Why you want to invest now in event technology ?

The approaching dedicated show Event Tech Live 2014 next week, but also the overall desire and anticipation to use and integrate technology in almost every aspect of our daily lives, causes a spike in interest and searches for event technology.  And rightfully so, I may add.  Today many, if not virtually every big and smaller trade show or conference boasts a mobile app, online registration, an online blog and social media interaction.  But every often I see isolated efforts not demonstrating a valid online strategy nor tight integration of these supporting tools.  Many organizers will invest in technology to keep up with the competition or just because – they feel or think – the audience expects that.  But you shouldn’t invest because it’s a buzz.  Only if you’re convinced technology can have a positive impact on your event.  I’m pretty sure it will. Why ?

1. Strategy first

While the practice of experimenting with technology isn’t bad – as I emphasize later in this article – you musn’t confuse an experiment with a best practice or final setup.  The goal must always be structural, well-defined and with tangible results and positive outcome in mind.  So you want to have a clear strategy including a list of goals and the appropriate tactics – read technology – to achieve that goal.  Look at all available event tech on the market, evaluate if and how it can help you achieve your strategy and goals.  And foremost look at how each individual technology effort can be enhanced by adding more or integrating with other pieces of technology.  Keep an eye on efficiency, costs and measure the results.

Of course Rome wasn’t build in a day and you can start small and isolated but don’t settle for that.

TIP : also look at technnology that’s not – or not yet – typically adapted to the event industry’s needs but holds promise to achieve your goals.  Typically retail technology (in Dutch) can be usefull in event environments.

2. Data is the ultimate proof360-customer-view

The real bonus of using event technology is the data it provides.  It has the potential to stop you from having to guess.  About what your audience wants, about how exhibitors performed, about the effect of your event, about activity levels, about the return of your efforts.  Actually about virtually everything you always wanted to track and then use to improve your event and demonstrate the value it holds.

3. Increase productivity

Good event technology boosts the productivity of your audience.  Whether it’s rapidly finding your way to the next exhibitor you wanted to pay a visit, or sifting through the lectures at a conference looking for topics of your interest, or looking for interesting other visitors to meet with.

But it also helps you to become more productive and improve your event’s value.  Knowing exactly how many people attented a demo and how many questions were asked and answered after a lecture, helps you identify valuable topics and speakers for your next edition.  Good social media analytics will point you to the community thought leaders, helping you Tweet: Great social media analytics will point you to the community thought leaders, helping you increase your reach. #eventtech #adekspoincrease your reach and maybe attracting the guru for a workshop at your next event.

Good event technology increases the likelihood of succesful interaction between people, networking and connecting the right business opportunities.  Without technology, organizing an event is like fishing with a line and hook and ultimate patience.  Great as an outdoor leisure but not for providing sustainable living.  As an organizer you went through an enormous pile of work and effort to realize the event and then you leave it up to pure serendepity for the right people to meet each other.  With just a little technological help you can do so much better and more rewarding.

4. Increase engagement

A mobile app, a Tweetwall, a Pinterest photo contest, a website, a voting system, … All of that will support your efforts to engage with your customers in a dialogue.  But the dialogue mustn’t start at the entrance and stop at the exit of the event’s venue.  The conversation has to be continuous.  By all means the intensity must be raised during the event by sharing valuable information with your audience.  But before and after the show you also have interesting things to share, or at least you must have.  Interest spans are decreasing which means you have a harder time if you have to reintroduce yourself and fight for attention from scratch, every time a couple of months before the event’s opening date.

This requires proven knowledge of your audiences – fact based, not hunches – stored in integrated software solutions, giving you a 360° overview of every single participant in your events.

5. Demand

I know I said in the beginning of this article that introducing event tech because people want it, is not a good reason to start with.  But don’t underestimate the power of your audience.  “Power to the people” is an increasing reality, and not only in the virtual world.  This means not having a highly appreciated piece of technology on your event can be more harmful than having it in a way that’s not optimal.  You must however make sure the experience is valuable from the beginning and be clear about the ultimate goal.  Ask for features users want to see in the future and communicate well about your plans for the future with this technology tool.

6. Experiment

Try new stuff !  Don’t be afraid of technology.  People attending your events aren’t.  More and more events will be attended by people between 25 and 40 years old.  Those are manifest 24/7 users of technology.  Try something new, evaluate well and then drop it or use it differently, more wisely to achieve your overall strategy.  Or to provide objective answers to the questions that you want to see answered.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Your specialty is organizing an event and managing a community, not knowing exactly how technology can help with those tasks.  So ask for professional help when developing a strategy or searching for effective technology.

It’s all connected. Just like any event’s goal is to connect more people and ideas together, the goal for your arsenal of technological features should be to connect them and gain insights and information helping you to become a better organizer who knows what people want to get out of your events.

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Neem een voorbeeld aan de retail

Zoals eerder beloofd zou ik een aantal berichten wijden aan de parallelen die je kan trekken tussen de retail- en de event-industrie, met betrekking tot de inzet van intelligente technologische oplossingen.

Om te beginnen is er conceptueel al een veropgaand vergelijk mogelijk tussen bepaalde retail-concepten zoals shopping-malls of grote warenhuizen zoals het KDW in Berlijn of het inheemse Inno of het Franse Galleries Lafayette enerzijds en een (vak)beurs anderzijds.  Deze warenhuizen voorzien de gerenommeerde merken van een drukbezocht uitstalraam.  Dat doen (vak)beurzen en venues net zo.

De andere grote parallel is dat in beide gevallen, in het shopping center of op een beurs, productverkoop belangrijk zoniet essentieel is.  In het winkelcentrum natuurlijk nog duidelijker dan voor een exposant of partner op een beurs, maar aan het einde van de rit, wordt het succes toch afgemeten aan de waarde : hoeveel verkoop is er rechtstreeks en onrechtstreeks aan verbonden ?

Het derde punt van vergelijking is natuurlijk dat het ganse model gebaseerd is op voldoende en geïnteresseerde bezoekers voor de verschillende onderwerpen/producten die je opneemt in je aanbod.  Zonder bezoekers geen bedrijven die ruimte innemen en zonder ingenomen ruimte, geen rendabele operatie.

Tijd voor verandering

Het is onmiskenbaar dat in de afgelopen jaren, vooral in een hogere snelheid in de laatste 5 jaar, de retail enorm veranderd is en zich heeft aangepast aan vele digitale trends en invloeden.  Die aanpassing is niet door elke retailer, groot of klein, even makkelijk verteerd geweest en velen hebben de omschakeling niet of ternauwernood overleefd.  Denk maar aan het ter ziele gegane Free Record Shop of de schim die overblijft van Marks&Spencer.  Maar gelukkig zijn er evenveel voorbeelden van ketens of kleine (bestaande en nieuwe) winkels die net door zich snel aan te passen aan de nieuwe digitale realiteit, hun zakencijfer hebben laten doorgroeien naar nieuwe pieken.  Welke veranderingen hebben zich dan opgedrongen ?  In de komende posts zal ik dat toelichten en daar waar nodig verduidelijken hoe en waarom dit van toepassing is op de wereld van (vak)beurzen.

1. Omni-channel

Ik geloof dat we op een moment zijn aanbeland waar technologie zo alomtegenwoordig, indringend en gebruiksvriendelijk is dat we een barrière zijn overgestoken.  De wereld van online en offline retail zijn nu zo naadloos verweven.  Het gaat niet meer over mobiel of online of winkelfiliaal – het gaat om alles tesamen.  Ik denk dat vooral de laatste 2 jaar de technologische vooruitgang de traditionele retail heeft ontleed en omgebouwd.

E-commerce begon als een interessante trend enkele jaren geleden, maar een beetje in de marge van de grote verschuivingen in de retail.  Vandaag weten we eigenlijk niet meer het verschil tussen e-commerce en gewone commerce.  De twee zijn in een synergie samen gekomen.  Elke zelfstandige, elke retailer moet een efficiënte en weldoordachte omni-channel strategie hebben om te overleven.  Dat is een aardverschuiving ten opzichte van 24 maanden geleden.

Ook elke (vak)beurs zou een omni-channel marketingstrategie moeten hebben waarbij de ervaring online en offline evenwaardig is.  Dat is nog lang niet het geval, maar een eis van de (jonge) bezoekers en voor hen een realiteit bij vele andere gelegenheden, ook buiten de retail of beurs, denk aan film, pretpark,…

2. Meer dan mobiel

De laatste belangrijke trend was : mobiel.  Wat mij betreft zijn we het hoogtepunt van mobiel ook alweer gepasseerd.  Mobiel is geen concept op zich meer.  Tot voor enkele jaren waren er geen tablets en smartphones.  Vandaag evolueren we heel snel naar een wereld waarin we altijd en overal geconnecteerde schermen van allerlei afmetingen zullen hebben.

Sommige vast aan de muur in winkels en andere locaties, andere aan je pols en sommige hou je in de handpalm.  Uiteindelijk tot het punt waar je van elke solide oppervlakte (muur, vloer, plafond, tafel) een touch-screen maakt dankzij miniscule projectoren, ingebouwd in andere toestellen.  Net zoals je vandaag geen aparte afdeling meer hebt voor internet in je bedrijf, zal je binnen enkele jaren ook geen aparte afdeling of strategie meer hebben voor mobiel.  Alles zal omni-channel en geconnecteerde schermen zijn.

Zowat elke zichzelf respecterende (vak)beurs heeft vandaag een mobiele app.  Wat ik echter al te vaak merk is dat de customer experience op die app mijlenver verwijderd is (vaak in de positieve zin hoor) van de andere channels en er hoegenaamd geen integratie is met website, offline, e-mail,…  Hierdoor ervaart je klant (bezoeker) verwarring en zou de neiging kunnen ontstaan om de content van je event via één kanaal te gaan consumeren, wat dan weer beperkingen stelt aan de indrukken en ervaringen die je kan nalaten.

3. Nieuwe vaardigheden

Boeiende ervaringen – eloquent “experiences” genaamd in het Engels en marketingjargon – en betrokkenheid opbouwen is ongelooflijk belangrijk.  Veel retailers hebben hun hele professionele leven nagedacht over hoe je dat doet in 1 kanaal, met name in de winkel.  Maar nu snel leren en begrijpen hoe je in contact treedt met je klanten over alle kanalen die zij gebruiken – niet over het kanaal of de manier waarop jij hen wil aanspreken maar de manier waarop zij dat willen – is een totaal andere vaardigheid.

Dat vraagt design en product management.  Dat vraagt een doorgedreven kennis van digital marketing.  Ik zie nog zoveel organisatoren die hun marketing en werving aanpakken op de aloude manier.  Massa-communicatie, herhaling en vervolgens vinger kruisen en hopen op grote aantallen bezoekers.  Dat zal belangrijk blijven, maar er moet aan gesleuteld worden en er moeten andere kanalen en communicatie-methodes aan toegevoegd worden.

Maar weten hoe je écht engagement opbouw in de wereld van social networks, hoe je SEO gebruikt, hoe je websites gebruikt, hoe je one-to-one marketing optimaliseert – dat zijn totaal andere skills.  Ik ben ervan overtuigd dat dit een nieuw hoofdstuk wordt in het uitdagingenboek voor organisatoren over de ganse wereld.

In de volgende posts wil ik het volgende toelichten : toekomst van offline, data, kunst en wetenschap, inspiratie.

Virtual shows : it’s coming

I remember early 2000 or maybe 2001, time flies you know, when I got a first glimpse of the virtual show.  A demo, not even the real thing, and after long consideration and internal discussion with my colleagues, we decided it just didn’t present any additional value, let alone it could be an alternative to our real-life professional trade shows.  Furthermore it took a lot of technology setup.  It were the days when no or only few computers in your office had a microphone or speakers and the days when IT administrators hammered your computer’s connections with the outside world as shut as possible.  Rightfully so back then with managers thinking the world was constantly spying on their national secrets, security appliances being sluggish and users blissfully unaware of the risks involved in inserting foreign disks or USB-sticks.  Meanwhile managers have accepted the risks of online storage and SaaS and the web browser has become one of the most important corporate software items.

In over a decade of time, life changes and so does technology and the acceptance thereof.

And so last week I attended to an actual virtual show, the real thing – it didn’t even have a simultaneous real-life counterpart.  Just some place on a web server, you can reach with a computer, tablet or smartphone.  No need to drive over or fly in, take a taxi or find a parking place, walk a mile to reach the main entrance, and again a mile to reach the doors to the actual show.  No just login and start meeting people, start learning about new solutions and possibilities from exhibitors or conference speakers.

As with a brick-and-mortar show a virtual one is considered successful when it allows visitors and exhibitors to connect, learn from each other and do business, exchange ideas, gain new insights and network.

And that’s when you notice that we’re not there yet with virtual shows to replace real-life shows.  The interaction isn’t as natural as in real life, in fact you can literally ignore all attempts at interaction without being impolite or brutal.  It still takes some plugin installation to experience all of the show’s features, which can be a barrier for some and one you wouldn’t experience in real life.

BUT let me tell you all, a virtual show has some at least these 8 great advantages :

1) networking opportunities

By default a virtual show opens up a world of potential people you want to talk to, simply because it will allow you to see who’s attending and who’s present together with you.  You can filter on company, interest or any other criteria the organizer has set in the registration form – and just strike a conversation with one or many people.  On top it allows you to schedule meetings or leave a message in the person’s inbox.  On the spot or planned well in advance.

2) presentations

Following a webinar is as simple as taking a seat in a conference or seminar room and listen to the speaker.  Yet in a virtual seminar, you’re in your own comfortable office chair and have access to your computer, laptop or mobile device to take digital notes, record the speech and if it’s all too boring to you, leave the room without being noticed or disturbing the other listeners.

3) moderated

The presentations on a virtual show are always moderated which assures a well-kept timing and easier interaction.  A good moderator has some questions of his/her own at the end of every session and can keep a debate going.  A fine moderator also makes a powerful introduction and a brief resume before and after each presenter.  A good moderator last but not least points at the appreciated evaluation of each session, very important to understand the needs of your audience.

4) takeaways

Exhibitors, speakers and sponsors used to participating in virtual shows provide ample takeaways.  Whether it be white papers or case studies or presentation handouts or basic information pdf’s, everything is ready for download.  The content is there for you, the visitor, and not promoted in some way or pushed at you in a plastic bag while you walk by.  You’re in control, check if the content has meaning to you, and then save it to your toolkit or inbox.

5) digital

Every transaction you make in the digital world of a virtual show is purely digital and therefor traceable.  Might sound a little bit scary but it’s actually not.  You can go back the next day and still remember who you spoke to and on what subject, you can see which sessions you followed and review the slides.  Check your downloaded documents.  And the really great thing is, you can easily share it with your colleagues and other stakeholders.

6) social media

Social media integration in a virtual show comes very natural.  It’s like almost normal that the link with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, Tumblr, and others is omni-present.  Allowing for twitter chats, Q&A over Twitter, follow an exhibitor’s Facebook-page,…

7) marketing platform

All interaction being logged, means a world of opportunities for the exhibitors to follow-up immediately, after a few days or at the visitor’s request with the right feedback and information.  It can still go wrong but the chances are slimmer and as everyone knows, lousy follow-up means frustration.  At least in a virtual show it can’t go wrong anymore because you plain lost, in all the fuss of a show dismantling, the red plastic map you used at your booth to collect all business cards your sales reps collected during the show.  Believe me, that happens!  I can’t remember the number of times I got, as the last operations man on site, a call from a totally desperate exhibitor the first morning after the show.

8) transparancy

A virtual show offers complete transparency for a visitor and exhibitor on who’s been on a booth and what was talked about.  What interests did the visitor show, which speakers did he like,…  Imagine how that can help you, as an organizer to analyze the success of your show, build new revenue streams on that, adapt your billing on the facts, help you find the trigger points that attract visitors.  In short it will allow you to increase the likelihood of conversion.  In the end the only reason your show exists.

The virtual show market is a clearly growing one, estimated to get to 18,6 Billion USD by end 2015.

Not only do I think we will see a further growth in 100% virtual shows, we will at the same time experience a rapid virtualization of offline trade shows today and in the future.  Just think about the custom show apps for visitors, indoor location tracking, QR codes to retrieve exhibit information and in the near future what Google Glass could bring to a show and its visitors.

What follows in the next few lines is something many of my esteemed former colleagues will not be amused with, to use an understatement.  It will more likely tempt them to react fiercely, defensive and impulsively negative.  Good for the interactivity score of this blog, but think a little longer before calling me bad names.  Think about the 8 advantages I stated above and how you relate to them as a visitor of your own show.  Clearly it’s not a black and white choice but an option to consider and investigate.  Let your community decide, they know what they want.

My single conclusion : virtual is coming.  Not yet as a full replacement but definitely as an add-on to real-life shows or as an extra event in your organizational calendar, for those in your audience who can’t attend the physical show because of distance or lack of time.  Or as smaller international networking opportunities, to keep in touch with your audience or community.

Again looking forward with an open mind to all your remarks, even if you fully agree.  Share and like at will.