This question was famously asked by Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt. The point he wanted to make was that no-one buys a drill because they want a drill. They don’t even want a hole in the wall. They want a picture on the wall – that’s their motivation. The question (and answer) led to the seminal HBR paper ‘Marketing Myopia’ (1960), in which Levitt challenged business leaders to be less product-orientated and more consumer-orientated; to focus on what was really valuable for the consumer.
Fast forward to 2023 and it’s time to ask some questions about events:
Over the last couple of years, we’ve all been forced to fundamentally re-assess a range of behaviours, many of which used to happen largely on autopilot (‘I did it last time, so I’ll do it again’). This re-evaluation has been profound. Many now question the value in turning up when every piece of useful content can be watched far more conveniently on demand. This means that competitors are no longer the other stands in your conference; they’re Netflix, YouTube and Disney+. In terms of UX, content delivery and convenience, these platforms set the bar for experience delivery.
What does this mean for the attendee experience design? The obvious answer is that we must be more conscious than ever of how the needs of our attendees are met by the spaces we create for them and the way that we present our clients’ messages.
So, how can we deliver effective and relevant experiences for attendees with a new mindset? First, we must uncover and define long-term objectives. Then, track them back to a series of concrete behaviours that can be influenced in and around the event itself.
Behavioural Science – the evidence-based understanding of behaviour and the design of interventions to influence and change behaviour – can provide the necessary structure and rigour to create more effective Attendee Experience Designs.
For example, want a product launch event to change how customers talk about your products vs your competitors? We can use Behavioural Science to propose changes that create ‘positive friction’ and cause your customers to momentarily question and re-evaluate their beliefs about the competition.
Or is it that you need to create an exhibition stand that attracts a new demographic? Behavioural Science can create moments that specifically connect your brand with how this new audience sees themselves and wants to be seen.
Whether it’s starting a behaviour, stopping a behaviour, or even maintaining a behaviour – Behavioural Science enables us to expose, understand and pull specific levers to deliver more impact for clients and more delightful experiences for attendees.
But it’s important to get the objective and intervention right!
A famously ‘wrong’ intervention makes the point. In 1952, the Boston Symphony Orchestra wanted to diversify its musician make-up to include more women. So, they made the auditions blind. Candidates not only performed behind a curtain, but were also told to take off their shoes, so no clues could be given as to their gender. This resulted in women being better represented in the orchestra (and it’s here, on a high note, that the case study often ends). However, within a year or so of being hired, most of the women had left. Why? Whilst the intervention successfully corrected a biased audition process, it didn’t manage to remove the underlying issues that led to this bias in the first place, namely a sexist culture. Put another way, the intervention led to the right output, but the wrong outcome.
The one thing all events have in common? They want to change behaviours. Events are behaviour change interventions and great interventions don’t have to be huge. There’s a near-infinite array of potential small experience tweaks within any event that could lead to long-term behaviour change, you just need behavioural scientists to know where to look.
It’s worth remembering this when thinking about making events more valuable. Behaviour change has real-world value, and long-term behaviour change has even more. In fact, rather than trying to remember it, maybe it’s better to print it out, frame it and hang it on the wall. Now you just need a drill…
 Positive friction describes creating a moment where an individual is challenged to process information more carefully, in order to potentially ‘jolt’ them out of a more casual and automatic thinking.
 Social Identity Theory explains how and why we bind to certain groups and how brands can credibly create these social groups.
Arrange a conversation with Guy or another member of the AXD unit here.
This article is part of a series from WRG’s AXD unit. Read the rest of the series below.