The 6th annual Knowledge Week took place in Melbourne, Australia last month with over 50 events in 35 venues hosted by government, business and academic leaders.

For those who signed up for the “Speed Date a Leader” session, for example, they met one-on-one with people like the CEO of the City of Melbourne and the executive director of the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia. Other sessions included: “Urban Connectedness: Shaping the Modern City” hosted by the University of Melbourne, “The Future of Virtual Reality,” and “Your Boring Life Gameified.”

In the global meetings and conventions industry, Melbourne exemplifies the trend where cities are positioning themselves as knowledge incubators to drive competitive advantage in specific industry sectors. The reason for that is because the Melbourne Convention Bureau and the City of Melbourne have a surprisingly cohesive relationship with an aligned vision to develop and promote Australia’s second largest city officially as an “intellectual capital.”

On a foundational level, the intellectual theme is supported by the the fact that Melbourne is continually ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities, placing #1 this year in The Economist’s annual livability indices. The convention bureau uses that to emphasize the connectivity, ease of mobility, sustainability, economic vitality, and wealth of knowledge companies and academic facilities in the city.

But that only raises Melbourne into the pantheon of the Torontos, Stockholms and Sydneys of the world that can also deliver a top-tier urban user experience.

So in 2012, the Melbourne Convention Bureau launched the “Melbourne IQ: The Intelligent Choice for Conferences” campaign to help differentiate the city for convention planners by leveraging the intellectual capital theme. The thrust of the campaign highlighted the local business and intellectual leaders in Melbourne that companies and associations can connect with during conventions to develop new business relationships.

However, Karen Bolinger, CEO of the Melbourne Convention Bureau, told Skift that the goals behind the Melbourne IQ strategy extended well beyond selling Melbourne to meeting planners.

Promoting the city’s intellectual capabilities is designed just as much to support the interests of the City of Melbourne and the State of Victoria. Both of those government bodies are equally interested in branding the destination as a knowledge hub to attract foreign investment and talent in the creative, scientific, engineering, financial and medical fields.

“They wanted to move away from Melbourne and the state of Victoria traditionally being known as a manufacturing and mining region,” says Bolinger. “This is a shift toward embracing knowledge industries.”

When a convention bureau aligns its signature value proposition in parallel with the city’s primary marketing goals, that accomplishes a few things.

One, it creates a wealth of synergies to co-create special events and develop co-branding initiatives to promote Melbourne to priority sectors on a global stage. Two, it also directly supports the convention bureau’s business case for government funding, which is a growing issue for many bureaus worldwide.

Bolinger told us, “While our intellectual capital positioning is driving new convention business, it’s also driving engagement with the government from the whole economic perspective.”

Although, she explains, many convention bureaus and cities around the world are now developing similar strategies, which is encroaching on Melbourne’s competitive advantage.

“Now everyone is jumping on the knowledge and economic development component,” she says. “Here we’ve got all of this intelligence infrastructure in our city, but what does Melbourne have that we can own in that space and connect our identity on? So we talked a lot earlier this year about the transformative nature of the city and the legacies your conference will leave, and how the community gets behind that and embraces it.”

The Melbourne Effect

Those discussions resulted in the launch of a new campaign in May called “The Melbourne Effect,” which replaces and builds upon the Melbourne IQ initiative.

The messaging is designed to highlight the flow of knowledge between visiting groups and Melbourne’s local community, and more importantly, the benefits of that exchange for both sides of the equation. In effect, “The bureau brings all of the city’s knowledge to the conference, and then we leverage that back out into the community,” explains Bolinger.

Overall, The Melbourne Effect emphasizes a new spirit of collaboration that’s possible between a destination and its visitors when the convention bureau and city leaders work together to rally local citizens around a visiting convention.

“We conducted extensive research across our key market segments, and what stood out was their desire for a city and bureau to not just tick the boxes, but to facilitate collaboration and deliver real outcomes,” Bolinger told us. “The Melbourne Effect speaks to everything about the city: its ability to transform ideas into innovations, the community into a collaborative force, and the everyday into immersive experiences.”

We asked her if all of this knowledge sharing and collaboration is driving new convention business. She says the year-over-year rise in convention attendance to Melbourne during the last ten years suggests that it does.

Visiting convention delegate arrivals jumped from 15,600 people in 2005 to 53,400 in 2014.

As an example of The Melbourne Effect in acton, the 20th International AIDs Conference in July last year welcomed 11,700 attendees visiting from 173 countries. The challenge for the bureau was creating enough different types of events to interest such a diverse delegation from so many countries.

“A lot of people were coming from emerging countries so we had to figure out what everybody could do while they’re here,” Bolinger says. “The first thing we asked ourselves was, ‘How can we activate the AIDs community in Australia, as well as the rest of Australia?’ So then all we had to do was kind of kick this back to the community and find out what they wanted to do, and then bring that back together.'”

Bolinger says even she was surprised by the show of community support to create special events in the city for the conference attendees.

Because the city and convention bureau have established such a wide network of knowledge-based companies through events like Knowledge Week, it was a relatively straightforward process to activate them.

The community responded with 160 different educational and entertainment events during the 6-day conference, hosted by academic facilities, teaching hospitals, and a wide range of museums, galleries, shops, restaurants and other cultural venues. Bolinger says even the taxi drivers were recommending different events for delegates to visit.

“That was the biggest lightbulb moment for the local government because when they saw all of that activation, they could really see that there’s all of these people in town, and how everyone in the community was coming together,” explains Bolinger. “It’s all about going back to the community. It’s really about bringing the networks together and creating a dialogue that leads to something that you don’t actually know where it’s going to go.”

Measuring The Melbourne Effect

The missing piece now is measuring The Melbourne Effect. About a year ago, the Melbourne Convention Bureau contracted IBM Australia to develop a new big data research platform to define a host of group visitation metrics.

A brief for the new “Data Transformation Project reads: “In an increasingly competitive industry for conferences, meetings and incentive events, bureaus need to look at game changing strategies to gain competitive advantage. These need to be centred around forming a deeper understanding of target customers and stronger customer engagement. Personalisation (business to human) is now more important than the traditional B2B or B2C (business to business/consumer) approach to sales and marketing activity.”

Bolinger asserts that implementing new customer analytics capability will ultimately convert business opportunities at every stage of the customer journey, from the research and business development phase through to business event visitor and organizer engagement.

“We want to know what people are spending money on, what kind of destinations are they going to, how do they want to be communicated to, and things like that,” Bolinger says. “And we want to know that before they even step foot in the country.”

Melborne Convention Attendance

Photo Credit: The auditorium at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. Melbourne Convention Bureau