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Ahead of the Curve: Exploring the Future of Sustainable Brand Experiences

Q&A with Project Director, Vicky Nutt

In the world of BIGGER and BOLDER, it’s quite surprising to see the experience industry adopting a ‘less is more’ approach in recent years. From cutting down event waste to reducing carbon emissions, event professionals are answering the call for memorable experiences with a lighter environmental footprint.

As agencies continue to navigate their sustainability journies, it’s clear that this isn’t just a passing trend, but a continuous commitment to their people, brands and planet. 

As a founding member of Isla, Smyle proudly maintains ISO 14001:2015 (Enviornmental Management) and ISO 20121:2012 (Sustainable Events) certifications and continues its journey carbon neutral and B-corp status. From experience design to delivery, Project Director Vicky Nutt shares Smyle’s unique sustainability journey and visions for the future.

What is Smyle’s sustainability commitment?

Our commitment is rooted in our vision ‘to lead in sustainability management, amplify positive change through engagement with all interested parties, innovate best practice and leave a meaningful legacy.’

This vision ensures our core values and aspirations will continue to align with the expectations of our clients, partners and wider community and hold us accountable as a forward-thinking and responsible organisation. Moreover, it inspires us to strive for excellence and leave a lasting legacy we can be proud of.

We’re in the process of understanding our baseline for 2023-2024 to formulate a plan to hit 50% reductions in emissions by 2030 and ultimately be net zero by 2050. This vision will guide our commitment to ensure Smyle not only hits our long-term goals but leaves a positive impact on the world.

How do the agency’s environmental goals guide its resource and material choices?

As we work towards zero waste to landfill by 2030, we’re taking a much harder look at our approach to suppliers, materials, and waste management.

Sourcing sustainable materials and resources can feel daunting at first due to limited availability or higher costs, which is why we have begun engaging suppliers at the contractual stage. Smyle works closely with suppliers to overcome these constraints and ensure a reliable supply of sustainable options.

Transitioning to more sustainable options may initially seem cost-prohibitive, but in many cases, can lead to long-term savings. For example, investing in energy-efficient equipment or reusable materials can reduce operational expenses over time. By getting the data and collaboration commitment from the offset, we can rate our suppliers and materials to ensure they meet our standards.

We are also aware that a big proportion of emissions comes from using toxic materials, and have invested in the materials council to test new project items and their longevity. By taking a mindful and selective approach to our suppliers and resources, we’re another step closer to meeting our goals for 2030.

How does Smyle engage clients to meet sustainability goals?

Engaging clients to meet sustainability goals requires a combination of education, collaboration, and innovative solutions. Aligning values and producing projects with low environmental impact will always be a top priority.

Our collaboration with Meta at the World Economic Forum is a great example of how sustainable design doesn’t have to mean compromise. Together we developed a comprehensive strategy that kept sustainability at its core with a first-of-its-kind two-story pavilion that was as beautiful as it was responsible.

Collaborating with clients who share our values and are up to the challenge has led to some of our favourite thought-leading projects.

How will the agency’s sustainability efforts evolve in the next few years?

Looking ahead, I’m proud of Smyle’s journey in sustainability. We’re making strides in minimising our environmental impact and engaging stakeholders. Moving forward, I hope we continue to build on these achievements and strive for even greater impact and influence.

I’m particularly excited about finding opportunities to innovate and pioneer sustainable event management practices. Imagine if we could develop new technologies or methodologies that revolutionise the industry, making events not only more eco-friendly but also more engaging and memorable. Whether it’s through leveraging renewable energy sources, implementing zero-waste strategies, or creating immersive virtual experiences, there’s immense potential for us to lead the charge in redefining what sustainable events look like.

By working together with industry peers, policymakers, and advocacy groups, we can drive systemic change and create a ripple effect that extends far beyond our operations. While the path ahead may not always be clear, I’m confident that with our passion, creativity, and dedication, Smyle can continue to push boundaries, inspire others, and make a meaningful difference in the world of sustainability.

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Gamescom – expanding gaming culture beyond traditional gamers and brands

By James Howitt, Client Development Director at Smyle

Gamescom is the most important show in the calendar for the gaming world. All the major players in consoles (Xbox, Sega, Nintendo) and game creators (EA, Activation Blizzard) are there, as well as thousands of fans that descend on Cologne to see and play the latest releases while exploring new innovative technology. However, the biggest takeaway from my inaugural Gamescom was that, in fact, this arena of fun isn’t just for gaming brands.

Netflix brought Stranger Things to life with “Surfer Boy Pizza” while JD Sports’ “Beyond the Basement” had DJs, sneakers, games, and a foam pit to get lost in. Gaming culture has shifted. Yes, there are still the hardcore gaming fans, but now brands are tapping into a really diverse audience hungry for experiences, technology, and storytelling with plenty of fun and a bit of nostalgia thrown in.    

Whilst the brand doesn’t need to be limited to gaming, it’s important to remember who the core attendees are. Bring gamification into the experience through interactivity, discovery and hidden surprise and delight moments. Some stands had two to three-hour queues for a ten-minute mini-game or prize. Easter eggs and hidden components also proved really popular. When there is so much competition, these small ‘gaming’ elements can be enough to tempt people to come and explore

As you would expect from a gaming convention, there were screens and consoles everywhere. Samsung had a big presence, with some incredible screens and technology – graphics that gamers’ dreams are made of. With that in mind, stands need to wow visually through high-impact screens and builds with music and moving image components. 

The likes of Sega, Warhammer and Ubisoft transported fans into their favourite games through giant sets, props and even a VW camper van, giving them a real-life experience of the games. The fans loved it, and it created amazing photo opportunities, which were, of course, shared all over social media and picked up by the press, amplifying the brilliant brand messages even further!

To learn more about ‘Beyond the Booth’ thinking, click here.

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Beyond The Booth Thinking: A Holistic Approach

An exhibit stand is often the centrepiece of a brand activation strategy at an industry event. It’s all some brands spend their money on at a show, though they’re wise to use their own marketing channels and for sales or marketing teams to promote their presence. But, for companies that can invest further, most industry events will happily sell all kinds of additional promotional opportunities.

The approach, inside and outside the booth, needs to be seen as a chance to show creative flair. Looking at a show floor presence as an opportunity to create an experience for prospective and existing customers, think of it as a playground rather than a traditional booth.

Check out the garden space Smyle created for Salesforce at the Mobile World Congress.

It’s crucial for an event team to not just ‘order from the menu’ by using the event prospectus (provided by organisers) as a single source of truth when making investment decisions. To extend the metaphor, it’s helpful to see who else is in the restaurant, ask others for suggestions on what to order, and, most importantly, talk to the chef. In this case, the chef is the event organiser. They should know the event and audience better than anyone and provide consultative guidance to help develop a strategic plan for the event.

Activations outside the booth tend to fall into three key areas:

Brand awareness and traffic drivers:
For companies that are not market leaders, tactics like event signage and enticements to visit the stand are worth considering. The brand may not be well known, so these sponsorship elements make sense to change that paradigm.

Hosted networking:

For brands that are market leaders, an investment in hospitality activities may make sense. These give the brand a chance to show love to customers and hot prospects and are less dependent on getting people into a booth.

Thought leadership:
Speaking opportunities can build awareness and drive traffic to the booth. We hate paying for speaking slots, but paid or not, they can be very effective if you’ve got great speakers.

Brands can do many other things to get the word out, from sponsoring digital elements to promotional items given out to all attendees – although it’s important to note that promo gifts aren’t usually aligned with sustainability goals.

The point is to consider where the brand sits reputationally in the industry. Evaluate competitors, identify how you can stand out, and consult with the organiser to make a plan that includes a range of activities. Consistency is essential. You should tell related stories across all activations, from the key messages to the visual identity.

Whichever route you pursue with your brand activation, having strategic suppliers, a clear set of key messages and well thought-out visual identity will help you hit the mark. At Smyle, our teams have worldwide experience activating across every sector, from pharma to finance. Get in touch to see how we could work together on your next industry event.

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Look Outside the (Palais) Box to Bring Your Brand to Cannes

By Cassie Barnes, Client Director at Smyle

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending my first Cannes Lions and I was blown away (figuratively and from the weather) by the creativity and authenticity of the festival. The biggest thing that stood out was that the whole of Cannes became a playground for brands and industry leaders. From Google to TikTok, there were activations on beaches, hotels and even yachts, showing that the action wasn’t limited to the Palais.

Given its prestigious reputation, it can obviously feel intimidating for a first-time attendee and even more so for a brand looking to break into the scene. But it’s an important event on the calendar and certainly not to be missed. So, what can you do to ensure your brand stands out? Here are key insights following this year’s festival:

Look Outside the Palais
The hundreds of activations outside the Palais des Festivals are just as much of a draw as the main event, and it’s also where creativity flourishes as brands are vying for customer and attendee attention alike. Much like the World Economic Forum in Davos, the whole town comes alive, and every venue is an opportunity – with or without a badge.

Create “Wow” Moments
From the Palais to the Croisette, the buzz around an activation can often exceed a reputation. Rumours of secret artist performances at Spotify Beach were enough to send audiences rushing for a glimpse. Pinterest fully embraced this idea with “Manifestival”, which saw long queues starting early in the morning for tattoos, piercings, and tooth gems – no mean feat in a usually late-night party festival. Everyone is looking for something special, something that generates a buzz, so take risks and think outside the box to create truly original “wow” moments.

Aim for Authenticity
Cannes Lions trades the theatrics of global advertising for genuine, human connection. The relaxed atmosphere strips away formalities to spark extraordinary conversations and new ideas. Embrace the opportunity and get chatting with your customers, partners, and even competitors!

Welcome Creative Collaboration
Creative collaboration is a driving force at Cannes Lions, showing the power of partnership. Meta and KidSuper joined forces to develop the SuperStudio Reels activation, showing off Meta’s Reel capabilities whilst creating a fun experience that had a global reach. Snap’s Disney collaboration used AR and themed rooms to transport guests through the immersive worlds of Star Wars, Marvel, and Avatar. Partnering with like-minded brands or organisations amplifies your reach, elevates your stories and strengthens your presence.

Cannes Lions offers a world of opportunities for brands willing to think differently and pioneer creativity. If you challenge the norm and explore those possibilities, there’s no limit to what you Cannes do at Cannes.

Find out how Smyle can help your brand to be the talk of the town next year. Get in touch at hello@smyle.co.uk.

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Why you need to start planning for the World Economic Forum 2024 now, and what to expect once you get there

By Cassie Barnes, Client Director at Smyle

It was a pleasure to be back amongst the snowcapped Swiss mountains of Davos for the World Economic Forum (“WEF”) recently following its return to original programming in January. WEF is one of the most important dates in the calendar for over 2,500 political, business and academic leaders who descend on the small town every year.

Traditionally seen as an opportunity to discuss pressing geopolitical, environmental and societal issues, WEF has expanded in recent years to include more activations outside of the main congress and security zone. As a result, more global firms are bustling for space along the main promenade to capture the attention of those moving between meetings. 

Alongside a host of prestigious attendees and speakers such as Greta Thunberg and Idris Elba, Davos is arguably the only occasion that hundreds of the most influential people on the planet are together in one place. So it is an opportunity to network, stake your claim as a global player and rub shoulders with the top decision-makers in the world. 

But what does it take to activate your brand at WEF? Following the 2023 forum, we pulled together some key insights:

Global Economic Instability

In keeping with the global belt-tightening happening at the moment, we saw smaller, and in some cases more humble, pared-back activations. At a time when big multinational firms, especially in the technology sector, are cutting budgets and jobs, extravagant builds and champagne evenings would send a conflicting message.

That said, cutting budgets doesn’t mean cutting quality or impact. A considered approach wouldn’t be compromised by a directive to pare back. By working with a knowledgeable and experienced team, brands can still achieve a premium activation and an experience that aligns with their objectives.

Sustainability

With sustainability, a core ESG target for most businesses, the approach and design of temporary spaces need to reflect this commitment. Short-term builds at the top of a mountain are, understandably, seen as not very sustainable, but WEF offers a global platform to illustrate a bold commitment to accountable production. Our collective responsibility to show considered maintained progress in this area is vital. 

At Smyle, we have been working with our clients to create an approach to delivering sustainable experiences worldwide. Having provided numerous custom builds in Davos since 2015, we’ve been working on gathering a set of baseline metrics that inform our choices for a sensitive, creative approach and insights that allow us to develop a detailed plan for the future. 

Sustainable design doesn’t mean compromise; it can be as beautiful as it is responsible. 

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Much like sustainability and ESG, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has taken a centre focus for consumer-driven businesses. So we saw CSR get the attention it deserves at Davos this year with the poignant “Pride on the Promenade”. Accenture spearheaded the campaign to create greater visibility for the LGBTIQ+ community – celebrating progress and serving as a call to action for the work left to do. The initiative saw participating activations light up their exteriors with a rainbow on Wednesday night. It was undoubtedly a stand-out moment for WEF to see the injection of colour along the promenade and how it represented the support and advocacy required for this important message.

The whole occasion was a great example of big business recognising that change in society must come from the top and how this multicultural Forum opportunity can provide a platform for CSR campaigns.

Collaboration 

The Davos landscape provides a prime opportunity to focus on conversations that matter. The cross-collaboration nature of the Summit is at the heart of the experience for businesses focused on keeping WEF’s key issues at the forefront of discussions, with multiple opportunities for meetings, networking and talks. 

With many businesses focused on centring their strategies around the right conversations and hosted discussions that spark collaboration, brand-owned spaces must be designed to enhance collaboration. These high-level opportunities remain critical for business impact, and we saw many of the activations provide inspiring spaces that encouraged this.

Future Trends

Metaverse was the word hot on everyone’s lips. For the first time, WEF built a ‘Global Collaboration Village’ in the metaverse as a platform for more efficient collaboration between world leaders. Up and down the promenade, almost every activation had strong messaging around this topic as businesses looked to showcase their approach and steps to integrating VR headsets and mixed reality into the everyday. 

The message was loud and clear, virtual reality and the metaverse aren’t going away. The sooner leaders and businesses start investing and getting to grips with the technology, the better. We don’t see it as a replacement but rather an evolution in how business is done and builds are designed. The future is already here, and the best companies are getting a seat at the table early.

2024 Is Already in the Planning

The Forum has just wrapped, and the final boots on the ground departed, but planning for next year is already well underway. Due to the size of Davos, prime locations are hot property as there is limited space. Most businesses will already be in the process of booking and planning for 2024. 

If you are considering taking your business to the World Economic Forum next year, one question you need to consider is: Why do you need to go? What do you want to achieve? Who do you need to meet? It could be because you want your seat at the table on climate action, or you have cutting-edge technology you want to get in front of investors. 

If you know the ‘why’, it’s probably time to start looking forward to January 2024 and investing in some snow boots.

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Learn more about Sessions

Intelligent planning for 2024

Smyle Sessions look at industry insights and current trends to facilitate fresh thinking on how to approach digital, hybrid and in-person experiences.

We're helping client teams take on their biggest challenges with innovative thinking, flexibility, and robust planning to make sure they can reach audiences and move their businesses forward.

So, where to begin? Our workshops take a look at what we can expect from the year ahead: insights into how to connect to today’s audiences, how to best future-proof plans when we need to pivot, and most of all, to continue to create bold experiences that capture the imagination.

In these sessions, we share case studies and creative inspiration, tips and tricks, and develop content-rich collaboration activities to support your team’s needs.

Session topics can be fully tailored, but we’re currently exploring some key trends:

Hybrid is here to stay: the new way to connect people in person and online

Powerful virtual experiences: how content is more vital than ever

Doing well by doing good: the impact of authentically inclusive experiences

Delivering a meaningful sustainability strategy, intrinsic to your brand experience

We love collaborating with our clients, so whether you only have an hour for a quick insights chat, or would like to spend some extended quality time with us on a tailored workshop, please just let us know!

See also

Country House

The Lockhouse,
71 Mead Lane,
Hertford, SG13 7AX

Town House

Albert House,
256-260 Old St,
London, EC1V 9DD

Manchester

Studio 105, SeeSaw,
86 Princess Street,
Manchester, M1 6NG

Amsterdam

Suikersilo-Oost 22,
1165 MS Halfweg,
Netherlands