According to IBTM World’s Trends Watch report 2019, the Virtual Experience Economy is the next iteration of the Experience Economy and will accelerate the merger of digital and live events in 2022. However, as current trends suggest, virtual experiences have already been embraced as the new normal, with event planners pivoting towards virtual events to drive business growth.
The emergence of the virtual experience economy is a natural extension of perceived delegate value, where event planners continue to find new ways of differentiating the experience in order to increase attendee satisfaction.
It’s already a key strategy deployed by several businesses to deliver richer customer experiences. Take high-street branded coffee shops as an example.
Shoppers can now pre-order coffee on an app so that it’s ready and paid-for when they turn up to collect. Delivery services such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo will bring freshly-made coffee to your home or office. While using a coffee shop’s mobile app to pay will often unlock loyalty rewards or entertainment.
Even the very act of providing fast, free WiFi and charging points in coffee outlets, makes the customer feel like they can treat the brand as a home-from-home or remote office. These are all considered value exchange hallmarks of the Virtual Experience Economy.
Although the Virtual Experience Economy exists side-by-side with technology, it should be considered more than simply merging events with new technologies.
Kim Myhre, Managing Director of MCI Experience, describes in the IBTM World Trends Watch report 2019 how it’s a new way of thinking strategically about events.
He says: “The best way to look at this is through a process of ‘needs’ that a good event will deliver throughout the delegate journey. How do we want the delegate to feel, what do we want them to think, what do they need to know, and what do we want them to do as they engage in the event experience?”
This strategic approach sees MCI Experience break-down the Virtual Experience Economy into a series of delegate touch-points. At every stage of the attendee journey, questions are asked around convenience, personalisation, on-demand content and whether or not the event experience is adding to, or taking away the ubiquitous nature of technology.
Kim Myhre continues:
“You have a world where content is constantly ‘On Demand’, downloadable and able to be carried away. This has to be the same with event content. The Virtual Experience Economy isn’t just about using technology, it’s about ensuring that technology is adding real value. This means the idea of delighting the delegate is increasingly complex. It’s more than just gimmicks and tricks, it’s about technology with purpose, plus creativity that is genuinely astonishing.”
Trend Watching, a global trends research organisation, says that most mass trends of this kind appeal to ‘basic human needs’. It believes that the needs, which the Virtual Experience Economy appeals to, can be split into four categories; Convenience, Self-Improvement, Status, and Delight.
This is the need of consumers or event delegates to have the same level of convenience at an event as they would at home or at work. This could include ‘On-Demand’ services such as instant access to information, deliveries, services, connectivity or food and drink. Examples of this include Amazon Prime lockers being installed at the Coachella music festival in the U.S. or Uber Eats’ partnership with Starbucks.
This also points towards the growing trend in Wellness, but includes all levels of improvement, be they spiritual, physical, intellectual or emotional. Examples of this include The Beverley Hilton’s launch of an on-site ‘Human Upgrade Facility’ or New Zealand’s Pharos Festival’s creation of a ‘Red Room’ sensory wellness centre.
Trend Watching describes consumers’ need for status as a driving force in the adoption of experiences. This is the status that comes with being at the ‘must- attend’ event, often in person while others look on. This is increasingly magnified through the lens of social media, a chance to show status on-line. A particularly extreme example of this can be found amongst the many issues which arose around the ill-fated FYRE festival of 2017, which is the subject of a Netflix documentary.
At their heart, great experiences bring delight, be it through education, information or entertainment. The Virtual Experience Economy has much to offer here, be it ‘on-stage’ with dazzling projections and drone displays, or ‘off-stage’ through virtually shared experiences. Increasingly though, the Virtual Experience Economy is about creating online worlds within events, as demonstrated by the people behind the video game Fortnite, which regularly hosts ‘events’ in its virtual world, such as the 2018 real-time concert staring DJ Marshmello, ‘attended’ by over 10 million people.
Sherrif Karamat, CAE President and CEO of the PCMA concludes by saying: “From the completely on-line digital experience, such as the Fortnight / DJ Marshmello party, to festivals and conferences with sensory rooms built in to stimulate better mindfulness, the Virtual Experience Economy is quickly evolving out of the traditional ‘experiential’ event. If the experts in the events industry are to be believed, it is set to dominate the meetings and events industry for another ten years to come.”