Why wearable technology will transform the event industry

The future looks bright for wearable technology according to many studies, the latest of which is Cisco’s Visual Network Index and predicts an increase to 58 million devices in 2015 and even 177 million by 2018.  That looks pretty impressive and it actually is considering that such a market would be worth approximately 30 billion US dollars.  Yet, in comparison to (say) the global smartphone market, it’s peanuts.  At  an estimated bying rate of 2,3 billion devices a year, the smartphone market accounts for roughly 20 devices per smart wearable device.

While all these statistics and contradictory trend reports, may give the impression that wearables are not (yet) a reality, I would argue that these numbers only mean tough business for those entering in this market.  Meaning that margins will be low from the start, with the exception of some more ‘premium’ products from vendors like Apple, and most importantly set for a race down the bottom.  On top, these wearables work together with a smartphone and are pretty useless without one.  This means that the wearables themselves don’t account for much network traffic, reducing to zero the incentive for telco’s to develop device subsidies plans, like they did so keenly for smartphones.  But that’s their problem not yours as an event organizer.

So, wearable devices are not going to impact the event industry for a lack of adoption?  On the contrary, they will and already have if you think about it.

Braceletsrfid-bracelet

Every event attendee has at some stage worn a RFID or NFC bracelet in the past years when going to an event.  For access control, or for paying drinks or food, or for sharing content on social media.  Especially the concerts and festivals industry has adpoted bracelets a couple of years ago.  Identifying the potential advantages of selling more, worrying less about cash distribution and theft, checking entrances better, managing crowds in a more secure manner.

But where wearing a bracelet on a concert is pretty standard, you won’t see it on a conference or trade show.  And that’s because the audience won’t accept that.  No need to discuss reasons or measures to circumvent that, the fact that in the future your smart wearable device will be able to take over those functions easily solves this puzzle.  Smart watches will become the RFID-NFC bracelet in the next months and years.

Google Glass

Google’s entry in the market of wearables is and has been since the start one of the most eye-catching ones (I liked the pun).  Not always positively because it’s so visible and packed with cool features, but also because it’s a little bit scary, or at least swiftly categorized as a danger to privacy by so-called experts.  Only a couple of months after Glass’ announcement it  is already declared dead, sometimes by people that also tried to bury Apple’s iPad and iPhone or the Android operating system immediately after their introduction.

While I understand the concerns and honestly value the importance and need of privacy, I think Google Glass can be a game changer for events, congresses, trade shows and basically any location where lot’s of people meet each other and engage with new and exciting content.  Google Glass may not become the hyped, ubiquitous tool that Google wants it to become for their business, but it sure has a lot of potential to offer as a business and marketing tool.googleglass

Think about how much simpler it would be to keep your smartphone in your pocket while stroling down the isles of a trade show, not forced to look at your screen all the time, missing out on interesting products and people.  Think about not having to grab for your phone to check messages and reminders for your next appointment on the show or speakers session to attend.  Could that be the reason why today mobile event apps or not all that much used by attendees ?  I honestly think so.

Virtual reality

riftNo, I really can’t imagine myself walking around with an Occulus Rift on my head, but imagine being able to admire, on a booth, in 3D, the latest model of some multi-million dollar machine that was just too expensive to fysically move to the event venue.  Can you smell the (social) media coverage that would generate for the event and the exhibitor ? I can.

Networking

The chances of meeting tens of interesting people, existing contacts or new partners, on an event are high, certainly higher than on any other average day.  How convenient would it be to attendees to use their smart watch or glasses to connect, to exchange personal information, to get a reminder of a planned meeting and at the same time get some background information on the person your meeting with.  Get his interests, hobbies, carreer at his current company, experience,…

The mobile event app is created to increase convenience and make a better customer experience during an attendee’s stay at an event.  But it virtually requires the poor man or woman to glue a smartphone on your face, which is not very convenient when walking.  Wearable technology will just reveal the true added value of event apps and event technology and as a side efffect increase the number of created interactions.  Which, in my book, is exactly what conferences or trade shows are all about : creating interactions and leads.

More advantages or use cases of wearable technology for events ?  Or recent experiences with events using wearables, just post a comment.

3 observations on the trade show industry

After a little over half a year of activity at adekSpo and some completed and running consulting projects – small and bigger, at least in my eyes – I found it time to make a round up of my experiences so far.  Of course they’re my observations, so I would love to hear some more.  And it’s just the 3 most remarkable to me, I bet there’s a dozen more to write about.

The trendsetters

Increasingly you can find amongst organizers, which in my opinion, have been for so many years, very traditional about their work methods, procedures and approaches, people that feel the need for a new breeze.  Often these people are outsiders, starting a new career in the event or trade show industry.  Events and trade shows still have a tremendous gravitational force on job seekers, mostly because it’s a work intensive industry, strangely and astonishinly having a low automation level.  That means higher employment security than average, which in today’s economic and employment situation, is a safe harbour worth steering to.  These new recruits are typically vertical specialists, and less horizontal generalists – which are so desired in this line of work – bringing along from previous jobs, experience and interests in relatively new domains for the trade show industry.  This makes that more organizers, especially smaller companies, are more excited about new and bold ways of organizing, promoting and staging their events.  These new and bold things still include quite traditional aspects of the event organizing game, like registration and promotion and booth sales and finding speakers, etc…  But they strategically and tacticially use new technology to handle that like : NFC, social media advertising, social CRM, conversational marketing, big data, twitter walls, mobile apps, voting systems, iBeacons,…

For one of these brave, small organizers, I did an interesting prototype using NFC tags and LinkedIn profile exchange as a fast way to register people entering a free seminar.  But it wasn’t just about the prototype, which by it’s name might suggest a pure technological nature of the project.  No, it was much more about the open, eager and innovative attitude towards registration and collecting personal information about attendees.  Even for free events, most organizers stick to, from a sense of tradition, lengthy fill-out forms including the most common fields like company, name, sex, address, phone, email,…  These hard facts data give a – sometimes false – sense of security : “I have the data and can use it again for next time.”.  But data changes over time, increasingly rapid and people sometimes lie or don’t fill out the complete form.  There’s less chance of that happening on their LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter profile, especially in a B2B context.  On the contrary, the chance of that data still being accurate one or two years later, even after having changed company, is so much higher when you have your attendees’ LinkedIn data, than when you collected and processed that data yourself.  Exactly creating this awareness was the turning point for this organizer to start this project and analyse the technical possibilities and future feasability of such an approach.

The sceptic

Oh, I can hear you, dear readers, thinking : “What about compatibility, the Apple users and people that don’t have a smartphone ?”.  Because being sceptic and downright negative about innovation, is something we’ve all become (almost) used to in this industry.  But I’ll reply to you as I did to some people at this organizer who eventually did the prototype.  How many people still don’t use a smartphone ?  Really ? According to Nielsen studies the number of smartphone users worldwide is inching towards 45%, in 2013 in Europe and the US 69% of recent mobile phone acquirers bought a smartphone – even 80% for those aged below 35.  In B2B environments the use of a smartphone is close to obiquitous.  If you provide a solution for Android and iOS you cover about 93% of all devices used, according to another Nielsen survey in 2013. And Apple fans are known to be early adopters of any new kind of technology becoming available to them, so how long can it still take for them to get on board as well.  So that should provide an answer to all those “concerns”.

Even if it’s not entirely realistic to use something new right now, at least by investigating it thoroughly you’ll be ready when the time comes.  Which today sometimes happens faster than you anticipated.  And I firmly believe that being ready and using or testing a proven technology to the benefit of your attendee’s experience, will give your event the edge it will need.

What’s striking, but not surprising if you think about it, is that many of the sceptics are really big event companies.  Although they have the financial and human resources to be at the forefront, they’d rather wait and see.  I guess because they can – having these financial buffers and still being large trade shows (inter)nationally – and because there’s too many people defending their traditions.

The dawning

I’m positive that in the next months and years there will be growing numbers of trade show organizers, small and big, opening up to the idea of doing things in a new way, embracing technology and data.  I’m not saying we’re there yet.  But I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  The traditional reflex of sticking to “what’s known and has worked for so long”, and the firm belief – or is it frantic hope – that the need for human face-to-face contact will perpetually require trade shows being organized, is fading and being replaced by the recognition that “different” and “modern” can mean “better” and “more profitable”. I experience, in the last weeks, an increased interest in better data management, higher efficiency in work processes, greater transparency, better analytics, new business models and real customer focus.  Not yet as a big tidal wave of interest going through the industry, but more like ripples in a bath tub.  But it has to start somehow.

I truly hope this trend continues, for I really believe in the strength of trade shows and events and not just because it provides me work opportunities as a consultant.

NFC in congress registration

NFC (Near Field Communication)

Ever since the introduction of Apple’s new iPhone 6 the already murmuring stream of news items involving NFC or RFID powered innovation in the event industry, has been transformed into a wild river.  Every day you’ll stumble on a dozen reports and press releases of the next event using some NFC enabled tool.  We shouldn’t however forget that – at least for now – Apple’s adoption of NFC is limited to their own payment functionality and is not (yet) opened up to the developer community.  So whichever NFC solution you’ll read about, except if it’s about Apple Pay, has to be limited to Android users, and more specifically those having a relatively new smartphone operating on Android 4.2 and older. At least to have a smooth user experience.  Officially Android has supported NFC development since version 2.3 but the hardware hasn’t been available let’s say until mid 2012.

Nonetheless, I’m a true believer.  Already 63% of mobile phones are Androids and the percentage of Androids running on a version below 4.2 is dropping really fast.  Especially in the category of business users.  On top, I believe Apple’s current policy on banning developers from their NFC implementation will not last very long.  Soon we will see them make the same move as with the fingerprint sensor on the old iPhone 5 and release and SDK for their NFC chip.  Meaning the potential of NFC will become available to a much wider user group, definitely considering that Apple fans tend to upgrade to new hardware and versions of iOS at a much higher pace.  Between end of January and end of March 2014 the number of users on iOS 7, yes seven – released on 6 months before, has increased from 80 to 85%.  At the last Worldwide Developers Conference, Tim Cook announced an installation grade of 89% for all active iOS devices.  And the adoption of the next release, iOS8, is breaking all records, with a 46% installation rate, only 5 days after the release on September 17, 2014.

And so it came about, that during the last 2 weeks, I set up and presented a prototype of NFC running fast-track registration for a congress organizer.

Fast-lane registrationnfc_tags_LinkedIn

In short, the basic idea was to use a couple of NFC stickers, attached to whatever surface available – a counter, a wall – or another (mobile) device, and have attendees exchange personal identification data over NFC connection.  I programmed two different NFC stickers, one with a dedicated LinkedIn profile for the event and one to send out a url link to the attendee’s device, directing the attendee to a dedicated registration webpage.  The goal being to be able to measure the effectiveness and speed of the LinkedIn-based solution.  That one was the “fast-lane”.  All an attendee had to do was wipe his phone over the NFC sticker and his or her LinkedIn-profile was automatically added as a contact to the LinkedIn account of the event.  As simple as that.

Did it work ?  In the prototype it did very well.  Using 5 different phone brands and 3 versions of Android (4.2, 4.3 and 4.4) we tested and tested.  The results were very satisfying : zero failed exchanges and under 1 second succesful connections.  Even after practically destroying one sticker by wearing it down and tearing it almost in two, still produced the lovely sounding bling to indicate a succesful exchange.

No downsides then ?  Well, to be fair, no !   At least not from the technolog and practicality point of view.  This is beyond a doubt a viable way of handling registration.  Of course it still needs to be tested in a real environment.  But the use case has been confirmed.

So what’s keeping us from actually implementing it ?

The first hurdle to take is – to the surprise possibly of many readers that I put this one first – the willingness of organizers to acknowledge that having a person’s name and valid e-mail address (as in a LinkedIn profile) is enough data to establish and develop a long lasting, meaningful, engaged and revenue-generating relationship.  Much more so than asking to fill out a lengthy registration form.  The reason why is because you deliver the value and user experience many business men and women are looking for in a registration process : ease and speed.  And in the case of a LinkedIn profile exchange, you as an organizer get much more information that you can use.  Think about the easy access to data of colleagues, peers and twins.  A complete overview of the person’s curriculum, other activities that he/she is engaged in, interests, endorsements,…   Oh and by the way, all the other registered contacts also get to see who’s registered, so expect a lot more interaction going on at your event.  Plus you can post updates on your event live to this entire audience.

Second hurdle of course is the availability of NFC enabled smartphones.  At least for now.  I’m pretty confident that this hurdle will resolve itself very fast, especially when, as mentioned before, Apple’s smartphone truly get’s into the game.

The third hurdle, people’s unease with this type of registration and the idea of using your phone to get access to an event, will dissolve as quickly as the hardware issue.  Once the technology becomes wider available, the use of a phone to make transactions will become very common and even demanded by your audience.

The last hurdle is that every attendee’s phone using the NFC solution has to be online.  And yes, while in some event locations you’ll still search vainly for a free Wifi, that number is rapidly dropping and most smartphone business users hava an active, always-on 3G/4G data subscription.

Is the method described and used in this prototype the ultimate way to do fast-lane registration ?  Probably not, there’s hundreds of ways of doing that, but it’s a viable effort with enough promising test results to develop it further.  Moreover, NFC’s hype can be a catalyst for a wave of innovation in the ever traditional trade show and congress industry.

Are you thinking about using NFC or RFID solutions in your next event, or did you already experiment yourself ?  Just post a remark to share your thoughts.