Attendees want to see words put into ethically responsible actions

An ever-increasing trend in the meetings industry—and one that is directly affecting bottom lines—is attendees’ demand that companies, organizations and events not only be clear and thoughtful about their ethics and values, but also “walk the walk” in their everyday practices.

“Businesses must take a stand and be clear about their values, even if this is not the most convenient choice,” states The Future of Meetings & Events, a report recently released by Marriott International and PCMA. “Consumers are less willing to align themselves with brands that have wishy-washy beliefs. This is coming to life in messaging, strategy, operations, how employees and consumers are treated, and how leadership presents itself.”

The report, which was prepared by Fahrenheit 212, a New York City-based global consultancy firm, identified “bigger than oneself” as one of the trends that represent “seismic, long-lasting shifts” in the meetings industry. (The other four are emotional intelligence, orchestrated serendipity, multimodal design and clear sense of place.)

Align All Meeting Components

“Bigger than oneself” reflects the need for all components of a meeting—including the brands represented, the host venue and the purpose of the meeting itself—to embrace a positive, holistic worldview.

“The devil is in the details,” says Amy Blackmon, senior adviser of A Hundred Years, in the report. “I see these organizations that put on events about sustainability, but then they don’t give you a refillable water bottle and have disposable plastic all over the place.”

Consistent with the report’s finding, the 2018 Earned Brand study by global communications marketing firm Edelman found that more than 60 percent of respondents said they are buying from or boycotting brands based on the company’s stance on a social or political issue.

The study found that “belief-driven buyers” are deeply connected to brands and are more willing to buy their products, stay loyal and defend them than the average consumer. Some 8,000 people in eight countries—including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan—were surveyed for the study.

“Belief-driven buyers” were the majority in every market, age group and income level surveyed. Sixty-seven percent of respondents bought a brand for the first time because of its position on a controversial issue, and 65 percent said they would not buy a brand because it stayed silent on an issue it had an obligation to address.

Make a Complete Commitment

Consumers want to see businesses, organizations and meetings commit 100 percent to the things that they say they support, according to The Future of Meetings & Events report. Since every action is documented and seen, back-end operations must completely align with what they, their consumers and their participants stand for. Nike’s recent “Dream Crazy” commercial, which features Colin Kaepernick—who often speaks out against racial inequality and police brutality—went viral, earning $43 million in media exposure, record engagement and a 31 percent boost in online sales in the four days after it aired.

Misalignments, on the other hand, lead to a loss of customers and attendees, which often has a huge negative impact on the bottom line.

In the report, Dilip Rao, CEO of Sharebite, put the impact of the “bigger than oneself” trend in perspective: “This year, the buzzwords you’re hearing in boardrooms are about employee engagement, corporate and social responsibility, culture, internal branding, social good and sustainability. These buzzwords weren’t used as much 10 years ago—back then it was all profits, ROE, ROI, things like that. I foresee continued gravitation toward these new, improved mission-driven mind-sets.”

Takeaways for Major Players

Business event strategists: An event should completely embrace the message that it stands for, and the most meaningful, successful events will be impactful ones. Event strategists should embrace the message of an event and identify the right times for the message to come to life. Consistency is key, and event strategists need to ensure that every detail is aligned with the message.

Venues: They will increasingly be selected based on their commitment to ethical operations and values. For example, planners for an event that stands for sustainability will not choose a venue that is not thoughtful about food waste.

Participants: With a wealth of brand choices available, consumers will be able to evaluate experiences based on values. Participants are increasingly identifying with companies and organizations that align with their values, and just as they choose brands with messages, they will increasingly choose and return to events with messages and values that align with their own. Also, participants will be more interested in discussing and addressing serious societal issues at meetings and events.