The Rise of Niche Events
Mega-events such as CES and SXSW may grab the headlines, but in their shadows are the thousands of events serving specific niches.
By definition, a niche event is a highly-specialized event that focuses on a narrow market segment. Their numbers have grown in recent years and the organizations producing them have their own individual reasons, but the overarching reason is our desire for personalized experiences.
Nicole Bojic, senior vice president of strategic solutions at engagement solutions agency InVision Communications, says the rise of niche events correlates directly with the rise in people's desire for personalization. Niche events have the ability to deliver relevant content directly to attendees unlike mega-events that require attendees to find relevant content on their own.
“While technology makes personalization achievable to a degree even in the context of a mega-conference, that kind of scale increases the risk that attendees will feel lost in a sea of many,” she explains. “In niche events, on the other hand, hyper-personalization is achievable in a way that delivers on attendee wants and results in higher engagement.”
Scott Wayne, co-founder of The Envoy Portfolio, a team of negotiators, analysts and creatives, who research and influence human decision-making through a portfolio of products and services, believes niche events are growing in popularity because they appeal to millennials’ preferences.
“As millennials are now the largest generation in the workplace, it comes as no surprise that their preferences are becoming more in demand,” he says.
Wayne continues, “Millennials crave less formal and more experiential and intimate learning and networking experiences. Having only ever lived in a digitally centric business environment, smaller more experimental talks and events offer a personalized opportunity to disconnect and make lasting personal connections.”
Industry experts say niche events are popping up alongside organizations’ mega-events and are personalized to serve hyper-focused target audiences, meet people where they are geographically, or even address a specific short-term problem.
Bojic says smaller events are usually a complement to, not a replacement for, the big ones.
“Often, we design massive brand experiences and then adapt them for audience segments that differ in size and scope,” she says. “This does requires some shifts in the design of an experience, of course, but much of the content used at a big event is shareable and scalable for more niche gatherings.”
Networking opportunities and destination typically rank as top reasons people cite when deciding whether to attend an event and both are easy to deliver on in intimate settings.
“Smaller events allow for more targeted content and networking opportunities,” Bojic notes. “And they also allow a broader range of choices for location, as venues can get limited once you're accommodating tens of thousands of people.”
Ultimately, organizations use niche events to truly drive change within their organizations. Erik Berg, vice president of marketing at ACCESS Destination Services, a destination management company, says it’s not enough to simply host a large fabulous event and hope that it has an impact on employees.
“Our clients are looking for very specific results from their events, whether it’s to increase sales by a certain percentage or build team camaraderie and that can simply be difficult to achieve, or at least measure, with a large-scale event,” he explains.
Berg continues, “We find our clients see a more immediate and long-term ROI with events that are smaller or more ‘boutique’ that can be custom-designed to have a greater impact on those participating.”
Not all niche events are designed to stick around forever. Linda Baker, president and founder of Conference Managers, an event planning and logistics firm, says short-term events emerge when there is a need for a specific problem or issue to be solved.
“We find short-term niche events are created when an outbreak, an epidemic or a new technology not widely available or just being developed comes up,” she explains. “Most of the short-term events we have supported are open-ended and last between one to five years.”
Baker says these short-term events are held in addition to the traditional meetings. They benefit attendees by creating a place to find solutions. She offers a few tips for planners tasked with creating events with projected limited-runs.
“Plan with a short-term mentality, try to remain flexible to fit in a hole or cancellation at a hotel in order to get a great deal, and with participation unknown, negotiate to have no attrition,” she says.
Today, corporate event planners are making audience engagement a priority like never before. Niche events provide personalized content that is relevant, timely and engages audiences. Because these events can meet the unique needs of attendees, whether that is attending an event on a specific relevant topic, one close to their home, or one that is an immediate response to current events; the niche event trend is set to grow.