in line with previous galas which typically hold about 550 guests.”

So while we are slowly seeing major live events and experiences begin to return later this year, it’s certainly not on a grand scale just yet. For now, event and trade show professionals need to consider hosting smaller or mid-sized events to maintain health, safety and attendee comfort levels.

Think Hybrid When it Comes to 2021 Experiences

One of the most impactful changes to the events and trade show landscape in the last year has been the necessity to transform live experiences to virtual formats. And while we don’t expect virtual to completely go away this year, most event planners envision live or hybrid experiences to re-emerge in Q3 or Q4 2021, according to data available in the PULSE Survey, a survey conducted by our research partner, Northstar Meetings Group.

One of the most predominant reasons there’s likely to be a rise in hybrid events is that many attendees will not yet feel comfortable traveling to a large in-person show, and keeping an online or digital component to events is going to be vital to maintain engagement from all audiences. Aside from providing safety post-COVID 19, hybrid event models also help people take in content at their own pace and can provide extra levels of convenience.

“The hybrid model makes sense, according to Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO of Hawthorne Advertising agency,” notes Digiday. “It allows flexibility for businesses to experiment with online and offline marketing and encourages more attendees, given they can stream content whenever they want.”

There’s also a level of exclusivity that can come from a hybrid experience, especially when it comes to musical or creative arts events -- think sound checks or access to artists before or after a show that you wouldn’t always have the chance to get.

Either way, as 2021 experiential marketing data insights and statistics show, hybrid events are looking to be the future this year, and event and trade show professionals should definitely keep this mind when planning their future programs.

“The last year has been a much needed reset in the way brands approach an ‘event,’ and attendee sentimentality for virtual, live and anything in between," says Marc Herron, SVP, Strategy at Sparks. "The greatest trend we are seeing is targeted shifts in the balance of events and the numerous models that a brand can do from live being the core experience with ancillary streamed content to virtual being the core with smaller qualitative events that are focused on specific groups to create a greater sales saturation and product integration. We think this will continue for sometime into 2022."

What else should event and trade show professionals keep in mind as they map out their programs and strategies? Check out Trend Central for a clearer picture of the road forward and even more 2021 experiential marketing data insights you need to know.

Posted by Dyan Cornacchio | Request as a Speaker

Social media and creative writing connoisseur. Obsessed with my golden retriever, pop culture, and pizza. Nothing makes me happier than being home on LI, relaxing at the beach with my family.