Editor’s note: This is a two-part series that examines the prolific role technology plays in the tradeshow industry. It will examine how technology is used before, during and after the show.
Technology has flooded the tradeshow industry, and just like water, it has found its way into every nook and cranny of the show cycle. From pre-event registration, websites and marketing, to post-show metrics and surveys, technology has become an indispensable partner on the showfloor.
This new high-tech meetings environment has already changed just about every aspect of the industry.
“Technology streamlines the entire meetings lifecycle, allowing meeting managers to focus on strategic initiatives rather than spending their time on monotonous tasks,” said Dan Lapus, VP of product development at Cvent. “In short, meetings management technology brings flexibility to the meeting planner and has become an essential component in managing every stage of the meetings lifecycle.”
In the months leading up to an expo, technology sets its sights squarely on the attendee with the goal of gathering as much information as possible.
By the time an attendee types their name in the show’s online registration portal, technology already has a tight grip. This grasp quickly turns into a stranglehold once they have completed the pre-show survey and have had the opportunity to register for everything from speaker sessions to networking events and social galas.
Today, when technology is employed to its full capabilities throughout the show cycle, attendees really have no way to hide once they are in the system.
“The concept of marketing to an attendee has become a 365-day a year proposition,” said David Lawton, EVP of sales and marketing for Convention Data Services. “Whether it’s an alumni or a prospect secured from a mailing list, technology plays a huge part in the capturing and mining of data.”
The flow of information to and from all participants at all times along the show cycle is what technology really brings to the table. Show management knows how many attendees have registered, how much floor space is reserved and who has signed up for what sessions in real time as the show approaches.
As new technologies go online and are integrated, it seems the only limit to how high-tech meetings can become is the imagination of the people in control.
“Targeted marketing to a specific demographic with a specific message cannot be done without technology, and instantaneous reports of the data allow show management the ability to adjust that marketing message,” said Lawton. “Social media has also become an integral part of registration. CDS has integrated social media into all types of registrations (attendee, speaker, exhibitor). The program allows registrants the opportunity to post a status to their LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter pages and additionally, invite their contacts to the event using a customized message.”
Lawton said this integration of social media, marketing and online registration has increased attendance at each show it has been available.
Event management software has also evolved in support of the event lifecycle. Software packages help the event managers find a venue, send out electronic requests for proposals, design and send out event invitations, create event websites, conduct web surveys, send e-mail marketing, process payments and generate detailed reports.
“When Cvent first launched in 1999, organizations were sending out paper invitations for their events and collecting RSVPs through mail or fax,” said Lapus. “Today, the vast majority of event planners have fully embraced online tools to manage their events. Over the last few years, technology has fundamentally changed the way the meetings industry does business.”
All of this pre-show technology is designed with one thing in mind: to enhance the show for all participants. For example, pre-show polling is now being used by show management for everything from generating topics for keynote speakers to deciding on the most popular lunch menu.
“This intelligence then allows the planners to tailor their events to their audiences’ preferences, so they can hold more effective events,” said Lapus.
As the show begins, the real-time features of technology truly begin to surface.
Show websites contain up-to-the-minute information on changes to speaker schedules. If the right show management software is used, attendees can also receive emails on their Smartphones in real-time if a location has changed or a session is cancelled.
Some high-tech meetings even know where attendees are at on the show floor. According to Lawton, this radio frequency identification (RFID) technology has had one of the greatest impacts on the industry.
RFID uses radio waves to transfer data from an electronic tag on a badge through a reader for tracking purposes. Some RFID tags can be read from several meters away and beyond the line of sight of the reader.
“RFID technology has enabled show management to track very important data onsite using a non-intrusive method,” said Lawton. “It has provided show management with critical information on session attendance, and in some cases, is tying that data to certificates for attendees. It also can give great statistics on the movement of attendees in the various exhibit hall entrances and aisles.”
In other words, a badge with an RFID tag could let show management know which attendee just walked into a breakout session.
Attendees may be surprised to find follow-up materials to that session in their inbox later that afternoon, but the technology behind it is
With the strategic advantages new technologies give meeting planners, this electronic flow of information is not likely to be shut off anytime soon.
Part two of this series will look at the role technology plays to connect exhibitors with attendees and how it extends post-show.