CEIR Predict: Organizers Don Their Thinking Caps

CEIR Predict: Organizers Don Their Thinking Caps

by Bob James

Once a year, CEIR turns “seer” when it convenes its national leadership summit, CEIR Predict.

At the two-day conference, experts lead in-depth conversations that range across the whole landscape confronting today’s event organizers—from macro-economic and demographic trends, to technology, science, R&D, and geopolitics. Participants enjoy the chance to step back from momentary concerns and immerse themselves in the big-picture factors that drive every business sector—and every organizer’s operation.

The seventh edition of CEIR Predict took place September 14-15 in Washington, DC. Over 130 event-industry execs participated.

World economy: exercise caution

Economist Gregory Daco, Oxford Economics, said that, although economies worldwide are expanding at a quick pace, over-optimism is unwarranted, because the metrics used to gauge growth are based, in large part, on “expectations,” rather than real, measured trends. The economies of the US, Europe, Mexico, and Latin America are particularly strong; and the growth is quite sustainable. Growth in the US will top 2.5% in 2018, if a government stimulus package is approved in Washington. But longer-term growth is threatened by policies such as anti-immigration and protectionism, and by an emergent drop in consumer spending. Should those factors prevail, growth will continue to hover around 2%.

Business risks: Bye, bye globalization

Analyst Iain Donald, Control Risks, said politics have destabilized businesses around the globe for more than two decades—and especially so since the Great Recession. Government meddling threatens business in numerous nations throughout South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia; and in China. In Western nations, populism threatens to halt globalization. But globalization was likely to end, at least temporarily, anyway, due to declines in underlying GDPs. It’s best to think of trade in the future to comprise “regional trade,” not “global trade.” Globalization—the “world order for the past three decades”—is about to “pause.” An “America First” trade policy, in particular, would accelerate the pause and harm businesses worldwide by triggering a series of counter-sanctions, embargoes, regional blockades, cyber-attacks, and even local  wars—all of which would deter event attendance significantly. An anti-immigration policy, in addition, would rob US businesses of much-needed workers, also wreaking havoc on events. Worse yet is the threat of terrorism to businesses, especially in Europe. Terrorism in the coming years will be highly “fragmented,” but terribly harmful nonetheless; and it could be especially chilling to events, which represent the lone-wolf terrorist’s favorite type of target.

Events’ performance: strong, because job growth is strong

CEIR’s chief economist, Allen Shaw, Global Economic Consulting Associates, said that, overall, events are strong, because job growth is strong. Events can comfortably be projected to reach, at minimum, 2.4% in 2018; and 2.5% to 3%, if job growth skyrockets. When viewed by industry sectors, the performance of events is mixed, however. Events serving education, raw materials, and business services are performing poorly, due to “secular” factors such as declining school enrollments, business mergers, and e-commerce advances, while events in other sectors are enjoying strong growth due to such factors as the consumer trend toward dining out, the step-up in cyber and homeland security, and the expansion of the US military.

Science: seeing new worlds 

Marketer Haluk Kulin, FreemanXP, and research scientist Sergei Gepshtein, Salk Institute, said that big data—a term of everyone’s lips—is allowing organizers to “see new worlds.” While companies like Google, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon have proven you can harness big data to guide customers’ behaviors, they have also learned that digital experiences alone make customers angry and hostile, because they are one-dimensional, “cold and heartless.” Events, fortunately, don’t face that problem, because they are fully sensory and engaging. And because sense experience today is 90% measurable and understandable, with the help of research and big data we can in the near future design face-to-face experiences that will not only engage, but influence customers’ behaviors in desired ways. In effect, we will be able to “structure experiences” by leveraging the built environment. Experiences don’t take place in a vacuum, but inside “chambers” where sense perceptions differ dramatically from the ones occurring in other, adjacent chambers. Designing experiences means constructing those chambers to produce predictable sensory responses. By “orchestrating” sensory responses, experience designers can narrow customers’ emotional reactions, intellectual decisions, and likely choices—the same goal every marketer has pursued for a half century and more.

Data: DIY

David Saef, GES, led a panel featuring two data scientists, Meta Brown, A4A Brown, and Hyoun Park, Amalgam Insights. They shared seven cases studies of companies that have leveraged data to improve sales. JustFab personalizes product recommendations in real time, based on customers’ answers to quizzes. Walmart optimizes prices in real time, without regard to inventories. Denihan mines customers’ reviews to design experiences. Disney tracks customers using NFC wristbands and makes recommendations based on their behaviors. Iron Maiden monitors music downloads to plan concert tours. Netflix crowdsources programming. And NFL Fantasy uses rich data as a purchase incentive. But big data fails companies when analysts don’t understand those businesses. That’s why it’s better to train your analysts in house (all they need is a basic grasp of statistics, computer software, and split-testing concepts). Technology today makes it easy to collect data; but technology doesn’t make it easy to grasp strategic goals and objectives. Only total immersion in a business does that.

Workforce: problems ahead 

Journalist Brian Kelly, US News & World Report, led a panel featuring organizer Robert Bierman, CB Insights; organizer Don Pazour, Access Intelligence; and organizer Dennis Smith, Messe Frankfurt. They lamented the weaknesses of Gen X and Millennial workers. Gen X workers show little interest in mentoring others, while Millennials struggle with language and communication. Tomorrow’s businesses, however, need leaders who want to mentor, and workers who can communicate clearly. They also need strong generalists and problem-solvers—particularly if they are to continue to operate profitably after the Boomers retire. While American schools focus on creativity, they focus much more on STEM, which can dampen creativity. Schools also do a poor job of preparing people to think strategically and to solve real-world problems. Tomorrow’s businesses, in addition to creative problem-solvers, need diverse leaders and workers. But diversity, in itself, is a nebulous goal. Real diversity should result from the CEO’s vision of diversity, not just on randomizing new hires.

Politics: a deregulation revolution

Journalist Brian Kelly also led a panel featuring Robert Bierman; and journalist Daniel Lippman, Politico. The panelists agreed the Trump Administration is a “circus,” but noted that many new administrations have been chaotic in their first year. Trump’s appointees, being fresh faces in DC, have driven much of the Washington establishment to “cocoon.” Nonetheless, the groundwork for “strange coalitions” to form among political opponents—coalitions that could break Congressional  gridlock—is being laid. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Trump’s appointees don’t understand how laws are made, and they cannot depend on the Washington establishment to help them the way it once helped Ronald Reagan, whose election most closely resembles Trump’s. So they could fail, ultimately, to move the Congress in the direction they’d like. But the story doesn’t end there. While media attention stays riveted on the White House, Trump’s agenda is being carried out steadily inside the many regulatory agencies. The White House is merely the “tip of the Washington iceberg:” the real work—a “deregulation revolution”—is going on, without much media coverage, inside the federal agencies.

Bob James is co-owner of the event-focused marketing agency Bob and David James. He is also managing editor of Event. Opinions are his own. You can reach him at bobjames@bobanddavidjames.com.

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