Inside the great pivot toward C-Suite experiences.

The past few years have seen a seismic shift in how B2B brands approach experiential marketing. As budgets tighten and scrutiny on ROI intensifies, brands are rebalancing the traditional sales-driven event model toward experiences tailored specifically for the C-Suite, with long term strategy in mind.

Written by Kate Fulford-Brown.

At the Experiential Marketing Summit 2024 2LK Managing Director, Kate Fulford-Brown, teamed up with client partner Cate Hind, from Splunk, to deliver a fireside chat exploring the unique opportunities in this space, how to breed audience understanding and foster executive engagement, and what B2B event marketers can learn from this new ‘white glove’ world.

A new top-down approach.
The events industry is booming, with its global value predicted to top $1.75 BN by 2032 (source: CMI). B2B marketing budgets are climbing, with over 20% now allocated to events – the fastest growing spend line. But where is this money going, and how can companies maximize the value. A major shift we’re seeing is toward prioritizing exclusive C-Suite experiences.

While community-building user and developer events remain important, many mature tech companies are now embracing a top-down approach with the focus on deepening influential senior relationships and building long-term customer value.

“B2B customer events are a reflection of the go-to-market strategy,” explained Cate, “and we’re seeing more interest in how that precious face-to-face time can deepen relationships with decision makers and pay into customer lifetime value.” Indeed, a recent Harvard Business Review study stated 89% of marketers believe that meetings held in person provide value beyond the meeting itself (source: HubSpot).

There’s also more emphasis on quality over quantity at events. “The demo booth is our shopfront, but the meetings are where the true business happens,” said Cate. “Budgets are scrutinized, bosses are looking for evidence of smart ‘rationalizing’ of what we’re spending where, and customer C-Suite experiences offer disproportionate profile, influence and onward opportunity that halos right across the business.

“This shift shapes everything in how we plan our experiential moments with our client partners: the content, environment, measurement – everything.”

Planning and designing for C-Suite success. 
At 2LK we talk a lot about defining and creating what we call the Experience Advantage®. This is how we help our clients throughout their experience planning journey – from event proposition stage through to the physical space planning and design, content, activations, operations, use of tech and (of course) measurement to ensure they’re pulling all the right levers.

Designing successful C-Suite events requires understanding of this audience’s mindset. “They absolutely don’t want to be ‘sold’ to,” noted Kate, “it’s more about ‘hosting’ than ‘boasting’, with intimate peer moments over plenary sessions. We think carefully about the plenary and demo spaces versus one-to-one peer moments and networking spaces.”

Cate advised enlisting your own C-Suite’s commitment and personalizing interactions like invitations. “If your own C-Suite isn’t showing up, your customers’ C-Suites may not either.” She stresses the need for exclusivity, whether through can’t-miss content or once-in-a-lifetime hospitality experiences.

She continued: “Change your mind set on content and how you deliver it. This audience wants peer-to-peer ‘micro’ engagements, not big theater moments (other than a keynote perhaps). A recent Forbes Insights Survey revealed that 85% of C-Suite decisions are influenced by peer conversations – create that space for them!” (Source: Digital Defynd).

The physical environment is key. “Straight demo spaces are not just what this audience is looking for.” Instead, create lounge-style seating and appropriate meeting spaces encouraging spontaneous exchanges.

And what about AI? Beware the bandwagon temptation to ‘AI badge’ activations or experiential moments. At 2LK, we’re careful to interrogate purposeful and brand or audience-appropriate solutions, using our clients’ technology to drive credibility, persuasion and enhance activations. From data-driven art installations to tech-powered dining adventures, 2LK have worked on AI powered activations for various clients. A good example is where we created huge Magic Murals driven by AI for Salesforce, capturing insights and ideas being discussed on round tables at a proprietary conference. An informative, engaging and memorable artistic interactive activation.

So, is old school hospitality dead? “Not at all, but it needs to have purpose and offer genuine value”, according to Cate, who cited Splunk’s Formula 1 sponsorship seamlessly blending branding, hospitality and technology showcases. She suggested inviting partners, making it a highly sought after experience and of their interest.

What does good look like? 
If C-Suite events are not always about closing the deal in the room, what are we looking to achieve with this audience and how do we know what good looks like? Kate explained, “With this audience, success is often best measured by the value created ‘out of the room’ – in onward opportunities and engagement from this influential audience secured by ‘getting it right’ in the room.”

The goal is creating customer champions. Cate agreed, “These guests become our spokespeople, we make the effort to get to know them. We know that 92% of B2B customers are more likely to purchase if a peer has endorsed the product or brand (source: G2 and Gartner) so one C-Suite customer testimonial video, case study, 1-1 reference or speaker opportunity could make the event self-funding! Third party validation from a customer is invaluable and is a core metric.”

While metrics like attendance, leads and satisfaction surveys still matter, Kate agreed: “It’s a whole new approach to measuring the value exchange – concentrating the budget on fewer, higher-quality moments that foster lasting engagement.”

The magic formula. 
So, what are the pro-tips to take away?

● Commitment from your own leadership.
● Can’t-miss exclusivity in content and hospitality.
● Customization and personalization of experience and journey.
● Intimate, conversation-promoting environments – micro engagements vs. theater.
● Incorporating purposeful AI for progressive, memorable activations.
● Focus on how to cultivate client champions.
● Pivoting metrics toward long-term value and advocacy.

Cate concluded, “Having a partner like 2LK who provides ideas and innovation is invaluable in achieving your goals with this critical audience”. For many mature tech-led companies, investing in world-class C-Suite experiences has become the new sales and event imperative.


Let’s talk.

If you’d like to discuss supercharging your brand experiences, contact us to make the most of moments that matter.

More reading:

SXSW 2024: The good, the bad and the Insta-worthy
Five lessons about brand experience from MWC 2024
The future of events