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.

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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.

Neem een voorbeeld aan de retail – deel 2

In het vorige deel zagen we al welke vergelijkingen getrokken kunnen worden tussen retail en de wereld van (vak)beurzen.  In dit deel gaan we op zoek naar de toekomst van offline, voor de “brick-and-mortar” winkel en trekken dat door op event-venues en (vak)beurzen.

De winkel

Zeggen of schrijven dat de winkel dood is lijkt me een geweldige overdrijving.  Er is wel duidelijk sprake van een transformatie, maar zeker niet het einde.  Je zou kunnen doemdenken en stellen dat er binnenkort alleen nog maar e-commerce zal zijn en dat fysieke winkels dood zijn, maar dat soort toekomst zie ik niet, en ik denk dat ook consumenten dat niet willen.  Het is mijn overtuiging dat mensen graag winkelen en graag verrast worden door een onverwachte vondst in een winkel.  Shopping of winkelen draait net zo veel om entertainment en betrokkenheid als om noodzakelijkheid en nut.

connected-screen

intelligent touch-screen met pasfunctie

De onmiskenbare trend is dat winkels net zo veel distributie- en fulfillment-centra worden als totaal-concepten voor een onvergetelijk shoppinggevoel.  Winkels en shoppingcentra zullen daarbij hoog-technologisch uitgerust worden.  Vandaag moet de oppervlakte van een winkel een aantrekkingskracht hebben om mensen door de deur te lokken, de winkelrekken moeten constant goed gevuld zijn en de dienstverlening moet op een hoog niveau staan.  Dat is een zeer duur en inefficiënt model.

Invloed van e-commerce

Wat e-commerce heeft aangetoond is dat, zeker voor de goedkopere producten, een just-in-time model veel gezonder is.  Ik geloof dat hier een patroon in schuilt voor de evolutie van de winkel.  Een enorme toename van in-store technologie die toelaat om alle producten te zien en passen, eventueel virtueel dankzij geconnecteerde schermen in spiegels en pashokjes, maar met een uitgestelde levering.

Dit zal invloed hebben op het gebruik van dure real estate dankzij kleinere shops, kleinere showrooms in combinatie met magazijnen en lokale(re) distributiecentra op minder dure locaties buiten de stadcentra die een soort lokale economie creëren.  Dit vraagt andere transportmodi en infrastructuur.

Dit heeft ook invloed op het soort ervaring dat je wil voor je klanten in de winkel.  Het engagement moet sterker opgebouwd worden en meer persoonlijk om de stap tot aankoop te vereenvoudigen en te concretiseren on-the-spot.  Dat vraagt bijvoorbeeld makkelijkere en mobiele betaalmiddelen, gepersonaliseerde boodschappen op de smartphone of in-store schermen, free-wifi, digitale loyalty programma’s,…

Technolgie slim gebruiken

RFID-badgeDie slimme inzet van technologie zie je wereldwijd als paddenstoelen uit de grond schieten.  Vele merken en shopping malls experimenteren met mobiele toepassingen, slimme spiegels, mobile payment en dergelijke meer.  Bovendien zetten shopping malls steeds meer track&trace technologie gecombineerd met digital signage in om mensenstromen te meten en te sturen.  Deze warenhuizen weten dat ze enkel zo hun nut en kostenstructuur kunnen verantwoorden aan de merken die dure ruimte bij hen huren. En dat ze bovendien op die manier mensen kunnen binden en voor terugkerende bezoekers kunnen zorgen.

heatmap

waar komen mijn bezoekers het vaakst ?

De track&trace gebeurt op allerlei verschillende, zichtbare en soms listig verborgen, manieren zoals : via het kassa-systeem, via de klantenkaart met ingebouwde RFID-chip, via de mobiele app, via intelligente camera’s met gezichtsherkenning, via vragenlijsten en onderzoeken, via de wifi of het signaal van de mobiele telefoons van bezoekers, via touch-screens en zo meer.  Bovendien worden al die middelen ook gebruikt om zoveel mogelijk gegevens te verzamelen over de bezoeker en klant.

Als de opdracht om het eigen bestaansrecht te bewijzen en de bezoeker zo goed mogelijk te kennen niet ook geldt voor event-venues en -organisatoren, dan heb ik niets geleerd in 20 jaar in de (vak)beursbranche.  En als de inzet van technologie in de retail werkt om die missie te volbrengen, dan moet voor mijn industrie hetzelfde kunnen.

Bedreiging

Een criticus of zwartkijker zou natuurlijk de opkomst van bepaalde technologie als een bedreiging kunnen bekijken van de noodzaak aan real estate, standruimte, van exposanten op (vak)beurzen.  Meer technolgie die toelaat om dingen in near-real-life te visualiseren, zal onvermijdelijk leiden tot minder noodzaak aan ruimte om die dingen fysiek te tonen.  Dat is evident, maar ik weet zeker dat de druk op dure standruimte er zonder die technologie ook zal zijn en eigenlijk vandaag al is.  Bovendien zal dit soort technologie niet verdwijnen omdat we dat zo graag willen.  Ik zou vandaag de mogelijkheden ervan omarmen om te kunnen experimenteren met andere vormen van events die je anders in de toekomst zal mislopen.

Door de inzet van heldere en doeltreffende track&trace technolgie zul je bovendien het nut en de efficiëntie van je event als lead generator veel beter kunnen aantonen, wat meer dan waarschijnlijk de levensduur van je event veel meer kan verlengen dan dat het bovenstaande er een bedreiging van kan zijn.