Ask yourself this. Have you done enough to adapt your venue services for re-opening?
I saw a really provocative thread on Twitter the other day. The premise was to challenge whether organisations were transforming enough as a consequence of Covid to take advantage of a new world. The author felt like simply delivering the same services, albeit navigating residual restrictions as necessary, was a huge (and perhaps high risk) missed opportunity.
It's a fair question. Customer behaviours and needs have changed. Organisation's resources (people and finances) are under pressure.
For the events and meetings industry, emphasis has naturally been placed on covid safety protocols, hygiene measures and accreditation. And rightly so as nervousness about in person get togethers remains high. Those activities are necessities though, NOT differentiators. Like a food hygiene certificate in a takeaway window.
What your team should really have asked themselves is:
- How has your customer evolved and what are their new requirements?
- How have you adapted your services to meet those needs?
- Are you marketing those services to these new customers?
We think there are 5 huge themes coming out of Covid that represent massive opportunities to thrive over the next 12 months. So you can check if you've delivered on point 1 and then ensure you do on 2 and 3.
Virtual meetings and conferences were a means to an end, but for all the tech outages and Zoom fatigue, there were some powerful realisations that have paved the way for hybrid sessions being a permanent fixture.
Here's what you have to do to meet this customer need:
- Crank up your connectivity - 5G rollout in the UK is on the go slow for now, but you have to ensure your wireless technology is as strong as it can be. Customers won't accept inconsistent wifi ruining their whole event
- Partner with a specialist production partner - don't go it alone. Find an expert who is crying out for an amazing environment like yours to demonstrate their nous. Showcase them as part of your sales content.
- Don't scrimp on key equipment - lean on your production partner for support, but ensure microphones, cameras, tripods and lighting are top notch as a minimum.
- Provide simple explanations of your packages - hybrid is still a dark art for customers. They know more about the benefits than the delivery. You need to be the expert and describe the options in their terms. Make sure clearly outlined packages sit on your website.
- Showcase your services - dress up your venue to demonstrate options in practise, showing studios, audience panels and streamed meetings. Have a clearly defined commercial proposition to avoid customers concluding that attending virtually = no cost.
- Collaborate with other venues - small meetings across multiple locations, connected through tech, make for a creative way for large groups to convene with a positive impact on cost, travel and sustainability. Speak to other venues to pull together a networked hybrid package.
With a nervous eye on variants and daily cases, customers remain tentative about large indoor gatherings. And whilst the great British weather throws out more than the odd curveball, outdoor events have really gathered pace. The Borrow my Garden platform is a big success story for how venues are being creative with outdoor space.
With weather resistant solutions popping up from suppliers across the market, and sporadic sunshine and stoicism getting your customers through most meteorological outcomes, you really should be going to town on what you can offer outdoors.
- Assess your space - what have you got and what could you do with it? It doesn't just have to be a grassy, picturesque knoll. Overgrown fields, damp woodland and even car parks all have something to offer.
- Assess your options - what could you offer? The tried and trusted outdoor wedding marquee is just one option and isn't pactical for every venue, but smaller, ventilated pods might be. And consider the activity too. You don't have to try and re-invent the indoor event. Typical outdoor activities and creative ones (we saw one venue running an 'I'm a Celeb' day promotion this week) are appealing to social AND business customers.
- Combine with indoor activity - acknowledge the weather and covid by offering combined indoor / outdoor events that offer the best of both worlds. A shorter indoor session with all the mod cons followed by something more creative and fun in the fresh air.
- Market the benefits - make Covid work for you and draw on your customers residual concerns by promoting your outdoor spaces heavily during this transition period. Look at platforms like Borrow My Garden to extend reach.
Future of Work
Along the same lines as hybrid, being forced to work from home fulltime has forced businesses to make a once in a generation assessment of their need for offices in the face of a stack of cost and environmental benefits.
As a consequence, remote working is here to stay and office space is being rationalised, or ditched altogether.
Whilst articles on team collaboration and culture focus on online get togethers and technology facilitating distributed work practices, there remains an acknowledgement of the benefits to relationships and mental health from physical get togethers.
There is so much opportunity to position yourself as a remote business friendly space solution:
- Connect with local businesses - find out who has embraced remote work and what they might need from physical space and when. Work in collaboration to build the right packages.
- Escape from home - distributed team get togethers might be challenging but businesses' staff will need a break from home. Look at converting under-utilised daytime space into pop-up coworking with inclusive food and drink packages.
- Strategic space - being together for business will increasingly be about longer term creative thinking rather than day to day meeting. Look at the equipment and ambience you can create that speaks to free-flowing ideas rathan than formality.
- Volunteering - corporate social responsibility (CSR) is big for businesses and one element of offline activity that is pushed hard by remote first businesses is volunteering. Connect with local schools and charities and see if you can build ready made CSR programmes where businesses share knowledge, hosted at your venue, to make it easier for businesses to join in on a ticketed basis.
- Retreats - get togethers are likely to have more emphasis on socialising than bsuiness decisions. Focus on ideas that help teams build relationships and enjoy spending time together. Think Christmas party and summer BBQ over training days and board meetings.
- Convenience - your location and simple benefits like free parking will be strong marketing points as teams look for easy access and low hassle options. Make informal get togethers as easy as possible to arrange without long enquiry lead times.
- Speak their language - don't talk about meeting space and business events, talk about co-working, remote team retreats and in-person meetups. And don't forget the opportunities that hybrid affords to connect distributed teams in-person AND virtually.
Digital First Customers
Reliance on our online tools and services during the pandemic has only served to increase the accelaration to digital first as a consumer default.
You only need to look at our behaviours when it comes to shopping and online buying conversion to see that we want to transact online and we're turned off when our online experience is full of friction.
We think it is critical that venues adopt some of the principles of e-commerce:
- Don't over complicate - smaller meetings will continue to grow in frequency as businesses without offices look for physical space and people remain mindful of larger groups. With a simple ask like this - space for a few hours, tea and coffee, spot of lunch - having an express checkout that avoids form filling is key.
- Go live - customer's will want an on-demand, flexible solution that they can lean on as and when. Venues with live availability and booking, and a simple means to complete that process will be the go to locations for businesses looking for a hassle free solution.
- One click wonder - booking a space is often buried 3-4 layers down a venue's website, and then requires an enquiry first approach. This adds effort to the customer process with no guarantee of completing the activity they set out to. Where the nature of the event allows, provide a book now button and active checkout directly from the home page (or at least the home page of the conferencing section). Link to this page through relevant social media accounts and posts, and get listed on as many aggregators as possible with an integration to provide live booking on their sites too (most don't charge for this service as it helps them too)
Tight Purse Strings
Nearly every business has been hit hard in the pocket by the pandemic. That's why remote working solutions are even more appealing.
As venues unable to serve the market for the best part of 18 months, your pain has been felt more acutely than in most other industries.
And for your customers, saving money is also a priority.
Here's how to flip the problem on its head:
- Cut through admin - technology is a powerful beast, and it loves repetitive routines. Review your high frequency, low complexity tasks - like regular scheduling, comms or report sharing - and find the tech to do it for you. Likewise simplify your customer facing activity and use online, self-service tools. Free up time and cost.
- Re-direct resource - use the time you've saved to focus on what your team excels at: a)fleshing out your proposition to meet the market needs b) marketing those ideas to your target customers and c) delivering exceptional service on the day. Oh and d) getting those customers to eulogise about their experience so you can add some social proof to b.
- Compelling promotions - capture the imaginations of cash strapped but flexible businesses by looking at off-peak offers like early mornings or evenings at the beginning of the week. Consider 'season' or 'all you can use' passes for workers that want to bring their laptop and enjoy some F&B.
- Sharing economy - making big investments right now is tricky. As is expenditure on things like training. Look at the resources you have on site that can be hired, whether this be equipment or expertise. It could be production gear, lab equipment. It could be cooking in your kitchen, or mixology. It could be learning from your team about how hospitality can apply in business, or drawing on experts in your business in some other way. What assets can you sell by the hour?
The world has changed. Don't lose out by standing still. Refresh what you offer to meet the needs of your new customer.