By Barry Richards (FIRST)

Brand events as we knew them are a thing of the past. As scientific and technological advancements continue to accelerate, it is vital that we as agencies continue to evolve our model and address clients’ needs through a future-focussed lens. The pandemic has seen global changes in how we connect and communicate, in our values and behaviour; but we must continue to look even further ahead.

Hybrid formats are bringing new opportunities like larger audiences, but also highlighting challenges surrounding things like inclusivity and accessibility – there’s an increasingly international attendee pool, as well as a more engaged disabled audience, who now feel more comfortable attending remotely. Much of the world doesn’t want things to return to how they used to be, they want a new and improved way of life. A more socially conscientious society.

A further indicator of where the future of live communication is heading, lies in VR headset sales, which have been steadily increasing over the past few years, but boomed in 2020 as more people moved into the virtual world. Fad or not, the signs all point to the theorised “next phase” of the internet, the metaverse, potentially approaching reality sooner than expected.

Essentially an enhanced, virtual version of the real world (whether that looks like AR integration in a world hidden all around us, a full blown virtual universe or both!), the metaverse is predicted to further blur the lines between what is deemed reality and what isn’t. Now there’s also a new hyper-sensitivity and awareness surrounding sanitisation and personal protection zones. People aren’t ever going to feel comfortable in a space that isn’t seen to be doing everything possible to minimize risk and prioritise health. The way we navigate indoor spaces will never be the same. It will become more intelligent and more responsive. Particularly when applying AI and machine learning to some of the above concepts.

Finally, as the world starts to dust itself off from the struggles of the past 18 months, sustainability is back on people’s minds. However, the global acceleration of digital transformation strategies has now brought the impact of our digital footprint into focus, and will continue to do so. The world has briefly seen the positive impact of removing humans from the global equation, and we must further commit to reversing the harms we have caused to the planet.

Let’s take a look at some of the things we’re seeing at FIRST that will predicate the future of live experiences and what this means for our industry…

Hybrid & Accessibility

Even as in-person events return, the yearly growth rate for the global virtual events market is estimated at 40.37% by the end of 2025 ( The still untapped potential of hybrid events attracting a larger and more global audience, means that event organizers are still uncovering ways to enhance the accessibility of brand experiences. This applies to both physical and digital elements, truly blending the two in the name of hybrid. We’re seeing things like cloud software that integrates with digital platforms to provide live translation and captioning, making for more inclusive experiences. Similar tech can even be used for in-person elements.

There are more enhanced presentation tools that put the presenter amongst their content to provide a more effective demonstration. Things like dynamic and AR wayfinding will make in-person event navigation not only easier and safer by rerouting to avoid crowding, but it will also enhance the guest experience, all the while collecting valuable data and insights to streamline future events.

Just imagine these applications in a not-too-distant future when combined with smart glasses, AI and personalised content.

AI & Decision Making

Even without smart glasses, we live in a world full of cameras and facial detection systems. Whether as part of pandemic-related measures, an in-person activation or digital experience, AI can gather information about audiences to enhance decision-making. Things like emotion, attention, height, positioning, age and gender can all be captured and analysed using machine learning to provide a hyper-personalised experience for attendees. It’s an interesting time for data and AI as we begin to see the applications for predicting human behaviour.

AI can also sort through qualitative data such as a brand’s reviews and online comments to gain insights into customer brand perceptions – newer methods of AI-driven sentiment analysis can even understand sarcasm now! This holistic bigger picture can help brands strategise more effectively.

“Digital Twinning” & The Metaverse

There lie a lot of parallels between hybrid event trends and the growing discussions around the metaverse. Zucks recently announced an ambitious new initiative to Facebook employees: The future of the company lies in an interconnected set of experiences that help bring the metaverse to life. Further affirmation that the future is blending physical with digital. From avatars and live experiences on Fortnite, to physical venues offering a digital replica for digital audiences to explore, it may be time to stake your claim in the virtual world of the metaverse!

Health & Safety 2.0

I’ve touched on how accessibility and AR has certain post-pandemic applications for in-person experiences: Things like contactless tech, apps for virtual queuing and F&B, proximity alerts, heat-mapping and so much more are going to ensure that contact is minimized in physical spaces and therefore any health risks, minimized. It’s also going to make for a more enjoyable and streamlined experience.

There has been a growing demand for properly sanitized spaces, even pre-pandemic. Now, large scale disinfection has become essential. From drones to UV emitting devices, there are a number of high tech solutions that may soon be expected as standard practice.

Digital Carbon Footprints

Cleanfox, who reported that marketing emails are responsible for two million tons of CO2 emissions annually (in the UK alone) revealed that “if the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth biggest polluter in the world.” It creates a larger carbon footprint than that of all the cars in the US and UK in a single year. This is due to the sheer power needed to not only keep our devices charged, but also the data centres powering the cloud. That footprint is expected to double by 2025. As digital experiences continue to rise alongside populations and an increasingly remote audience, this is something that will need to be addressed by us as an industry.

A survey by Hotwire found that almost half of internet users worldwide had ditched products and services from a brand that violated their personal values. Protecting the environment topped that list: sustainability is one of the most important issues of our time. That means that brands no longer have the luxury of ignoring environmental issues.

Even those brands who are seen to be going green now fall short in new areas that are coming to light.

Websites are now being compressed in the name of sustainability. Minimalism, circular economies and carbon neutrality are the keys to a sustainable future for our industry, as well as many others… In fact, they’re probably key to the future of the entire human race.

Photo by Timo Wielink on Unsplash

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