As the top-rated conference for creators of the brand experience, the Experiential Marketing Summit (EMS) is Event Marketer’s flagship event and a key experience for B2B and B2C event marketers, producers, and organizers to network, learn about industry trends, and connect with industry suppliers and vendors. 

For the 2023 event at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Webex Events not only served as a sponsoring exhibitor, but also the official event app provider for the three-day event. 

We sat down with Joanna Johnson, Event Marketing Manager, and Yvonne deFuria, Event Production Manager, at Webex Events (formerly Socio), to reflect on their top event takeaways, their favorite EMS activations, and the trends currently impacting the events space.

What was your overall experience at the Experiential Marketing Summit 2023? 

Joanna: This was my first year attending, and obviously this was a big deal for us as we were the official app provider for EMS. It was really fun seeing our product in the hands of all the attendees and seeing all the engagement. 

EMS has a smaller, more focused attendee-base, so I felt like it was easier to approach people, make connections, and have those conversations. It didn’t feel overwhelming as some conferences do where you walk into a ballroom full of thousands of people and you don’t really know where to start. I really enjoyed that smaller, more intimate feel. 

Yvonne: I agree with Joanna, it was incredible being the app provider. Not only did we provide the mobile event app, we also provided the lead retrieval app that all the exhibitors were using to capture leads and demonstrate ROI. And it was very energizing to know that our app was in the palm of everyone’s hands. It made it very easy to start conversations.

And even though it was a smaller audience, it was a very dedicated, energized group. Their attendees and speakers are from some of the top companies, and just being in the same room was very inspirational.

How did EMS 2023 compare to previous years?

Yvonne: I was lucky enough to attend last year, and I was really impressed with the experience. But I feel like they really kicked it up a notch this year.  

Last year, people were a little bit green to being back to in-person events. And you could see everyone hit the ground running for this event. I know I did. I was ready to engage, network, digest the content, and talk to the exhibitors. It felt like the entire event was really amplified in terms of activations and excitement. It really felt like the place to be for those three days.

Expectations for in-person events are higher than ever. How did EMS exceed your expectations in terms of content, activations, production, and coordination?

Yvonne: I think EMS took all of the survey feedback they received from 2022, and looked at where the industry is moving, and compiled it into this great event. For example, everything took place in one amazing event space, and that’s a major event trend that people are talking about now. So, in the same space, you had your sponsors, exhibitors, and sessions going on. 

And then with the production of the sessions within a big expo floor plan, they had stages where the audience was actually wearing headphones, and they were tuned into what the speaker was saying in the microphone. That’s something we’re seeing more and more. And it’s so cool because I’ve read about it, but I’ve never actually been at an event that used those tools. 

With the headphones, session attendees are able to focus on the session, be present with the speaker, follow along, take notes, and watch the slide deck without the distractions of the show floor. And conversely, the exhibitors aren’t being blasted by the noise from the sessions taking place on the show floor. People are still able to conduct business without live sessions becoming a distraction. It works well because not everyone’s going to be interested in all the sessions, so you were really able to pick and choose.

From an event design standpoint, it was very seamless. They were offering as many meals as possible in one space. It really encourages networking, because it’s not only happening after hours or throughout the venue where you have to go seek it out. It’s intentional, purposeful networking that’s thoughtfully designed into the overall event plan.

Joanna: During the networking times, they had a puppy break which was so much fun. They had puppies come into this little outdoor-like area where people could go and pet and spend time with the dogs. But it was also a great way to network and have conversations. Because when sessions were going on, people were really interested in the content.

Also, the exhibit floor wasn’t this ginormous exhibit floor, but I found myself throughout the conference wanting to go back to see the activations, to see if I missed anything or revisit my favorite exhibitors. There were so many fun things happening during show hours and just about everybody had something going on in their booth. 

Which Webex Events app features did attendees love the most? And what kind of feedback did you hear about the app?

Joanna: We had some of the Webex Events product team there, and they were going around and getting some feedback from the attendees as they were hanging around those networking activities. And they were asking them about the app. I heard many people say things like, “This is the best app, we love it. It’s super easy to use.” 

As far as features, I think people really liked being able to connect with others at the event. And that was happening weeks before we even went out to EMS. As soon as we were able to access the app, I started getting connections, and I’m still receiving connections after the event has concluded. 

Yvonne: The game was a huge hit as well. Many events now have gamification, but I’ve never seen a game used to the extent it was at EMS — it was very impressive. They had several game challenges that were released before the event even started. One of the game challenges was to get 25 connections before joining the event. It was amazing because not only did it promote app adoption, it also got people excited and networking before they even arrived in Las Vegas.

Then once they were in Las Vegas, more challenges were released. They encouraged people to go to sessions, to engage with the speakers, to go to each exhibitor booth and ask for our special code. It was such a fun way to help build engagement, and people were excited to play along. People wanted to be at the top of that leaderboard because the prize was a ticket to next year’s EMS. 

Another thing I found interesting was EMS took a less-is-more approach with the app. They didn’t have a ton of features, but they built out the features really well. They assigned groups to the sessions, and the speaker profiles were linked. Everything was seamless. It was very approachable for people. Attendees weren’t getting bogged down by having tons of things and they actually liked how most of the app features fit on one screen.

What was the Webex Events booth setup like? What kind of activations did you have at the booth? 

Joanna: We had one 20 ft x 20 ft space that was dedicated to Webex Events and our products. We had a couple stations where people could participate in demos or use touchscreens to learn about our products. We had our Onsite badge printing set up so people were able to experience what it would be like if they used it for their events. 

We had food and beverages, including a Prosecco bar for the opening reception and an Aperol Spritz bar on the second night. Each morning, we had an espresso barista where you could order espresso and customize it however you want — they had chocolate shavings, caramel sauce, whipped cream, and all the fixings. 

We also had a contest where we filled a clear box with lanyards and name badges and people had to guess how many were there to win a Webex Events branded Stanley Tumbler. We utilized Slido and attendees could submit their answers through the app. Going back to the gamification piece, we noticed how this group was very much into the games and contests, so we got some really great engagement. 

Our other booth was our lounge and picture activation experience. We partnered with Pixperience and we had the 180-degree mini freeze picture, so people could come up and pick a sign and backdrop and then you could jump and it created this cool, 3D mini video. People really enjoyed that because they would get the picture afterward and could use it however they wanted. And then we also had some lounge seating for people who just wanted a comfortable place to sit and hang out.

Yvonne: The overall theme of the whole event was “Let’s Grow.” So, it was about development. It was focused on growing as an industry. And there was this undertone of what we’re all facing, which is doing more with less.

Whether the session was focused on refreshing your events program, amazing KPIs or leaning into the data and metrics that you receive from your events, there was the undertone of, “We have less budget with less resources, even though expectations are at an all-time high.” But I do think all of the sessions were super educationally focused and followed the theme of “Let’s Grow.” So, where are we now as an industry, and then how are we going to improve and be in a better place at this time next year?

Yvonne: Event planners for decades have been saying budgets are top of mind, but that was definitely a recurring theme at EMS. For instance, how can we use event tech to get the biggest bang for our buck, or what are savvy ways we can connect attendees that don’t cost a whole lot?

People are always interested in new ideas. For the session Lisa Vogel, Leader, Field & Event Marketing at Webex Events, and I did, we provided some simple tips on refreshing an events program, and they’re all things people can easily do. It’s crowdsourcing information from your audience or just taking a step back and looking at your program. We were finding people were really liking these tips, and everyone right now wants tactical tips and takeaways, things that are cost effective and don’t require you to reinvent the wheel.

And then with the app, I keep coming back to the game. EMS did such a fresh take on it because we’ve all seen games at events that are a little bit stale and don’t get much engagement. But EMS kicked it up a notch, and the ways they used it to drive app adoption and engagement both during and before the event was very impressive. It made people look at gamification with fresh eyes, because it was a buzzword during the pandemic and people started to take a step back and say, “We don’t need to gamify anything because people are back in person.” But I think EMS proved it still has its place. You can still make things fun, spark healthy competition, get people going to sessions, and connect with others.

One of my favorite stories is when someone came up to me and said, “Oh my goodness, I wish I knew who created the event app for EMS, because I would love to use them.” It was a great opportunity for us to say, “It’s us!” People were really pleased with it overall and we received great feedback. 

What’s something that surprised you about EMS?

Joanna: I was surprised by just how dedicated and how interested all the attendees were in attending the sessions. When sessions were going on, the attendees were excited to be there. Obviously, EMS put together a great agenda and really took into account what people wanted to hear about, because people were present in the sessions and really there to learn. And it was the same way with networking. I feel like when sessions are going on at some other conferences, people might pop into a session for a few minutes, but there’s still a lot going on during those times. 

Were there any other interesting activations that really wowed you?

Joanna: There were so many fun ones. For example, there was somebody taking professional headshots, which I am totally guilty of doing. Mine was 10 years old and I was like, “OK, I’m here. I’m dressed for the day. I’m not at home. So, I’m going to do it.” There were constantly people lining up. I know it’s not a new activation, but it was just nice to see because it’s something that most people aren’t going to take the time to set up and do on their own.

You could also get your face printed on a cookie, and they had branded EMS T-shirts in fun colors. I constantly found myself going back through the aisles, because there were so many fun activations.

Yvonne: Almost every exhibitor had an activation. There were fun things for us to play along with and for us to try. You could see how things were positioned in the framework for how you can use them at your own event. It was so cool because they were talking about how it would be customized for our audience at our own events. It was so practical, because not only are you having fun, but you’re also conducting business, and you’re learning. It just hit on so many different levels.

What were some of the key takeaways from attending EMS 2023? How will you apply them to future events? 

Yvonne: People really thrive being back in-person. There’s always going to be a place for virtual events, and virtual events have come so far. But the energy, the ideas, and the inspiration you get from being in the same room with creative minds and like-minded people is just unmatched. We came away with ideas on how we’ll approach EMS next year, as well as things we might change or try differently for other events.

And the conversations you have with people face to face — you can’t get that necessarily through a screen. And when everyone’s having a great time enjoying an Aperol Spritz or Prosecco and you’re able to be like, “What do you think about our app? What do you like about it? How easy is it to use?” You can actually have this amazing intimate connection. It’s just incredible. 

We all know it, but in-person events aren’t going anywhere. Everyone’s very happy to have them back, and I think the time away from them has allowed us to refocus on what’s important. EMS has really taken it to the next level of focusing on high-level content with amazing networking opportunities, and bringing like-minded individuals together for a few days and maximizing that opportunity of everyone being together in the same room.