Smartphone apps that take selfies at check-in, video-enabled beacons, digital concierge systems and facial recognition software—these are just some of the latest tools vying for attention in the events industry.
Developments are increasingly focused on device and human interaction, enabling event planners to test, experiment and create new experiences for guests and brands.
Will Kataria, Asia sales director at event management software provider Cvent, says the relationship between events and technology has evolved significantly.
“The event technology industry will be a US$9.28 billion industry by 2020 and the APAC region is expected to be the fastest-growing region in the market due to the rapid adoption of emerging trends such as mobility and cloud,” he says.
Innovations such as radio frequency identification (RFID) readers that allow event producers to track the attendee journey, the ability to monitor booth visitors to measure attendance, and enhanced mobile event apps that boost on-site engagement and networking opportunities are all making an impact.
Cate Banfield, senior director, event solutions design and strategy at BCD Meetings & Events, says beacons are another tool attracting increasing interest from the agency’s clients. “We will start to see companies layering on augmented reality (AR) to [beacon technology], superimposing a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world,” she says.
“Typically, this is done via your mobile phone camera—think Pokémon Go, but eventually it will become available in updated versions of AR glasses and less intrusive versions of Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens.”
A Cvent survey carried out in 2016 among global event professionals also highlights the extent to which planners are open to the possibilities that futuristic technologies can bring to traditional meeting content.
Thirty-four per cent of those surveyed indicated they would consider using virtual reality, while 33 per cent of respondents said they would use wearables, such as a smart watch. Drones, virtual swag bags and driverless cars were also named as technologies with the potential to enhance events.
If an event doesn’t require notifications, alerts, or a high degree of interactivity, Jean Liang, marketing executive for APAC at FreemanXP, suggests using a web-based app, which can save both time and money by leveraging existing pages on a microsite, as well as focusing on social media for engagement and promotion.
“Tools such as Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and Snapchat are free and easy ways to share videos about products, Q&As, sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes actions,” she adds.
Liang also points towards gamification’s potential—everyone loves a good game—be it on-site gamifications or modernised play involving digital devices and touchscreens. Incorporating cost-effective gamification allows planners to build brand awareness, collect data and feedback and increase ROI through measurement.
Cost versus value
Cvent’s survey results showed a growing trend in leveraging technologies to track attendee activity, collect feedback, and prove return on investment. Yet, with events having differing requirements and varied scopes of work, it’s not easy to put a price tag on technology tools.
Libby Zhou, project director of digital studio at Uniplan, says the cost can be affected by a number of factors, such as the development time, the number of people interacting with the tools and ongoing maintenance requirements.
“I’d say anywhere from HK$150,000 (US$20k) up to a million for a complicated system; it can be a long-term investment if the brand wants to incorporate it into their overall digital strategy and campaign, but the outcome can be tangible and cost-saving in the long run,” she says.
Zhou adds that it is hard to compare the cost of technology with its value as event tech tends to be highly customised by events and brands.
“The event itself might have a time limitation—such as a few hours or few days, but you need time to really measure the value,” she says.
Focusing on real-time data can help planners to justify investment, measure return and assess technology’s impact on the bottom line.
“Event technology can help to generate real-time data from guests, which can be valuable for brands to monitor the gap between customer feedback and brand position,” says Zhou. “It also helps business event planners to measure direct feedback from the experience.”
Real-time tools, often integrated with cloud-based technology, can allow event marketers to easily assess the entire 'life cycle' of the attendee experience.
“With smart wristbands, you can monitor the guest flow, how much time guests spend in front of certain exhibits, levels of engagement and how many guests have exchanged contacts,” adds Zhou. “These are all very valuable to both event planners and the brand. Asking the right questions and setting the right KPIs are still the key.”
Focusing on personalisation can also help when estimating value—people remember, and are fiercely loyal to, experiences they feel a connection with.
“Mobile apps and beacon technology are providing opportunities for planners and key stakeholders to engage with their audiences on a much more personal level,” says BCD M&E’s Banfield. “By creating a more personalised experience for each of your attendees by curating content through an app, for example, this will allow people to feel more connected to content that is relevant to them.”
To justify technology investment and measure return, Cvent’s Kataria suggests that planners lay out their top three event ‘pain points’ and look for ways to improve those areas. These could include issues such as struggling to understand guest flow; a cumbersome check-in process and lead tracking.
“These are all common issues and can be resolved by utilising technology,” he says. “Their impact can be measured quantitatively with an increase in lead generation, or qualitatively with an enhanced attendee experience,” he says.