By Michael Hart, Event Consultant and Journalist
This article is part of our follow-up series to our original study from 2008 on The Invisible Exhibitor.
Any self-respecting list of “the latest” event technology trends is sure to include eye candy like voice and facial recognition, gamification and artificial intelligence. These are fun to think about in the same way it’s fun to think about when we’ll take our first space ship to Mars or the first delivery to our house will be made by a drone.
The trouble is, we’ve landed exploratory equipment on Mars, and drone deliveries are being beta-tested. So, while the fun technology is still a ways off, we are rapidly closing the window on real deployment. That requires show organizers and event planners to be forward-thinking but also care for the day-to-day needs of constituents.
Exhibitors live in a reality that is more short-term, and research into how they believe show organizers could better support them revealed their wish list for Digital Tools is more modest. Trade show organizers could do more to give their exhibitors options in terms of digital engagement tools, starting with a show app that includes appointment-setting functions and the ability for attendees to find the exhibitors they need.
Show organizers could acquaint themselves with a concept those in other industries are learning to deal with: the omnichannel shopper. No consumer shops only online or only in physical stores. They are channel agnostic.
While certain generations find their way to online shopping more easily than others, BigCommerce’s Global Omnichannel Consumer Research Report found that almost nobody today shops only in brick-and-mortar stores or only on Amazon, or Facebook, Instagram or eBay. Sometimes we pick out a product in a store and take it home, sometimes we have it delivered, sometimes we order it online and pick it up in the store parking lot ourselves.
Consumers in general are all over the place, and so, essentially, are event attendees. Show organizers could best serve their exhibitors by finding ways to help them engage with their attendees before, during and after the event, acknowledging that, more than ever, the face-to-face introduction to an attendee in a trade show booth is just one touch point.
Show organizers should “up their game,” as one exhibitor put it, when it comes to attendee data collection and analysis. Adroit organizers have learned they must supply potential exhibitors with plenty of information on who will attend their events if they want to get the exhibitor to sign a contract.
But that’s not enough. Now they must take the next step and use that information to personalize the event for the attendee, and that includes providing them with more information on which exhibitors would be most helpful for them to see and why. Use of beacon and RFID tracking technology is being used to great effect by show organizers who are ready to reinvent how people come together. It starts with smart deployment of the digital tools that can provide insight to the behaviors of specific audiences and market segments.
There is no doubt there eventually will be a place in the trade show for advanced technologies like AI and virtual reality. The industries that are beginning to embrace AI (health care, for instance) have done so because they have tons of data across hundreds, if not thousands, of enterprise systems to power it.
The trade show industry is nowhere close to that inflection point yet, but it must approach it soon if face-to-face marketing is to be relevant in the future. The Expo Group is one company that has turned its attention to Digital Tools, and helping clients to understand what to use when, as well as analyze and measure the impact. Get the Right Tech, Right Time guide HERE. Scroll to the bottom of the page, which features information about our new service, ExpoSuite.
Show organizers must concentrate on their role supporting the exhibitor with more sophisticated engagement tools, before competing marketing channels figure out how to do it better.