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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.