The "Festivalisation" trend: Are business festivals the new congresses and exhibitions?

From CEBIT to Online Marketing Rockstars to SXSW - as the hottest event format around right now, B2B Festivals are booming. Why is this the case?

If a long-established trade fair like CEBIT is radically reinventing itself and positioning itself as a digital event/festival, then this really must be a serious trend.

The word "festival" is cropping up more and more frequently in the sublines of business events, congresses and trade fairs - and this trend is not just confined to the IT- and digital sector, by the way. This year, TALENTpro, an "expo festival" centred around the themes of recruiting, employer branding and talent management, was held in Munich.

The customer events of Salesforce, Oracle or SAP have long been more than just business conferences.

Video: Salesforce's annual customer event, Dreamforce, is a cultural and digital event par excellence.

The example of SXSW

When it comes to all of these events, SXSW (South-by-South-West) could well serve as a model for their conception. The first SXSW conference took place in Austin, Texas in 1987 - when Ronald Reagan was still the American president and e-mail was being used mainly at universities and in the military.

Since then, SXSW has developed into the world's leading festival for combining the interactive, film and music industries. For a while now, the range of issues under discussion at the event has also included digitisation, in areas such as healthcare or medicine.

Johnny Cash made an appearance here as a keynote speaker, as have Barack Obama, Melinda Gates, Sadiq Khan (the Mayor of London), Spike Lee, Nile Rodgers, and of course the full line-up of leadership figures from digital giants like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Tesla. SXSW 2007 was where Twitter made its big breakthrough onto the world stage.

Energy and Buzz: That happens at the SXSW

Inspiration from the creative industry

Inspiration from the creative industry

Today, there are many imitators of SXSW trying to launch their own business festivals. The aim of these events is to marry business networking and infotainment with inspiration from the creative industry.

And it goes without saying that a setting filled with film, music and entertainment will clearly give off an entirely different vibe and ambience than a straight-laced business conference. People come out of their shells more, networking comes more easily, you get to know each other more readily and intensively. Barriers are dismantled - and the fun factor becomes a top priority.

GenY wants it this way and no other

Customer experience is not really a new concept - but nowadays, it is hard to think about the term without also conjuring up ideas of engaging events that appeal to the senses. In this age of urgency that we live in, people are on the lookout for experiences, for something with that special "kick". They don't want to enjoy it alone either; they want these experiences to be something they can do and share with their friends and colleagues.

So with this in mind, it's no wonder that the keyword "SXSW" has more than 20 million hits on Google!

Integration and experience instead of just information

Business festivals want to spark enthusiasm and provide inspiration. The pure communication of information is being pushed increasingly into the peripheries. And the reason for this? It's right there in the palm of your hand: nowadays, everyone can access all the knowledge in the world via their smartphones and tablets.

The purpose of events is increasingly to make information come alive, to sort trends, to whip up excitement for topics and products. This is of course much easier to accomplish in a relaxed atmosphere, dressed in jeans and a Tt-shirt as opposed to a somewhat "stiff" business outfit and suit.

Business events are also ramping up their efforts to "reinvent the wheel", to surprise participants with interactive elements and creative design, and thus stand out from the massive crowd of other events.

Easier said than done

But it’s not enough to simply change the tagline of an event and smuggle in the word "festival" somewhere or other. Some of these so-called business festivals often just offer old wine in new bottles.

In order to produce true festival character, your first line of focus has to be on the participants themselves. Otherwise, the festival planning process can quickly end up overlooking the target group, leaving you alienated from the public.

There are a few tools that can assist with this. The "Event Model Generation" procedure, which has been developed out of the "design thinking" method, helps to deal with the requirements of all those with a stake in a particular event. This in turn will enable you to develop and implement the concept that works best with regards to the target groups.  The method by Dr Lukas Zenk, who works at Danube University Krems, also supports the shaping of innovative events.

Buyer Personas are then used to help make sure that the event's focus does not stray away from the customer.

How do I create experiences?

Even if you don't like the idea of taking the name of your event and changing it to "XYZ-Festival", it does still make sense to think about creating lasting experiences. To succeed in this regard, these are just a few of the issues you need to consider:


In Salzburg and the surrounding area, there are many locations and very special conference venues available that are perfect for creating festival ambience and stimulating experiences at your event. And we have already seen a number of spectacular events that produced lasting experiences and memories. Why not have a chat with us about it, we look forward to the exchange!

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