How Mixing Retro Approaches with Cutting-Edge Technology Engages Audiences

November 28, 2017

Schae Kane

As Strategy Director at Freeman, Schae Kane helps show organizers and associations better understand their audiences and what they value, using this information to design an experience that successfully bridges the gap between audience needs and business goals.

Have you noticed how certain styles always come back? Retro trends eventually circle around and become a hot commodity once again – from vintage board games to mid-century architecture and even acid-wash jeans (yes, really). And while retro trends may start out in consumer spaces, sooner or later they translate to the business-to-business space as well.

What does this mean for event planning? That it’s essential for event organizers to skillfully weave classic elements with modern technology as part of a comprehensive strategy to create unforgettable experiences for target audiences.

But why is this necessary, and how do you do it?

The limitations of technology

We live in a digital society where there’s more computing power in the average smartphone than in the computers that sent men to the moon. Technology has enabled connections and conversations all over the world with just a click of a button. And chances are, every one of us has googled something at least once in the last 24 hours.

Yet, as advanced and cool as technology can be, it’s no replacement for genuine, face-to-face experiences.

One would think this is fantastic news for event organizers, and it is – except for one major caveat: Face-to-face experiences must still bring value to attendees and vendors.

Fortunately, to do this, organizers don’t have to blow up the event in its current form. Nor do they have to make a binary choice between in-person interactions or all-digital interfaces. Instead, they can blend the two to create an immersive, mind-blowing experience unlike any other. The secret is to embrace a layered approach.

How to perfect layering

The idea behind layering is to strategically blend technology with personal components to create multi-faceted interactions.

For example, consider first-timer orientations. These are nothing new in the event space and many organizers have eliminated these gatherings even while others continue to embrace their value. Either choice can be right – depending on the audience.

However, the most effective orientations incorporate more than just an in-person component or just a digital approach. Instead, they layer the appropriate tools to deliver the right value for the right people:

  • Pre-event online education can provide newcomers with the basics of the event: details on registration, lodging, schedules, how to download the app and so on.
  • On-site orientation can take the event introduction process deeper, including face time with the leaders of the organization, discussions around why attending the event is so important, desired key takeaways from the event and information on where to find support on-site.
  • Ongoing digital communications can provide key reminders, schedule updates, information about VIP opportunities and a variety of other messaging to target specific goals for specific attendees.

Now the event has a name, face and personality that translates to a tangible relationship and hopefully ongoing conversations that add value to everyone involved.

Similarly, education-focused conferences have traditionally offered lecture-style learning environments and still do. But new formats, like the upside-down classroom, collaborative spaces (think small group huddles on bean bag chairs versus standard classroom settings) and second screen technology have added new dimensions to learning – and with it, a whole new world of opportunities.

Overcoming challenges

Whereas for years, events have been stuck in traditional methods of engagement, organizers now have access to a variety of tools that add layer upon layer to the experience. However, this also brings certain challenges, such as:

  • How to manage the sheer quantity of information to be communicated
  • How to increase engagement in new, different and sometimes untested ways
  • How to attract younger generations without coming off as inauthentic
  • How to offer clear on-site navigation that effectively moves people from space to space

Digital tools, deployed appropriately, can help alleviate these headaches and enable organizers to do more with their events.

By perfectly layering cutting-edge tools with tried-and-true methods of engagement, the entire event landscape can be elevated to create truly extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. After all, there’s nothing old-fashioned or trendy about wanting to build lasting memories.


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