Candina and Liz discuss building intention into every stage of the attendee journey. You’ll learn digital and event design strategies to grow your audience and enhance the experience from beginning to end.
In this episode, Candina Weston and Liz Lathan talk about creating experiential moments that matter. They’ll share digital and event design strategies to help you grow your audience and enhance the experience from beginning to end.
Candina has more than 20 years of leading incubation businesses and significant transformation projects across multiple countries, customer segments, and business units for one of the largest tech companies in the world. She currently serves as the General Manager of Business Strategy for Microsoft in the APAC region, focused on growing audiences and operationalizing growth strategies.
Liz is the cofounder and CMO of Haute Companies, overseeing marketing for all Haute brands. With a background in corporate marketing, she has led event marketing strategy teams at several Fortune 500 companies.
This conversation was just one of many we held as part of Bizzabo’s Event Experience Summit, our flagship event where we bring together the world’s most innovative event professionals to share their secrets and strategies.
Here’s what you’ll hear about in this conversation:
Chaviva Gordon-Bennett: [00:00:00] Welcome to Event Experience by Bizzabo. The podcast where we bring the best and brightest Event Experience Leaders together to share stories, tips, and lessons learned from creating some of the world’s biggest events. I’m Chaviva Gordon-Bennett, senior editorial content manager here at Bizzabo. This week, we’re having a conversation with Candina Weston and Liz Lathan about creating experiential moments that matter.
Candina is the general manager, APAC Strategy, and chief strategy officer at Microsoft. Liz is the cofounder and CMO of Haute Companies. In this episode, Candina and Liz will be talking about how to build intention into every stage of the attendee journey. They’ll share digital and event design strategies to help you grow your audience and enhance the experience from beginning to end.
This conversation was just one of many we held as part of Bizzabo’s Event Experience summit. Our flagship event, where we brought the world’s most innovative event professionals together to share their secrets and strategies.
[00:01:00] If you want to check out our most recent Event Experience Summit, we’ll drop the link in the show notes so you can explore other sessions on demand.
Ready? Let’s dive in. Here’s Candina and Liz.
Liz Lathan: Welcome. We are so excited to have you all here. Good morning. Good afternoon and good evening to all of you joining us for creating experiential moments that matter in the attendee journey today. We’re going to talk about making each mile of the journey meaningful before, during, and after your event, but we’re not talking logistics or spontaneous flash mobs.
This is a business and marketing conversation about connecting in a meaningful way that drives measurable results. I’m Liz Lahan, cofounder and CMO of Haute Companies, which is a collection of B2C and B2B brands, which includes a creative and experiential agency called Haute. And I’m joined by Candina Weston, general manager of APAC business strategy and chief strategy officer at Microsoft.[00:02:00]
Candina Weston: Thank you very much, Liz. And thank you, everybody, for joining. It’s great to be here with you.
Liz Lathan: We are so excited to have you here, but before we get into our conversation, I want to point out that you can submit questions through the ask the speaker channel on the right side of your screen. You can use the chat to contribute to the conversation, of course, and yes, this session is being recorded for future use to share with your colleagues.
I am so excited to talk to you today because I think we share a passion for ensuring that events — digital and in-person — are viewed as full-funnel marketing programs in a larger demand gen strategy.
And I understand in your last role you led the digitization of one of Microsoft’s largest lead gen engines. Tell me a little bit about that.
Candina Weston: Yeah. So I wanted to start by saying I’m not traditionally an event organizer. So I come from the marketing, sales, and change management/strategy side of the business.
And I actually moved over to experiential marketing at Microsoft.
[00:03:00] In Seattle, a few years ago, we were looking at building an experiential marketing engine. And so, I was looking at building out the demand generation process, the monetization. So how we bring partners into the events and how we think about digitizing that process, and then COVID hit, and it became a hundred percent digital.
So our engine then became a project on steroids. Which would’ve originally taken a couple of years to do, and we condensed it down to a couple of months. And so this is where we really started looking at the overall journey and to end the different engines and to end how we think about data and how we leverage that data to inform what we’re doing for all of our audiences across the company, actually, because this engine touches all those audiences.
I’ll stop there for a moment, Liz, and let you continue your train of thought.
Liz Lathan: I’m excited to dig in, but I think that, as we are going to talk about experiential moments first, I’d really love for you to define what experiential means to you.
So I think from my perspective, it’s a broad term, and I think it’s merging more and more with other engines.
Candina Weston: And so I think there are multiple different ways of thinking about it. But the way I would think about it is an experience is now no longer like a moment in time — it’s a series of moments. And the great thing about data and the different engines that we have is you can connect those moments across multiple mechanisms and across multiple moments throughout a year.
And you can tailor that to your target audiences depending on the interests and feedback you’re getting.
Liz Lathan: I love that. Yeah. And I would agree. And I feel like an event is something you go to, and experience is something you’re actively a part of.
Candina Weston: Yes, exactly.
Liz Lathan: With that in mind, let’s take it to before you even start planning your program, what data do you look at to help inform that attendee experience?
[00:05:00] I think we have a question that’s along those same lines. The question is: This year we’re planning our flagship event in-person. After two years of hosting it virtually, we want to make sure we blow it out of the water for everyone attending. So now, what do they need to look at to plan that?
Candina Weston: I think if the first thing I would say is I know everybody collects an element of data.
And I think what we would do, what we would do from a Microsoft perspective across the board, is we would collect data from a number of different sources. And so, it’s not just what the event data tells you. We have particular event metrics that we would track. Some of them are different.
Digitally and in-person, but there are a lot of experience metrics that we can bring into the equation. And then what we would look at is what is the behavior of people, both in the event, and then what is the behavior of people before the event and also after the event. And what we would look at is who are we targeting to start with?
[00:06:00] What do they care about based on the data that we have? Where are they going to consume content even prior to the event before they get there? What content do they care about, and how do we create an engine for them? To educate them on the process even before they get to the event. And so that could be sending different pieces of information to them based on the data that they care about as well.
And then when they get to the event experience, then the event itself, we’ve leveraged some of the data that we’ve already captured from them in this feedback process. In order to inform the content that we’ll be sharing beyond the priorities that we want to share, we’ve got feedback from them.
Like we started doing user-generated content as well in the lead-up to the event. And so we start to bring audiences into that event, and we can get feedback from them in that process as well. And then the important thing is the journey doesn’t end within the event itself. The journey continues, and that’s the whole [00:07:00] point of the engine at the end of the day because most companies are here to make make a profit and to drive engagement with customers.
And so that process is a great way of helping that funnel instead of disconnecting from it. So the more that you can understand how people are going through that funnel, leveraging that data. What they care about and keep informing that experience and keep bringing them through that experience.
The more relevant the event is going to be.
Liz Lathan: I love that. What I really loved about what you said is you’re talking about data and looking at how people are behaving, but if you’ve never done this event before, it’s a new program, or it’s an event you’re doing two years after having to do it very differently. You can still collect data through crowdsourcing, asking questions, user-generated content. You can understand how they’re feeling. You don’t have to use last year’s information. And honestly, this year I would expect that last year’s information is going to be useless to you anyway, it’s really just starting that data collection before you’re starting the creation of the program. Not [00:08:00] necessarily everything historical you’ve ever had.
Candina Weston: I think some of the benchmarking is helpful and also some of the types of content, the way that people have been consuming content, and the way they’ve been engaging with social as well. So we brought social into our event process very heavily. And so we would engage real-time during the event.
We would bring it into the event process. We would allow people to make comments and show those during the event process. And so we continue that conversation. And I think some of those principles still hold. How do you bring audience participation in?
[00:09:00] And I would wonder like the other consideration is what the digital process has done as it’s created the ability to outreach into audiences that you would never outreached to previously and especially global audiences — audiences that have more difficulty accessing a physical event or there’s restrictions in terms of financial capabilities or, there’s a bunch of different pieces that the digital experience brought to the table that didn’t exist previously.
And so, if there is a physical experience, how is that also being created in a way that allows a really great digital experience? And so the way that the event is then set up is set up to optimize for a digital audience and a physical audience. So it would be interesting from a targeting perspective and a funnel perspective versus an experience perspective, what you’d actually been looking at doing by only hosting an in-person.
Liz Lathan: Let’s talk about audience acquisition. So our first touch point. This early stage in the event experience, you’re most often just using digital tactics. So how do you make that experiential and bring people along on that journey?
Candina Weston: What we found is it’s very different, the [00:10:00] way that you do outreach for a physical process versus a digital process. And I think in a physical context, especially if you are buying tickets and paying money and that sort of thing, you’re locked in, and you need to schedule things.
And so, from that physical perspective, you need to have a heads up further in advance to facilitate that. But what we found is the more in advance that we scheduled and did a digital push, the more drop-off we had. We had an optimal window of time that we would schedule a physical versus a digital — I think the physical, this could have adjusted — but the last one was about six months that we’d start giving heads up to the targeted audience that you want physically. So that’s a really important point because the people that you would want to target physically in-person, they would be different [00:11:00] to potentially to who you would be targeting digitally. And then, we would turn on a process about two months before from a digital construct to try and bring a number of different audiences into that process. And that would be a very regular and informed engagement process, leveraging data. What I mean by that is we would use all of the different engines, email, social influences, there’s a bunch of different engines that we were using.
All of those things are tagged. And you can then determine what content’s working and what’s not based on some of the analytics that you can get through those engines. And then you inform how we would adjust our content every week and sometimes daily, especially on social in order to make sure that engagement.
[00:12:00] Data that we’re getting from that engagement, we would then adjust that to what the audience was behaving. And we would have this in a, what we call a power BI form. So we collect all the data into this form, and we look at all of these different engines on a daily basis.
And we’re just adjusting this as we go into the event process. And then we do the same during the event. Like we’re just on the dashboard, watching it and adjusting and post-event as well.
Liz Lathan: I’m interested in the chat. If you do all this in six months or two months, I know that personally, I’ve seen this crunch a little bit more.
So marketing the event six months out has not even been possible because the uncertainty of will it even happen. So the beginning marketing journey that I’ve seen in the last, I guess in our six months has been, you really start three months out, but we are not seeing people register like for a physical event.
Two to three weeks out, wreaking havoc on all of your hotel contracts. Digitally. We’re definitely, I still think you’re right in the two-month mark for digital, but when people register that far out, they’re the ones that [00:13:00] stretch, that we never see, and the ones that join a week out, they’re the ones that are there in it to win it.
So in the chat, are you seeing something physical? Are you seeing those same things for physical versus digital?
Candina Weston: I think it depends on the target audience for physical. So if we’re looking at C levels and more executive audiences, then you need a longer window. Sure. If you want international audiences coming in, you need a longer window for that as well. And if you want a primary local audience in your target, then you don’t need to as much. So it really comes like the way I look at everything is from a global lens. And then, I look at different levels of target audiences within an organization or within a set of achieving.
Liz Lathan: Now I totally feel that. Sorry. Ariana says the ticketing curve is nail-biting now.
Candina Weston: Yes. I could imagine. Yeah, I could imagine cuz it’s people are worried that they’re [00:14:00] not quite sure what’s going to happen and that sort of thing for sure.
Liz Lathan: We always go through this with the executive dashboard, and how are we doing and where do we need to turn on account-based marketing, and where do we need to put more in digital?
Where do we need to give the partners more enablement so that they can bring more people? And the timing of that is a giant hairball right now. So speaking of that, do you use digital account-based marketing tactics in your audience acquisition, or are those more personal?
Candina Weston: Oh, yes, definitely.
So again, it comes down to audiences. So we have within Microsoft, we’ll have a B2B and a B2C engine or a targeting engine that we can leverage to go direct to individuals. And so, within the account-based marketing engine, we will leverage those four particular roles that we’re looking at within certain accounts, but we will also do direct-to-audience marketing. [00:15:00] And so it’s like a combination of both essentially.
Liz Lathan: Let’s go during the event. So while it’s happening, I know one of the incredible things that we’ve all experienced during the pandemic was the just insane amount of digital data we’re able to get.
We can see where people move their mouse, and we can see how long they listen to our session and all the things. Now, as we move back to in-person, we’ll still get all that from our hybrid. Our digital folks: Is the in-person event data changing? Are you feeling like the exact team wants to see the same type of data that they were seeing digitally?
Candina Weston: Everybody wants to see the same. You would see digitally
I think this is like the next shift to work out, to be honest. Cause it’s we now have a, we’ve now been spoiled by data in the digital process. And so this is, yeah, this is like the next big thing to make sure that we are getting right.
[00:16:00] And so it is a process. Because I think what happens, and this is just being super honest. It’s like when and we see that as well with companies in digital transformation and other things when there’s a cycle that you have to go through, and you stay relevant and that sort of thing, something like the pandemic just significantly accelerated that.
And people are getting two years’ worth of digital transformation done in two months or the demand is crazy for it. And so now, if we go back to an in-person context, it’s not like there is a burning platform urgency like there was previously, but I think what we now have as a precedent, which is like a push to get to that same level that we were previously.
[00:17:00] So I think. It’s still an open question: How are we going to solve that, and there’s people working on it, and we will eventually get there.
Liz Lathan: I think that’s fair. That’s fair. We’re all learning something new. This whole journey. One of the priorities you had early on was prioritizing a smaller carbon footprint when producing events.
How is that looking to you going forward?
Candina Weston: That was a really big deal. So we’ve committed to be carbon negative by 2030. And what that means is basically removing or taking away all of the emissions that we had created since 1975 when the company was established. And so we make some pretty hard-line business decisions, even sometimes at the expense of revenue, to be honest. In order to ensure that we are moving forward and we are meeting those goals because it’s such an important problem to solve essentially.
And so we really want to be thought leaders there. And when we [00:18:00] went through like even prior to the pandemic, a lot of we’re working with a lot of our suppliers to ensure that we were removing as much of the carbon footprint as we possibly could in terms of all of the different aspects of the supply around the event.
So everything we were starting to track, and we were working with all of our suppliers in order to do that. And so that was something that had already started. When the pandemic hit, obviously that was like a, there was a massive reduction in general just because of the fact that we weren’t flying and the fact that we weren’t leveraging spaces, air conditioning, other things.
But I think now that we are in, and also like during the digital process, one thing that we did, and this is interesting, because whenever we do workshops [00:19:00] internally. And we say, what can we do to reduce the carbon footprint? Any ideas? Everybody always goes to events, and they always go to swag.
And and it’s really interesting because I’m seeing it now, even when we are coming back, everyone’s let’s go to the t-shirts and those photos are great, two years ago. And
Liz Lathan: It’s like with NFTs or digital swag?
Candina Weston: Yeah. Yeah. So basically we so we actually made a commitment not to do swag.
We basically said we wouldn’t do it. We did digital swag.
Liz Lathan: If you got one of the Microsoft t-shirts during one of the trade shows, you want to keep it. It will be worth something one day.
Candina Weston: There you go. There you go. Someone could contradict me, but basically, I’m like no, I’m not going to sign off on this budget.
So someone else might be signing off on that budget now. But I think at the time, basically, and I wouldn’t, I think we’ll continue that commitment, but definitely digital swag, NFTs, and what that did was that was amazing to use on social and other things as well.
[00:20:00] So I know people can take photos of their swag, but they can also do cool stuff with digital swag.
Liz Lathan: At SXSW, there were a lot of NFT drops around, and it was really fun to go collect it and be part of that experience. You own something — you don’t just have something that’s going to sit in a drawer. It’s now something that truly could potentially grow value.
Candina Weston: But I think that’s a, yeah, I think that’s a really important one. So please, don’t get back to old habits cuz we really need to,
Liz Lathan: I’ve reading more and more about web3 and blockchain and NFTs, and they’re not exactly carbon neutral. They’re a little scary.
Candina Weston: Yeah, no, I think, all of it comes down to, and I think this is another area as well. If you look at the overall value chain, like you need to address every single part of it.
And so one of the parts of it is the data center [00:21:00] and what the data center actually, You know, how polluting is the data center? And so for example, we have a particular standard when we are building data centers and it has to comply with all of these different standards. And we literally, we will not go into a, a country situation or whatever, where we can’t be in a clean data center.
A lot of the time we make really hard line calls on that sort of stuff. And we are working with companies in terms of leveraging biofuel, and, it’s like all of these different aspects. So when you start looking at these processes, the more and more people that we have pushed on the use of the clean aspects of the value chain, the more likely we will solve these things. We’re trying to be leaders with others in that, but that’s a big thing. If everybody can get on that bandwagon, that would be [00:22:00] super helpful for the world.
Liz Lathan: No, there’s an interesting comment. Why is swag the scapegoat when we’re putting carpet that’s used one time?
Candina Weston: It’s everything. No, it’s true. Swag always gets a bad rap ride because it’s so obvious to everyone, but it’s true. It’s like some of the other things that we were looking at is when we are building out the, and this was again before COVID, when we’re building out fixtures and other things..
How can we produce those in a way that we can reuse them versus chucking them out? So that’s been a big part of the process as well. So you write whoever was writing that in the chat, absolutely fair. And that’s definitely a big deal.
Liz Lathan: When I was at Dell, and when we did our big shows, we would partner with habitat for humanity and give that donated carpet to them so they could use it in houses.
It was not smart of us. The one year we did like pink carpet.
Candina Weston: But [00:23:00] definitely like all of these things, and it’s really about a choice, right? Like you can make a choice on all of these things, a conscious choice. It’s more if you are not paying attention and you’re not making a choice — that’s when you went up in this situation.
Liz Lathan: So let’s move to post-event. As the business person on the marketing team, how did you make sure that monetization was prioritized and successful? Because that’s the part where at the very end, you’re like, oh, it’ll just come from the marketing budget.
Candina Weston: So there’s two parts of post-event. One was like, how do you, so as part of the funnel process, all of our data and the tagging and the leads and all of that gets fed into one system, which then gets fed into all other marketing systems.
[00:24:00] That’s a connected data process on the monetization side of things. Previously I think it was pretty similar to everybody where it’s like, there’s a cost. And, everyone’s working on that model. And then, when we went into the digital situation, it really became like a media-based model. And so what I mean by that is based on the value of your audience and the value of the assets that you have digitally, it becomes more like a, I don’t want to call it ad sales because that’s the wrong way of looking at it, but it becomes more of a media buy type model.
And so we remodeled all of our packages and that sort of thing based on that.
Liz Lathan: Did you find that you’re more freely giving or requiring double up down or whatever to give actual customer data from your events to those partners, or is it giving them access to an audience you already have?
Candina Weston: We gave within like obviously privacy requirements making sure that was all above board. We gave the partners the [00:25:00] same kind of views that we would have in our own dashboard. They were able to tag their own kind of assets. And we were able to track those assets as well through the process.
And so, ideally, what we would want in an ideal marketing process is that every single asset associated with the promotion or the journey around the event was tracked in the data system when we were able to then process that and enable the partners to leverage that data. So that was, that was also important for them because they were able to understand a lot more, there was a interesting kind of transition between what is a lead and what is the media value within a traditional marketing construct. That was an interesting kind of transition.
[00:26:00] And the other transition that we made was the content side of things was way more integrated into the actual event experience like the main event experience than it was previously because otherwise, it’s very obviously too salesy. And so our partners did a great job. A lot of our partners did a great job making amazingly authentic content to bring into the event experience, which is very relevant to the customers.
And it took a few goes like the first go, it wasn’t ideal, but like over a couple of goes, it was beautiful. Like a lot of the ratings that we’re getting from partners were higher than some of our, kind of our own sessions.
Liz Lathan: That’s great. So we did a research study last year to determine what we call a new business metric called return on emotion.
And it drives ROI. So if you’re creating these experiences from the moment you get the invitation to the event, all the way through to the end, we found five emotions you must evoke in order to create a business-ready environment. So to drive pipeline and revenue, and they are hope, adventure, acceptance, active, and motivation. And if you put them in order, it’s ham with three A’s.
If you can craft the program with these things you created in that connected environment, where people were able to feel out of their comfort zone to feel hopeful for better tomorrow, to feel motivated, to put into action, to feel accepted.
Like they’re here in the right audience, just saying hi to people when they join, making them know that they’re here. And then, of course, the activity part is how do you get people active? Even if it’s just in chat, can you make them be a part of this. And I think that your program’s using the data analysis, you’re making sure that you’re hitting your target audiences, and you’re getting them exactly what they need.
Candina Weston: Yeah. You need it. Oh yeah. And the emotion was really important. Like you can’t just have dry content — people want to have fun like we’re humans. We would have dancing and joking. And there were lots of pets in a lot of the social posts, and it’s we’re humans, let’s just be human.
[00:28:00] And that, especially in a moment where people are looking for connection, and that should continue, it’s it’s really important to do.
Liz Lathan: I love that. Now here’s my big question. We talk about data. Every session you guys are all going to listen to and go to today are going to talk about data.
I’m curious who on your team is actually looking at the data? What are the executives looking at versus campaign managers versus event managers? Do you have separate dashboards for all those? Tell me all the things.
Candina Weston: No. So we have one dashboard per event, but the dashboard has it, and we can have a few views, but we normally create one dashboard per event.
[00:29:00] And, then, that dashboard will track all of the audience experience metrics. It’ll track the demand gen metrics. We have a separate one for the partners because of the confidentiality of the data. So we have a dashboard and everybody is looking at that dashboard at the beginning of COVID, not everybody was looking at that dashboard, but by the end, everybody was looking at the dashboard.
So because it became such, data became such a big deal in a way it hadn’t before. And then, we funnel it through to what we call a global demand center. And so, our global demand center handles all data for the company from a customer experience and marketing perspective. And that’s where all of the account-based marketing and all of the different targeting and anything that we would then pull back out into our other campaigns would go into that system.
And so that system can then collate a number of different experiences through, from one customer and they can see how a customer is engaging with different content or what types of content or what combination of things will. So you can be [00:30:00] more interesting of a customer.
Liz Lathan: The Buyer’s Journey and what attracted them.
Candina Weston: Exactly. And so we can do correlation analysis, and then we can just pull whatever view makes sense for whatever executive is looking at. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure according to what’s required.
Liz Lathan: Yeah, that’s incredible. Joseph has a great question. Have examples of experiential metrics been discussed, but I feel like we might be nearing the end of our session time.
So I’m worried we’re not going to get to all of this. But let’s ask that question real quick. Do you have any experiential metrics other than — now we’re using return on motion as experiential, and it’s a measurable metric. If you’ve got this blueprint, you can actually measure how they feel on those five emotion scales.
In 8.6, we did a research study. If you had on a scale of one to 10. Hopeless to hopeful act passive to active, etc. 8.6 was the tipping point of you’ve created an environment where business readiness and ROI is going to thrive. Do you have any metrics to look at for experiential?
Candina Weston: Yeah. So we have [00:31:00] a for experiential we actually have what we call a marketing engagement index and that in that involves not just experiential.
So within the experiential side of things, there are certain metrics that we would leverage in terms of satisfaction and other things. But what we do is we don’t look at that individually. We look at it in their MEI or marketing experiential index. Metrics that include other engagements beyond the event because we’re more interested in the combination of engagement than just the event itself.
And so that’s what most of our teams focus on, knowing, especially in a marketing construct, that no one thing will be the thing that really pushes somebody over into the sales environment. Like it is such a combination of things. And the way that we look at that data is as such.
Liz Lathan: So I love it. We [00:32:00] need a whole new session on that.
Candina Weston: Yes, I know. And I would bring in some friends on that one.
Liz Lathan: That’s amazing. Candina, this was so much fun. I had a great time talking to you. I think that our time is up. So thank you so much for joining us. This was so much amazing and a blast, and we’ll see you next time.
Candina Weston: Thanks for the great question.
Liz Lathan: Thanks so much. Thanks, everybody.
Chaviva Gordon-Bennett: Thanks again to Candina and Liz for joining us on Event Experience. And thank you for listening. If you’re enjoying the show, we would love to hear it. Connect with us on social media and subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you’re listening right now. And don’t forget to share the show with your colleagues and friends. We’d really appreciate it.
You can find transcripts of each episode as well as key takeaways at Bizzabo.com/podcasts on behalf of the team. Thank you. We can’t wait to gather again soon for a new episode of Event Experience.