Person using digital screen at an in-person event

The power of positivity: learning from MENA’s scaled back event strategy

VMLY&R Commerce identifies key trends for the immediate future to help build live events programmes

Throughout the last year, while much of the world was locked down and at home, the UAE continued to maintain subdued but effective live events that delivered highly innovative physical and virtual engagement.

However, as many markets hope for some sort of return to ‘normality,’ what does this mean for a return to live events that so many people crave?

B2B: back to business

Businesses typically reduce costs of in-person sales meetings by 46% simply by attending tradeshows. It’s a more efficient way of meeting new clients and it helps strengthen existing customer ties. Combine that with the ability to raise brand awareness, and it is easy to see why tradeshows are essential in driving the end-to-end commerce journey.

The pandemic has resulted in a loss of opportunity that shouldn’t be underestimated. For example, the Dubai Expo 2020 was originally projected to contribute Dh122.6 billion (approximately £24 billion) in value to the UAE’s economy by 2031. The value hasn’t been lost, but it has been shifted to next year.

However, we did see several trade events take place in the UAE in November 2020 and May 2021 and we’ve seen the Arabian Travel Market return. These major trade events still went ahead even in unusual times.  

The UAE has been proactive in releasing guidelines for exhibition organisers and event agencies. That has meant that events, big and small, have been able to plan and deliver all-important moments during this pandemic.

Reduced attendance and safer behaviours at events will demonstrate the possibilities of large-scale events reopening. This will be watched by other markets so that as we move towards Q4 of 2021, we will be heading towards a solid increase in all kinds of B2B conferences and events globally.

Smaller is bigger

Smaller attendee lists have three key advantages. The first is manageability. While we still have regulations, managing smaller crowds is easier than managing larger crowds.

The second is exclusivity. For high-end, luxury products and important societal moments, smaller is better.

The third is ease of delivery. With fewer guests the logistics and costs around smaller events are easier to handle. If you are going down this route it is essential to ensure that you connect the end-to-end journey from the physical space through your social and digital channels so that you achieve your objectives in sales or brand uplift. And with the world watching online, small events will punch above their weight in the coming year.

Online excitement

While the UAE is forging ahead in physical space, it’s not forgetting the new value in the digital and hybrid spaces. There are still times where a fully digital experience is the best solution. But marketers have learned that simply hosting a webinar is no longer enough to attract and hold the attention of delegates.

Working with companies such as Twitter to effectively pivot events into digital spaces, incorporating greenscreen technologies and creating virtual environments have increased engagement and retention.

Innovation grabs attention, and convenience drives engagement, but the creative approach and creating lively content is what will ensure that your customers take commercial steps. If you bombard them with boring formats or make your engagements too long you will lose them and lose critical opportunities.

Ensure your events are more than ‘talking head’ webinars. You should take as much interest in the creative expression of their brand as the digital platform it’s expressed on.

An optimistic 2021

The MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region has displayed optimism throughout the pandemic. Marketers can move into a leading position globally if they make the most of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s emergence from the pandemic ahead of other countries and regions.

Katie Streten

VMLY&R Commerce

published on

04 August 2021



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