I’m a huge advocate of events. The influx of digital communications solutions like video conferencing, messaging apps and social platforms has made face to face interactions a rare commodity. There is no substitute for meeting and connecting with someone in-person, it always helps to make the encounter both more memorable and more meaningful.

With events size doesn’t matter

In order to build my list of the top immersive marketing events, I really tried to focus on the events that put marketing use cases and brand experience front and center. I wasn’t able to find any events completely dedicated to immersive marketing, instead I found marketing events with immersive tracks and immersive events with marketing tracks. This list is by no means exhaustive, just based on my personal experience.

The events on this list come in all shapes and sizes and are located all around the world. I prefer smaller, more intimate events as it’s much easier to make valuable connections with like-minded professionals. The larger events, for me, can be overwhelming and it becomes difficult to hunt down the most interesting content. That being said, it’s the large, high-profile events that bring in the most compelling and expensive experiences – so if it’s immersive demos you’re looking for, MWC and SXSW aren’t to be missed.

Now without further ado, my recommended list of top immersive marketing events, in chronological order — hope to see you there!

Immersive marketing and brand experience events

1. AWE 2019: May/Santa Clara, California

I’ve attended AWE over the last several years and have seen this conference mature into a premier XR event. I’m thrilled to have been invited back this year to present on a panel looking at XR through the lens of marketing and brand experience. This year’s three-day event featured a track dedicated to marketing and sales and plenty of marketing focused mainstage action with sessions like “XR with Sports Brands,” “XR and the Online Retail Experience,” “XR Helping Marketers Tell Better Stories” and a panel on “Superpowered Consumer Engagement” with panelists from Macy’s and Nestle.

Taking place in the heart of Silicon Valley, AWE pairs investors with the latest XR focused start-ups. This is the conference to attend if you’re looking for bleeding-edge technology that could take your campaigns to the next level. This year, I was really impressed with newcomers like Ova, AR 51, GridRaster, YouAR, VividQ, Speech Graphics and VERSES.io. If you’re not really into the tech and are more interested in networking with marketing professionals, this may not be the best choice. Be prepared to wait in line for booze and food and plan meals outside of the convention center.

2. Cannes Lions: June/Cannes, France

Cannes Lions explores the value of creativity in branded communications. The five-day festival and awards show provide the industry with access to new ideas, consumer research and emerging technologies which will help make and shape popular culture. This year’s conference includes a “Re-Imagining Storytelling” track that will feature brands leveraging immersive technology to engage audiences. If you’re looking to network with best-in-class marketing teams and agencies – then this is the conference for you! Passes run upward of $3,000 for the official conference sessions; however, every publisher imaginable hosts “unofficial” workshops and networking events. Conference veterans can go back each year without purchasing a pass and still have a full agenda.

Cannes Lions is more about brand building and advertising than technology, so don’t attend hoping to find Immersive Marketing 101 or tactical content. It’s more about rubbing shoulders with some of the best marketing teams in the business while sipping rosé on the beach. I’ll be attending Cannes Lions this year and am excited to be speaking on a Brand Innovators panel Monday June 17 alongside Walter Frye, VP global brand engagement at American Express, George Hammer the Chief Content Officer at IBM, and the SVP, Digital Studios from Viacom, Lars Silberbauer.

3. Advertising Week: September/New York City

This four-day event features a blend of thought leadership content and engaging special events, with attendees ranging from public relations pros and advertising execs to chief marketing officers and social media advisers. Last year’s event had dozens of sessions featuring immersive content and I’m sure this year will have even more.

Taking place in bustling New York City, this conference brings together everyone who’s anyone in the media biz. Grappling with declining TV viewership and a proliferation of content, attendees are afforded a behind-the-curtain peak into the future of advertising. Similar to Cannes, there are hundreds of sessions and parties on the roster, so doing your homework before you arrive is essential.

4. Mobile World Congress 2019 and Digital Hollywood: October/Los Angeles

This year Digital Hollywood is partnering with MWC to produce a four-day event focused on the  intersection of advertising, technology, and content. MWC19, the L.A. edition, will have over 25,000 attendees including leaders in the advertising, technology and entertainment industries. Digital Hollywood is spearheading a content track as part of MWC L.A. that will include many sessions dedicated to mixed reality, augmented reality, and VR.

Hollywood has caught on that immersive is the future of entertainment and is leading the charge in producing high-end, immersive experiences. Partnering with a global event brand like Mobile World, will empower Digital Hollywood to attract and feature the best content creators in the business. You can expect dozens of compelling immersive demos and panels on how Hollywood is approaching the new era of immersive storytelling. Expect the weather to be sunny and allow for at least an hour when driving to anything off-site.

5. VR/AR Global Summit: November/Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver’s fast emerging immersive media sector benefits from a longstanding history in the film production, video game, and tech industries. Approximately 750 attended last year, making this one of the smallest events on this list. Instead of having to cherry-pick sessions from hundreds of options, attendees can enjoy a more intimate and relaxed experience.

Expect content squarely focused on Vancouver’s ecosystem and the impact it is having across immersive media globally. Be sure to plan time for sightseeing as the city is riddled with natural beauty and dozens of not-to-be-missed experiences like the local delicacies offered on Granville Island.

6. Mobile World Congress: February/Barcelona, Spain

The dawn of 5G has made this traditionally networking focused conference more relevant than ever. This year’s theme was “Intelligent Connectivity” – focusing on the powerful combination of flexible, high-speed 5G networks, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and big data. According to the MWC website, “Intelligent connectivity marks the beginning of a new era defined by highly contextualized and personalized experiences, delivered when and where you want them. This is the future of our industry and our world.”

This has to be the largest event on this list with over 100,000 attendees this year traveling from all over the globe. The conference will house the latest and greatest immersive technology advancements from the big players with big budgets. MWC takes over the entire city and housing and transportation become a major challenge. Plan to wait in long lines for both public transit and taxis so consider walking instead. Barcelona is one of the most walkable and beautiful cities I have ever visited.

7. Immersive Design Summit: February/San Francisco

Founded by three design firms, this community-based event focuses on consumer immersive experiences for entertainment and storytelling with speakers from Disney, Magic Leap, Meow Wolf, and several award-winning agencies.

This small, niche event is one of the few solely focused on immersive content. Taking place in the heart of San Francisco where tech and world-class creative agencies collide, this year’s event  brought together online and video game creators with entertainment industry experts. Looking ahead at how audiences of the future will engage with digital content and be entertained should be on every marketer’s mind. If you’re interested in breaking the traditional media model and are looking for bleeding-edge tools to reach audiences, this could be the event for you.

8. SXSW: March/Austin, Texas

Originating as a music festival, SXSW has matured into a massive phenomenon attracting approximately 75,000 attendees. The conference now attracts professionals from the film, music and interactive industries. Technology and brand experience are paired at SXSW, with an entire track dedicated to brands and marketing. The worlds hippest creative teams descend upon Austin – hoping to keep it weird and stand out among a very crowded landscape.

Similar to Cannes Lions, many professionals head to Austin without an official SXSW badge as there are hundreds of free events. You’ll absolutely need to plan, prepare and focus on the key events you want to hit before you arrive. Driving in downtown Austin isn’t recommended and walking is most likely your best transportation option. Try to avoid the temptation of wearing your hippest gear, as sticking to comfortable shoes and practical clothing options is definitely the way to go. Although the weather in Austin does tend to be sunny, it’s not guaranteed and packing all-weather items such as a rain poncho is recommended.

9. Laval Virtual: April/Laval, France

Laval Virtual is an industry conference with about 20,000 annual attendees gathering in a small town outside of Paris. Highlighting a strong focus on industry and business case uses for immersive such as healthcare, architecture and construction, there is one track dedicated to cross-vertical topics such as marketing, sales, infrastructure, 5G, Storytelling, perception, and IoT. This conference is squarely focused on business to business immersive tech so if you’re more interested in consumer campaigns, this might not be the best choice.

Laval is steeped in history, being built in the 11th century. There are chateaus, museum’s and lots of local flavor to take in during your stay. It presents a beautiful backdrop to the immersive industry networking happening outside of event sessions.

10. NAB: April/Las Vegas

NAB is a huge show that spans the entire digital ecosystem including advertising, app development, artificial intelligence, audio, augmented reality, broadcast, cable, cloud solutions, digital video, film, mixed reality, virtual reality, 5G and more.  This is an industry event that draws professionals from all disciplines wanting to further their careers, gain knowledge, experience cutting-edge training, get hands-on with the latest technology, and connect with industry trailblazers advancing the art, science and business of content.

The show offers a wide selection of immersive technical tracks – focusing on content particularly valuable to broadcasters and media professionals. Each year, the show provides dedicated immersive theater space, allowing exhibitors and speakers to show off the latest in immersive broadcasting capabilities. Taking place in Vegas, you might get seduced by finding a hotel on the strip, but I recommend finding a hotel off the strip closer to the convention center as they tend to be less expensive and nice respite from the hubbub of gambling capital of the world.

Additional event resources

This summer, I’m thrilled to be speaking at Cannes Lions in France. Please be sure to reach out and connect with me if you’re planning on attending – I would LOVE to embrace the rare opportunity to meet in-person. And if you’re not attending in-person, you can follow me on Twitter at @LisaPeyton for real-time conference updates.

Lisa Peyton is an immersive media strategist and media psychologist focusing on the business applications of new technologies.