Consider these 3 lessons as the world moves from virtual to live

By Sean Stanleigh

The Globe and Mail

Toronto, Canada

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Live conferences are back. It’s almost hard to believe.

After more than two years of working from my dining room table, I recently found myself in Banff, Alberta, Canada, to attend The Gathering, a business and marketing event featuring some of the world’s biggest and most successful brands.

Here are three key takeaways after four days in “the wild” among other humans.

In-person events like The Gathering are happening again, but the energy and messaging is shifting.
In-person events like The Gathering are happening again, but the energy and messaging is shifting.

Less is more

It’s an old adage, but it’s the thing that stood out most in my mind by the end of the conference. Armed with a 30-slide deck for a 40-minute live presentation, I was ready to “wow” the audience with its beauty and simplicity — and a short, impactful video.

It (mostly) went off without a hitch. It’s my experiences in some of the other rooms that got me thinking about what to do next time.

Nobody craves virtual presentations. They’ve become a standard alternative, but there’s still magic in seeing people on stage. What we need are performances. What we need is entertainment alongside insights: Think video. Great photography. Big numbers.

Give the audience something to look at that isn’t text. The words should come from your voice, not from the screen. Be confident. Speak from the heart. Have fun. The memorable presentations I saw used effective visuals and little to no text. Like any marketing campaign, consider your platform. Treat “live” as a different beast from “virtual.”

Take a stand

This sentiment emanated in one form or another from all brands and all discussions. Words like “caring,” “sustainability,” “diversity,” “authenticity,” and “purpose” were legion. Brands of all sizes understand that, no matter what the political discourse, it’s imperative to walk the talk on social issues of importance to consumers.

It’s not just a desire, it’s an expectation. A lot of companies have a hard time with taking a stance because they don’t want to alienate audiences. But it’s generally accepted that brands in 2022 and beyond need to stand for something. They need to demonstrate their commitments, and they need to communicate and market them. Chances are they will please more customers than they’ll lose.

It matters at the employee level, too. More than a few presenters pointed out that, in the current battle for talent, potential new hires want to work for companies with values they respect. One brand said its postings start with a job’s purpose, not a description of required duties. Another shared a story of an employee who quit because they were dissatisfied with the company’s muted reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Accountability runs across the board.

Get them young

Brands have always courted younger audiences in their marketing efforts. It’s a running joke that once you’re older than 35, you’re outside the key demographic and nobody cares to sell to you anymore. That isn’t necessarily true, of course, but capturing consumers from an early age is more important than ever.

The world moves fast. Always-on campaigns are crucial because memories are short. Once you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind, and it’s much harder to recapture attention than it is to sustain it.

A running theme at The Gathering was youth-focused strategies, starting with trying to appeal to consumers from the age of 18. It’s considered the only way to capture life-long brand “fans.” How you achieve that depends on what you’re trying to sell, but one statement in particular stood out: “The power of cult branding is that you’re not just dealing with heads, you’re dealing with hearts.”

If you can get people to care, that’s half the battle.

About Sean Stanleigh

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