Today’s conventions and trade shows are not your fathers’ events. So much has changed, and event technology has been one of the most dominant change agents, driven mostly by the advent of metrics to measure trade show investment dollars.
Now, event technologies that were not available 20 years ago, or if available, not widely-used, can be found at most major events. You’ll see technologies ranging from mobile event management application software and beacon technology to LED displays, Wi-Fi solutions, and attendee engagement technologies including audience response, charging stations, kiosks, e-literature software, digital signage and lead retrieval solutions. These technologies are serving many goals for event planners and their stakeholders (i.e., the sponsors, exhibitors and attendees), ranging from increased engagement time, exhibitor return on investment (ROI), and value to attendees.
Event technology allows event managers to streamline processes from pre-event communications and registration to meeting rooms and post-event communications, as well as to capture data that was once difficult to capture. Sponsors and exhibitors are also leveraging event technology to capture data, engage prospects and advance their overall branding, marketing and sales goals. Event technologies are also contributing to the better good of all by supporting eco-friendly policies such as paperless processes. Clearly, there has been a significant transformation in events largely driven by sophisticated technologies. Let’s take a closer look at the transformation and the top technologies that are driving events of the future.
Then and Now
Twenty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see convention and trade show attendees saddled down with messenger bags or backpacks brimming with paper brochures and flyers covering everything from the event program to exhibitors’ product promotional materials. Now, they may be likely to be carrying no bag at all and just their mobile devices which, in turn, contain digital information on the event, the sponsors, exhibitors and their respective products/services.
In the past, gauging audience response for breakout sessions may have been done with pen and paper or scantron sheets and not mobile apps. Speakers used slide carousels to present their topics; not PowerPoint displays or videos. Barcode scanners were used to capture data versus today’s sophisticated registration or lead retrieval software. As for the exhibit booths, large panels with static images and copy was the norm, sometimes accompanied by a computer showing a video on a loop or opened up to the exhibitor’s website.
Simply stated, while event technologies were once reserved for some of the more innovative, often technology-themed conventions and trade shows, they have since become a core component for events crossing over diverse industries, sizes and venues. Not surprisingly, conferences targeting event planners such as EventTech, IAEE Expo Expo and IMEX America are often among the first to showcase and use leading-edge event technologies. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), during which major manufacturers launch their latest products, is another early adopter of advanced event technologies, but there are many others who routinely lead in this area.
Clearly, the proliferation and rapid introduction of new technologies reflecting the digitization of society have influenced the direction that event technology has taken. Also influential has been the increased emphasis on promoting sustainable meetings which adhere to best practices for reducing waste and preserving natural resources. Repurpose America has made conventions and trade shows a target for education on eco-friendly practices, recommending the reduction in paper promotional materials, for example, and if remaining, the practice of donating these to local schools and nonprofits for repurposing.
The Greenbuild Mandatory Exhibition Green Guidelines (GMEGG) also has developed energy conservation and sustainability practices for events to follow that relate to event technology. For example, GMEGG calls for all electronic displays to meet mandatory requirements, including: powering down at the end of the day, or if the equipment can’t be powered down, it should be placed in the sleep mode during non-expo hours; meeting criteria for Energy Star qualifications or an equivalent energy efficient program; and exclusive use of LED and compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) in booths. Event technologies now readily available not only support environmentally-sound practices, but they also reflect other objectives and trends dominating the event experience, while helping event planners, sponsors, exhibitors and attendees gain a greater return on their convention and trade show investments, both time and financial.
From Engagement to Experiential Marketing
The ability to engage attendees/prospective customers or business partners and also measure that engagement is a top priority for event planners, sponsors and exhibitors. Sophisticated mobile event software enables users to interact with event planners’ program agendas, as well as sponsors’ and exhibitors’ marketing materials, and even a host cities’ roster of restaurants, night spots, museums, and other local city information. By engaging event attendees in this way and capturing data related to their informational interests, event planners, sponsors and exhibitors can then leverage this “market intelligence” to drive attendees to program sessions, exhibitors’ booths or other activities that would likely be of interest to them, thereby creating a better experience for those attendees.
In a similar way, beacon technology can help provide market intelligence from the convention floor, in real-time by providing analytical data about the event as a whole and not from just a pinhole view. Using beacon technology, they can capture attendees’ movements throughout the venue to see which components are draws and which are not. This information can be applied for more effective, strategic planning of future events. Beacon technology also can be used to understand attendee traffic flow. It allows event managers to move refreshment breaks to other areas of the meeting space and drive attendees to areas where traffic is low.
Creating a memorable experience while conveying key branding and marketing messages is the domain of video displays that range from LED and 4K displays to touch screen displays, video walls and digital signage. Multiple LED screens can be configured in a wide range of arrays (i.e., with LCD screens or LED tiles arranged in 2 x 2 grids, large backdrops, different shapes and event tunnels) to create high-impact video walls that stop and draw in traffic. These excitement-building event technologies provide a high-visibility platform for conveying news and information, branding messages, and value propositions in a most engaging way. Contrast these video walls to those static exhibit booth panels. There’s simply no comparison.
Touch screen displays promote an interactive experience and allow individuals to retrieve the information they want, when they want it. When 80-inch screens are used, there’s plenty of real estate for multiple touch points/information sectors. Digital signage also offers a convenient way to engage audiences, and it gives planners a medium to display all forms of content – video, photos, text, news and social media feeds, event directories, applications, surveys, travel, hotel information, and more. When combined with dynamic content management software, content can be managed for delivery based on pre-determined dates, times and other criteria.
Kiosks are another event technology that promote engagement. They are being used at conventions and trade shows in similar ways as touch screen displays: to promote the event and convey program schedules, session topics, speaker bios, exhibitor locations, and other event information. You will also see them being used to create cyber cafés and social media lounges, as well as for self-serve registration.
Charging stations, where event participants can charge their mobile devices, are another engagement technology that planners, sponsors and exhibitors alike are using in today’s events. They are often placed in areas where participants gather such as food courts, conference and break-out session rooms, near cyber cafes and registration areas, as well as within exhibitor and sponsor booths. Like kiosks, they also provide an opportunity to convey branding, marketing messages and other information while individuals wait for their devices to be charged.
Streamlining Event Management Processes
Event technology in 2017 is also supporting much more efficient administrative processes at events. Registering attendees using web-based event registration software has streamlined and simplified the otherwise cumbersome processes entailing information and demographic data capture, credit card payments, email confirmations, corrections, badge creation, real-time event registration tracking, reporting, and automation support of back-office functions (e.g., data import to Excel spreadsheets, integration with CRM and lead retrieval systems, etc.). It also facilitates multiple options for registration: branded on-line registration, on-site manned registration and on-site self-service registration at branded kiosks.
Lead retrieval/capture technology is also providing a benefit to both event planners and their exhibitors who rely on it to help build their sales pipeline. This technology is evolving from in the past when it was just scanning a badge. Now, we can qualify, send an email, view documentation and much more.
Lead retrieval/capture technology is compatible with multiple devices such as smartphones, tablets, and badges with barcodes, QR codes and magnetic strips. Its functionality includes customizable surveying, reporting and integration with CRM and other marketing and sales lead automation systems (e.g., Salesforce), as well as event registration systems. The application of lead retrieval software also serves as a vital tool for measuring ROI from any given event where prospecting is a primary goal.
The Territory Ahead
While a decade ago, the new buzz words swirling around event technology were engagement, data capture, and experiential marketing, expect to hear more about artificial intelligence (AI), virtual and augmented reality, wearable technology and what some are calling the “festivalization” of events. What we can be certain of is that all trends will depend on cutting-edge technologies, all of which are already here if not yet widely adopted. As long as marketers continue to derive value from their participation in these events (according to the latest data from CEIR: The Changing Environment of Exhibitions, 99% of marketers surveyed are gaining unique value from trade shows and conventions that they are not getting from other marketing mediums), we can expect an ongoing proliferation of new event technologies to make their event experiences and ROIs good ones. n
By Robert Edwards
Robert Edwards is the Manager of Software Services, SmartSource Computer & Audio Visual Rentals, (www.smartsourcerentals.com), Hauppauge, NY