Post-pandemic change and the next normal for B2B experiences

Jonathan Izzard, Strategy Director at Wonder, looks to the ancient Greeks for advice on change, and for how to mix innovation and empathy

Covid accelerated the typical rate of change, shaking up the status quo more dramatically, more quickly and more universally than anything in our lifetimes.

For business, no more so than through the inescapable overlap of the worlds of Work and Life, affecting our views on ways of working, collaboration, motivation and belonging, in equal measure to our feelings about our home lives, family relationships, priorities and aspirations.

It’s changed the way we work, as well as the way we think. About everything.

For B2B experiences, an industry based on addressing the needs and behaviours of people, this is something that is impossible to ignore, and vital to harness.

It serves as a timely reminder that business experiences need to be, above all, human experiences: attendees bring their ‘full selves’ to the party, not there simply as delegates, decision-makers, stakeholders, shareholders, customers or colleagues, but as people.

Our work has to reflect this, and the ‘pandemic jolt’ has given us licence to reappraise, reframe and redesign experiences to ensure they meet current — and future — expectations of the people that matter to businesses.

Without a shadow of a doubt, technology proved the lockdown lifeline for B2B experiences

Virtual events were not only a short-term saviour for the industry (and the businesses that needed continued means of connecting with their audiences), but they paved the way for more systemic change for business experiences.

The reversion — with the large-scale reopening of the world — to in-person B2B experiences doesn’t reflect a total abandonment of virtual, but a reminder of the human needs that these moments satisfy. Whether it’s a longing for shared experiences (that can’t be deserted at the click of a mouse), for face-to-face connections (not just group chat), or just an antidote for screen fatigue — this is what’s right for people, right now.

Whilst this feels like it has settled under the ubiquitous banner of ‘hybrid’, this word is a cipher, representing neither the end of the story, nor the final form for B2B events. Hybrid, after all, simply describes a blending of mediums and technologies that helps deliver meaningful moments to people. And those people will continue to change.

Ultimately, the real new normal for B2B experiences won’t be encapsulated in a word, but a mindset. This is the learning that the pandemic has inspired. The tangible value that exists if we choose to reach for it.

So, how might we grasp this value as an industry? How can we harness change and build better because of it? As a wise person once said, use quotes in your writing, as someone has always said it better than you ever could.

“Change is the only constant in life” — Heraclitus

The inevitability of change can represent an uncomfortable truth for some. The guarantee of new challenges, and the constant need for fresh thinking and smarter solutions. It is vital, therefore, that we take the time to actively listen to the world around us; investing in audience research ensures we are connected with the culture that defines and exemplifies human change.

This will help us, as industry leaders, not just understand and adapt to change, but pre-empt and intelligently design around it.

“Technology: The great growling engine of change” — Alvin Toffler

We’ve seen it already. New technologies and platforms were, in many ways, our industry’s white knights during the dark times of the pandemic. But this is only the next phase of our maturing relationship with technology, with Web3 and the metaverse the latest examples of technological advance in our collective peripheral vision.

Rather than getting caught up in the hype of tech, we need to make the choice to actively engage with it, where that’s by mastering it, monitoring it, or mobilising your business to take advantage of it.

“Change with the times in a way that renews your core essence, not abandons it.” – Richard C. Morais

Does this mean change for change’s sake? Throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Of course not.

The real path for harnessing meaningful change within B2B experiences needs to be through an alchemistic mix of innovation (new technologies, new platforms and new ways of doing things) and empathy (listening to what audiences need and adapting accordingly).

The coming together of these factors will help us improve and evolve with the world around us. Embedding new thinking and new behaviours in the work we produce. Demonstrating how business has learnt to listen, react and balance better.

A renewed approach that’s curious, optimistic and embracing of change, because this is how we will demonstrate real empathy with audiences, helping us build not only more engaging experiences, but deeper and more valuable relationships with the people that matter.

Featured image: Heraclitus / classicalwisdom.com

Jonathan Izzard

Jonathan Izzard is Strategy Director at Wonder, the creative agency specialising in B2B events and experiences for clients including BT, Google Cloud and Vodafone.

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