Professionals in the exhibitions and meetings industry are busier than ever, whether drafting a proposal, following up on a lead, finding inspiration for the next big idea or catching up on the onslaught of emails that somehow all came through in the last hour, time has never been more important.
People have to make their time count, especially in the midst of heavy competition and a sea of opportunity. It’s no longer enough to just show up and hope for the best when attending or exhibiting at a tradeshow.
The next generation of mobile technology seeks to do just that, as smart systems makes it easier to match buyers, sellers and likeminded individuals with one another to maximize ROI and make closing the deal a more attainable goal – all at your fingertips.
“That’s really where I think the industry is going,” said Kelly Foy, CEO, Elite Meetings International and developer of AttendeeHub. “If I can know information in advance and (show managers) have a system where we have a full set of appointments, then I can have confidence in ROI.”
AttendeeHub incorporates a match system using attendee profiles to begin scheduling appointments before a show even begins, allowing users to adjust their schedules as the event progresses.
“We’re using technology to speed up face to face interaction with pinpoint accuracy,” Foy said. “Think about CES and how many attendees are there. It can be pretty difficult to make sure you’re seeing all the people you need to see, but we can program the system to automatically do it.
“At that point, they can rearrange, decline, reschedule … it’s kind of like when you watch a movie on Netflix and it recommends [to] you other movies based on that selection.”
Matching group schedules was also one of the biggest requests made from the meetings industry, Foy said, and AttendeeHub can sort small to large groups by automatically working with everyone’s schedule to find an appropriate meeting time.
Show organizers can also use it to their advantage by knowing in advance what sessions are seeing the most traffic, and be prepared for the numbers.
“As the buyers are RSVP-ing for breakout sessions, the meeting planner has a view of what is popular or not,” Foy said. “They can make adjustments to room size and really prepare for the popular ones. It helps them manage the event better than they ever have before.”
Mobile app usage has been one of the fastest growing technologies within tradeshows, taking off around 2009 when the first companies began to use basic formats of what is seen today.
“From a mobile app standpoint, in five years we’ve evolved quite a bit,” said Jay Tokosch, CEO, CoreApps. “In 2009, we were doing basic things on the show floor to where you could search exhibitors and sessions and add those to your appointment schedule. We’ve progressed to where now we can be very interactive through audience response systems, and on the exhibitor side making meetings on the show floor.”
Newest to the mobile industry is the implementation of beacon technology, which gives companies such as CoreApps the ability to use a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to determine exact GPS locations, floor analytics and other trends and analysis that would normally come at greater cost and longer turnaround.
“Content is king,” Tokosch continued. “We now are collecting more and producing more information about exhibitors and sessions, we can interact with people … so the question becomes how do we get all that into the app without making it so cumbersome as a user?”
Although the majority of people now own smart phones, different operating systems such as Apple and Android cause users to have different experiences. According to Tokosch, the development of beacon and similar technologies will eventually yield a more universal experience.
Don’t count on mobile apps making printed materials at tradeshows obsolete any time soon, however. According to studies from the Center for Exhibition and Industry Research (CEIR), attendees still prefer to get printed materials in addition to the mobile accessibility.
In its 2013 report “Attracting Attendees,” a staggering 70 percent of respondents surveyed preferred to get information about booths and activities from a printed program.
“To be successful, organizers and exhibitors need to provide attendees alternatives, which in the near term future still need to include both paper and digital options,” said Nancy Drapeau, director of research, CEIR. “The distribution of paper materials should be strategic. For an exhibition program, perhaps it should be a shorter piece.”
Such demand, Drapeau continued, could make for good statistics in sponsorship sales efforts, but doesn’t mean you have to “throw a ream of paper at an attendee.”
“The collateral piece should be strategic, perhaps shorter than in the past, less expensive to produce, which should provide the attendee with an online link to visit for more information,” she said.
If an attendee has a paper document top of pile and top of mind, it could be the deciding factor that pushes the potential client to access further information via mobile and online sources – which will be available all year long instead of ending up in the trash.