Looking Ahead: Empowerment and Disruption

Our traditional ways of doing business are being disrupted. What are our opportunities as a result?

Author: Sherrif Karamat       

Sherrif Karamat, CAE

For the lead story in this month’s Plenary section, PCMA writer David McMillin took stock of the industry’s reaction to Marriott’s announcement to cut third-party commissions on group bookings from 10 percent to 7 percent.

Several industry veterans say this is an example of a changing business model, which got me thinking about what’s often at the root of business disruption, inside and outside of the events industry: the empowered consumer. Today’s empowered consumers know what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. Organizations like PCMA and other associations and corporations recognize this, and that we need to evolve in order to remain relevant to this audience. Relevancy requires a laser-sharp focus on how empowered consumers perceive your value.

Successful changes in business models in numerous other industries were brought about by creative minds that recognized that consumer pain points were not addressed by current approaches. Those innovators sought solutions, powered by technology, which made sense to the consumer and responded to needs that they didn’t even know they had. The music industry, which David points to in his story, is one such example. Digital platforms like Spotify give listeners the chance to enjoy the kind of music they like at no cost. But that has forced musicians to seek other avenues of revenue, like hitting the road more often to perform at concerts — because the empowered consumer is willing to pay a steep price to be part of a live experience.

And that brings us back to our own industry’s value proposition. In the information and knowledge industries, which is where business-events squarely lives, it’s more difficult to distinguish your unique selling point. With the advent of the internet, social media, and the multiple channels that everyone can access for information and continuing education, the value proposition for live events has more than just delivering content. It must be about creating an engaging experience.

Of course, engaging a conference audience is different than captivating a concert audience. Business events need to be more multi-layered — it’s not just about the wow factor. Participants’ experiences at a business event need to relate directly to their lives, personal and professional, to address their challenges, and it must leave them with the feeling that it was so worth their investment — dollars, time, and energy — to be a part of it all.

Granted, it’s not easy to create such an experience, and several of the respondents to this year’s Meeting Market Survey cited that as their biggest challenge. But they said they were also worried about how many other events in their space were competing for their audience. And who knows what kinds of creative minds are designing those events?