ICSC 2024 Key Takeaways from the Convention

May 23, 2024

ICSC 2024 Key Takeaways from the Convention

What was an exciting year to be at ICSC 2024. Having attended this convention for most of the last 24 years, it was good to see some palpable vibrancy in the Las Vegas Convention Center. The COHN Team was thrilled to see many old and new friends and look forward to helping our clients maximize their marketing results in the coming year.

Here are some thoughts and observations from the last few days—we hope to see you all in NYC this December for ICSC New York!

1. Emerging Customer: Tweens

We are getting a taste of 80’s mall nostalgia as young Gen Z and older Gen Alpha are turning to shopping centers to gather and socialize. Something we discussed as a team was the possibility that shopping centers are organically becoming a positive community environment that helps combat loneliness and isolation for youth. Parents I know with middle-school-aged kids are validating this idea, sharing that “going to the mall with friends” is a frequently requested outing and the parents are on board because it allows kids a sense of independence, freedom, and growing financial literacy in a convenient and safe space.

That being said, how does this translate to marketing? Does it translate to marketing? The second you start trying to tell kids that something is cool, it immediately becomes uncool. So, do we look at onsite activations that appeal to young guests that they then share within their networks? Think fewer events and more photo opps, food/drink specials, youth lounge areas, targeted pop-ups, etc. Is there a collaboration with schools or mental health organizations? Are there any challenges with an increase in unaccompanied youth guests that need to be considered and preemptively addressed?

2. Smaller, but Focused on North America

The convention is much smaller than it used to be. Still, at 25,000 attendees, it’s a busy place. And those that attended seemed to be ready to do business. While booths are smaller and exhibitors are many, I was struck by the energy levels. Retail real estate seems to be holding its own with existing properties. Grocery-anchored neighborhood centers are thriving with companies like Regency Centers and Phillips Edison thriving. At COHN, we are excited to work in this sector of the industry where much of the action lives.

Perhaps the convention was smaller due to a more narrow geographical focus. ICSC Vegas has become much more focused on the U.S. and Canadian markets. There is very little evidence of global development. Except for the Global Awards ceremony. In both the Visual Victories and MAXIs, the winners were dominated by companies outside the U.S. Canada led the way with Oxford Properties’ amazing marketing and specialty leasing leading the way. Other winners included developers from Europe, Asia and beyond. The international developers still see great value in marketing and brand building to keep their properties community connected and valuable to their consumers.

3. Marketing Accountability

ROI and metrics are not new to real estate marketing but it’s becoming clear that quantitative results—tactics directly attributed toward things like form fills, signed leases, social growth, etc.—are looked at even more microscopically today when it comes to making strategy and budgeting decisions. As an agency that believes very much that top-of-the-funnel strategies (PR, content, SEO, social media, etc.) lift conversion tactics (SEM, ABM, digital media, etc.) we want to close the gaps between qualitative and quantitative. For example, the PR and content teams need to work closely with specialists doing website and digital to make sure that we can track both the direct conversions AND monitor behaviors that came from a news article, SEO, or social media content. Whether it’s our agency pulling all of the marketing levers or we are partnering with a company like Pylot which can keep tabs on all of the data points through its website platform, collaborative working systems are what will tell a complete story of what levers are driving results.

4. Fewer New Projects, But Medtail is Hot

The story is mostly about existing properties. There was not a lot of visibility for new projects, exciting redevelopments or innovative approaches to retail real estate. I can remember years where one sees new developments throughout the convention but this was much more about what exists. I assume tighter capital and interest rates are driving this.

Medtail is a big deal. At COHN, we work in both commercial real estate and healthcare. Having recently attended the BOMA real estate and healthcare conference which was full of activity and energy, the ICSC world appears to be discovering the power of healthcare in their properties. Consumers want convenient easy access to healthcare and allied health providers (physical therapy, etc), and open-air grocery and lifestyle centers are the perfect place to connect with those customers. Companies that embrace this will see long-term benefits of providing a more comprehensive set of offerings to their markets.

5. Content and Brand Dominate Marketing Conversations

From a marketing perspective, we heard many more conversations centered around social, content, PR and corporate branding that supports leasing and visibility. The industry has adopted an approach to corporate branding that is clean, conservative and corporate. And with that, a lot of sameness on the floor.

That said, many of the booths and materials reflected brand refreshes and corporate anniversaries to establish differentiation and distinction. We know that standing apart in a sea of real estate blue can be challenging, so it takes a certain type of calculated risk to be unique but true to who the company is, how they do business, and what they stand for and aspire to be. As marketing looks to be more trackable and accountable, it’s still important to define who you are and what you do in a way that is relevant and distinctive. This is the power of the brand, and it’s alive and well in retail real estate.

6. The Evolving Role Of The Neighborhood Shopping Center

Grocery-anchored shopping centers are having a moment. Not only are retailers vying to meet consumers where they spend most of their time (at home), but shopping center owners are expanding their role in the community. Several shopping center owners teamed up to leverage their national footprint to offer mental health resources through 988 signage in their parking lots. In this way, placemaking expands beyond the dedicated physical space through more social media programs on shopping center social platforms.

7. Municipalities Need Brand Strategy

Towns that have struggled with poor perception issues or economic downturns can benefit greatly from a rebrand. Recognizing that an annual event should not drive the image or reputation of a city, staff understand differentiating who and what they are can help them beat out neighboring towns when winning over businesses and homebuyers. They need visionary leadership, strong strategic plans, and a willingness to get an outside perspective to change mindsets and bring creativity and new ideas to foster growth and revitalization. Attending ICSC is a great first step to getting visibility from developers who can help bring the plans to life but the next step is to have a strong booth presence that reflects the new brand of the town and engages with those in and outside of the booth. With messaging and visuals that announce “We’re here and open for business!”

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