Preparing for the digital transformation
By Richard Maranville and Wilson Tang
There are no “take twos” in live events. We work in an industry in which perfection in execution is an absolute must. We are predisposed to keeping tried-and-true systems in place because they have worked for years and, in several cases, decades. So why fix what isn’t broken?
The challenge now is that demographics are changing. Recently becoming the largest demographic group in the Canadian workforce, Millennials – a.k.a. digital natives aged 15 to 35 who have never known a world without always-on, Internet-connected mobile devices – have big expectations when it comes to engagement and collaboration.
This social revolution is what we are calling the Digital Transformation, and it begins at the very beginning stages of meeting preparation. Event professionals are expected to be more digitally savvy when it comes to their toolsets, from how they submit graphics to the way they communicate with remote colleagues. Meeting attendees no longer want to be addressed like spectators viewing a performance but as participants involved in distinctively personalized experiences.
Future event success will be driven by technology and contingent on information accumulation and comprehension to produce more individually tailored brand interactions.
Data analytics and exchange
There is no lack of buzz terms in our business and, unless you’ve purposely ignored all forms of media for the past few years, you know ‘Big Data’ is a biggie. A popular term used to describe massive amounts of available data, Big Data is one of the hottest topics in the event space today. Collecting and analyzing information from past events allows you to make critical decisions for your future events based on pre-established attendee behaviours.
If you take the practice one step further and begin to exchange data with your vendors and event partners, eventually together you can achieve the perfect synergy in which each of the digital systems in your event can communicate. From digital signage display to mobile charging kiosk, each digital component could potentially identify and respond to your attendees individually, based on information provided in the initial online registration form, creating an experience customized for each participant.
Start asking your vendors to provide you with all the digital data they collect—registration records, application logs, survey responses—regardless of whether you think the information is valuable right now. You might feel overwhelmed if you end up with more data than you know what to do with. However, if you don’t start collecting data today, even if you’re not going to slice and dice it until tomorrow, you won’t have a baseline for comparison when you eventually implement your data-based engagement strategy.
Second screen technology
Aren’t we almost always looking at multiple screens simultaneously these days?
Comparable to online voting for your favourite reality TV contestants, second screen technology allows you to create an experience in which your participants can impact a presentation using their mobile devices. Second screen technology is beneficial to your major event stakeholders.
Speakers can create more engaging presentations and monitor audience responses in real-time, instantly understanding when their presentations hit the mark and where they need to provide additional clarification. Attendees have a better experience because they can participate and provide real-time feedback to presenters. They can also use second screens to view session content, take and save their own notes, and share presentation content. With a little creativity and collaboration, you are likely to find ways your event sponsors too can reap the advantages of second screen technology.
Last year, FreemanXP, a brand experience agency within the greater Freeman organization, launched FXP | touch, a proprietary second screen, web-based application compatible with any mobile device with a modern web browser. As observed firsthand at several Freeman events, when you remove walking up to a mic for Q&A from the meeting equation, audience engagement levels surge through the roof. What’s more, enhanced second screen technologies have robust data and analytics engines with the capacity to document and tabulate participant reactions so show organizers and presenters can better understand the impact of their content to help add more value to future events.
One of the most exciting measurement and attendee engagement technologies currently on the market, beacons are small devices based on Bluetooth low-energy technology that don’t require any external power source or Internet connection. They can be used to push small pieces of information out to attendees equipped with an application running on their tablet or smart phone. The app uses this info to determine who and where your attendees are (if they permit you to do so) and then present or notify attendees with contextually relevant information.
As a show organizer, you can then provide interesting new services for your attendees. For example, you can alert them when they near something of interest, create unique experiences based on their closeness to displays, or use the data to provide indoor location mapping, like GPS. You can even use it to identify which attendees spend time in a meeting room and for how long, which is key information as proximity is a great indicator of a person’s interest.
In a nutshell, beacons provide even greater data for you to analyze and exploit resulting in more intelligent decision making, greater operational efficiencies, cost reductions and decreased risk for your future meetings. Are you seeing the pattern here?
These technologies are just a sliver of what is yet to come. The Digital Transformation is inevitable, but we haven’t yet hit the inflection point. Recognize that not everybody wants this transformation yet, but those that do, really want it. Veterans: don’t throw in the towel fearing you can’t adapt and fill the demands of the growing younger generation of meeting professionals. Millennials: don’t try to fully digitize the meeting environment overnight, detracting from your objectives and alienating half your audience.
Gradually get yourself and your participants used to new technologies. Try to experience new digital ways of event management beforehand at other events (hint: tech-oriented show planners tend to lead the industry in integrating innovative technologies to enhance their meetings). When you decide to implement your digital strategy, start slow and work with your technology partners to create systems that work seamlessly together to improve the participant experience.
Realize that the old way of doing things is not bad and has served us well for many years, but the new way offers too many benefits to ignore, the best of which is information sharing. Executing successful events is all about collaborating with others, which is hard to do exchanging data on paper.
About the authors
Richard Maranville is EVP & Chief Digital Officer, Freeman, and Wilson Tang is VP Digital Experience, FreemanXP. For more information, visit www.freemanco.com.