Marriott International, the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and Corporate Event Marketing Association (CEMA) have announced the release of their study “Guiding Principles in Experience Design,” which provides meetings and events professionals insights to help them forecast the consumer drivers and behaviors that will guide the future of experience design. The study is the latest in a series of in-depth industry reports between PCMA and Marriott International, which began in 2015, and was previewed at Marriott’s “The Exchange: Association Masters Customer Conference,” held from May 30-June 1, 2023 at the recently renovated Sheraton Phoenix Downtown.

“Business event professionals are looking to provide innovative experiences that break the mold for meetings and drive lasting results with their event attendees and clients,” said Tammy Routh, senior vice president, global sales, Marriott International. “Consumer patterns, behaviors, and motivators are constantly evolving, and we are excited to provide insights our customers have been asking for through this new research.”

Marriott_The Exchange: Association Masters Customer Conference
The study was synthesized into six guiding principles intended to drive experience innovation for the future (Marriott International, Inc.)

During the research process, Marriott, PCMA and CEMA conducted more than 60 one-on-one interviews. Each interview was followed by a series of global roundtables with experts and thought leaders in experience design, who assessed how these trends should be integrated into event strategies. The research, conducted by Storycraft Labs, was synthesized into six guiding principles intended to drive experience innovation for years to come:

  • Exploring Identities – Humans seek the ability to find their individuality but also to find where they overlap with others. These intersections are fundamental to one’s ability to connect and emphasize a need for connection to local communities. The role of the event designer will be to reinvent networking and create an environment where people feel open enough to stretch their minds and fully participate.
  • Architecting Choice – Audiences desire choice and want to be involved in selecting the various pathways available to them. They also want adequate support and resources to make clear and informed choices. These tools, when leveraged effectively, can help audiences reduce complexity and make confident, informed decisions. To develop the user experience, event strategists need to understand the problem they are solving for from the perspective of the audience. Asking the audience why they are coming to an event may be a step in the right direction.
  • Designing for Belonging – A sense of belonging for attendees should be a central mission for the experiences that event strategists create. When all audiences are able to participate as they are and feel included for who they are, they can have more positive and impactful experiences. Event strategists need to design events for inclusion, considering different abilities and varying needs related to mental health. As part of Marriott International’s commitment to belonging, Marriott has collaborated with the Google Experience Institute (XI) on The Neu Project to enable more neuro-inclusive meetings and events.
  • Value of Values – Audiences search for experiences that provide value beyond the dollar, prioritizing elements such as sustainability, inclusion, hybrid channels, community engagement, time and uniqueness. Distinct offerings and value propositions continue to be crucial in meeting audience needs. For the time-conscious, the virtual-hybrid experience will remain essential to be connected to their communities wherever they are.
  • Emotional Data – Understanding the emotional state of participants is key to driving loyalty and decision making. Event strategists need to discover how to leverage emotional data, measure it consistently and analyze it effectively. Audience segmentation tools use personalization to create dialogue and encourage preference sharing. When used pre-event as a vehicle for experience design, they can demonstrate how the emotional data collected has been used to create better experiences for the audience.
  • Power of Play – The process of playing with something, breaking it apart and putting it back together creates opportunities for ideation and collaboration. Developments in AI are opening new avenues for experimenting and playing with new tech tools that can facilitate connection. Event designers may want to create play-first spaces that celebrate testing and experimentation to help audiences better understand new ideas and synthesize learnings.
Marriott_The Exchange: Association Masters Customer Conference
The process of playing with something, breaking it apart and putting it back together creates opportunities for ideation and collaboration (Marriott International, Inc.)

This year’s “The Exchange: Association Masters Customer Conference” theme, “Step Beyond,” was centered on breaking away from the traditional and embracing the shift toward meaningful event experiences, convening 750 association meeting professionals, as well as Marriott executives and sales professionals.

The three-day event highlighted Marriott’s innovative approaches to social impact and inclusion, F&B design and sustainability with educational and informative talks. Attendees also participated in experiential activations designed to educate and communicate the intention of each of the report’s guiding principles. Following these experiential activations, attendees went to a lab where they conducted exercises to synthesize these trends and discuss how they can be applied to future meetings and events.

Further activations at Marriott International and PCMA/CEMA events around the world throughout the remainder of this year will be used as case studies, with a final report on “Guiding Principles in Experience Design” to be released in early 2024. The study will also be featured at “PCMA EduCon,” June 25-28, 2023 in Montreal, and “CEMA Summit,” August 6-8, 2023, in Salt Lake City.

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