© Corbin Ball & Co., September 2016

These are exciting times. The rate of technology change is accelerating with thousands of ideas, apps and innovations bubbling up to help meeting planners, exhibitors, venues and other meeting participants to do their jobs better and improve the attendee experience.

This annual review covers many of the major events technology trends to watch for this coming year.

 

1. Social media channels are targeting events with a focus on video and live streaming.

Social channels are finding that events are a great way of gaining market share especially with streaming video. Nearly every social channel has added or enhanced their video offerings over the past two years. Live streaming examples include:

Even stodgy LinkedIn has just stepped the user-generated video content. Currently this is limited to an invitation-only group of about 500 LinkedIn power influencers making Quroa-like short videos in responses to questions put to them. It will likely be expanded to more users in the future.

We will see increased demands for live streaming events by attendees. The challenges for event planners will be increased Wi-Fi bandwidth demand.  Also, the event host with deep pockets will be the likely target for copyright violation issues.

2. Data analytics will enhance the attendee experience and will greatly improve events.                  

The meetings industry started using crude web-based tools in the mid-1990’s. Over the years, they continued to slowly improve into a wide assortment of online event system to manage registration, exhibits, housing, room blocks, membership, event website analytics, budgeting, sourcing and more. However, for much of this time, these data sources remained in silos as it has been difficult to share between systems and analyze in total. Data integration has simply not been an easy task!

 In addition, there has been recent explosion of event data sources including:

  • ·mobile event apps (where every touch is trackable)
  • ·beacon technology (both fixed and wearable – where every movement can be trackable)
  • ·easy mobile polling and surveys
  • ·measurement of dwell times (how long and which exhibition booths and sessions attendees spend their time)
  • ·social media sentiment analysis
  • ·attendee influence analytics

The good news is that finally data management systems have matured to the point where data integration is a simpler task. With state-of-the-art cloud-based systems and robust, well-documented API’s it is now possible to collect and analyze data from a myriad of sources. As cloud-based systems get more powerful each year, big data tools are opening a new world of predictive analytics that can have huge impacts on events. In addition, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) tools are growing more powerful as well, helping to sort through this blizzard of data.

One benefit is the advance in marketing automation (see next trend). But, on a broader basis, we will see core sets of metrics evolve to measure event success and impact while giving valuable feedback for improving upcoming events. The ability to truly measure event ROI moves events front-and-center for corporate marketing and also to improve the value of association membership

Meetings technology companies are stepping up to take on this task.  One example is the recently released Integrated Event ROI Tool from etouches drawing real-time data from its technology stack including sourcing, registration, mobile and onsite activity to give an enhanced view of the event’s return on investment. 

3. Software integration tools may become the answer a beginning-to-end event planning software solution.

From an event planning perspective, the ideal technology solution would handle all the meetings technology needs of and organization – booking meeting space, planning event logistics, developing an event website, online registration, housing, travel, marketing, exhibition management, and more. A single solution would be easier to buy, to learn, to manage, and extract and utilize the data collected.

The problem is that, when it comes to meeting technology, “one size does not fit all.” Meetings, special events, tradeshows, conventions, incentive trips and more – each have their own widely varying set of needs. Consequently, a huge number of event software tools have emerged (I track nearly 1,700 products in 60 categories in my online Link List).

Building a beginning-to-end event planning software platform to meet this wide range of demands is an incredibly daunting task. Several companies have opted instead to acquire the different components.

For example, Lanyon, a corporate travel software company, chose to acquire Active Network and the range of pioneering software products:

  • Starcite for sourcing/strategic meetings management
  • RegOnline for attendee management
  • Wingateweb for high-end exhibition/lead retrieval
  • Passkey for room block management and housing
  • GenieConnect for the mobile event app

Cvent has followed a similar path. They developed their online registration and sourcing product (the Supplier Network) internally, but acquired additional functionality including:

  • Crowdcompass mobile event app
  • SeedLabs for additional mobile functionality
  • SignUp4 for additionally SMM functionality and customer
  • Elite Meetings/Speed RFP for additional sourcing capabilities
  • OnArrival for quick event check-in
  • AllianceTech for lead retrieval and onsite technology

These two companies are the largest event tech companies in existence and both have been or in the process of being purchased by Vista Equity Partners. The challenge, however, is that these tools (especially Lanyon) are not truly beginning-to-end software platforms. Rather they are a conglomeration of software products. Adding to the challenge is that many of the tech products are older and less flexible in terms of data integration than current state of the art cloud-based products.

The emerging alternative to purchasing a single event planning software “platform” is to use newer cloud-based technology companies that are built from their core to be interoperable with other systems.

One example is Eventbrite, a basic consumer-oriented event invitation, registration and ticketing system. This San Francisco-based company has been built at its core to be interoperable with tech products and lists hundreds of software products with which it integrates on its Eventbrite Spectrum page.

Etouches is another example. Their system provides 16 event planning modules, many of which are/were separate companies designed to work together. Etouches’ recent acquisition of Zentilla, the hotel and meeting space sourcing and eRFP engine, broadens its wide range of event planning tools needed on a mix-and-match basis.

Newer companies, such as EventGeek, provide a range of event logistics, budgeting, marketing, and analytics tools built to be interoperable with many other software tools.

Another option is to use an integration platform-as-a-service product such as Built.io. This company provides solutions to more easily integrate cloud-based software tools into CRM and marketing automation systems. They provide workflow maps, tie into enterprise collaboration tools such as Cisco Spark or Slack, provide data mapping, activity triggers for complex workflows, mobile app integration, API builders, API debugging and testing tools and more. In short, they make the process of integrating modern software products much simpler.

Meeting planners benefit as they are able to choose a wide assortment of specific software products with the ability figuratively bolt them together and work seamlessly as one application – a platform? Data collection and sharing is made much easier and automated. Meeting planners will be able to achieve highly customized solutions using multiple technology products that will work together as one.

4. Marketing automation finally incorporates events.

Marketing automation is technology used to streamline, automate, and measure marketing tasks and workflows to increase operational efficiency and grow revenue. Companies such as Marketo, Eloqua, SilverPop and HubSpot have evolved to increasingly capable marketing automation products over the past few years.

Unfortunately, events in the past have been left on the sidelines of marketing and analytics, as these offline activities and the siloed technologies used were difficult to track. Marketers were flying blind with regard to events.

Finally, with advances in cloud-based computing and APIs, event technology companies have been able to integrate these companies to greatly improve marketing efficiency. We now have the technology to make data actionable.                                                                                              

Events and exhibitions finally can now be integrated into a unified marketing program. Here are some examples:

  • Vista Equity Partners (owners of Lanyon and Cvent) purchase of marketing automation firm Marketo for US$1.8 billion is an example of how the big players are recognizing that live events are a significant component of a broader marketing landscape. The ability to wed live event data with customer (attendee) profiles is a major step forward for combining the data flow from all sources to provide a much more targeted relationship. Ties to marketing automation platforms and CRM systems is a natural step forward.
  • DoubleDutch, one of the leading mobile event app companies, now integrates with Eloqua, Marketo and Salesforce. Their homepage title is “LIVE ENGAGEMENT MARKETING” without even a mention of mobile technology indicating the importance of using onsite technology in a marketing campaign.
  • Certain Software has been an industry pioneer in terms of marketing automation. This major attendee management software firm has had ties with Eloqua and other related companies for the past several years. The opening page of their website now proclaims “Enterprise Event Automation Software” with a white paper on Integrating Marketing Automation and Events indicating a significant corporate move in this direction. Certain’s new Event Intelligence functionality allows marketers to tie event data within a marketing automation platform. Onsite attendee activity can be scored within the marketing platform allowing marketing campaigns to connect more directly to attendee needs.
  • Etouches has allied with Silverpop, part of IBM Marketing Solutions portfolio, for marketing engagement and acquisition services.
  • Feathr started out as a mobile event app company. They now promote: “Feathr’s marketing cloud” a set of digital marketing tools to track event websites, publications, and newsletters to analyze more than twenty features for every action registrants perform – including time of day, session length, platform (mobile vs. desktop), browser, screen size, cursor position, geographic location, and more.
  • Splash markets itself as a “one-stop event shop” to provide “all the tools event marketers need in one place.” They provide a range of guest list management, web design tools, email marketing tools, mobile apps and more with integration to Marketo, Salesforce, and Microsoft Dynamics.

5. Engagement becomes an increasingly key component to events.

Attendee engagement is an emotional involvement or commitment by an audience or attendees at a meeting.

The ROI of an engaged attendee is simple: attendees who are emotionally involved/committed get more out of the event.  They learn and retain more. They are more interactive. They bring out more in others. They will like rate the event higher and will be more likely to return in future years and encourage others to do so as well.

Fortunately, many technologies are evolving to build engagement:

  • easy mobile surveys, polling and social Q&A 
  • social media activity tracking (number of event-related tweets, posts, pictures, videos etc),
  • social media sentiment analysis tracking
  • measurement of the percentage of people actively participating,
  • gamification activity
  • mobile event app analytics (% of people downloading, number of interactions),
  • number/percentage of attendees downloading information,
  • activity band analytics, etc., etc.
  • wearable beacons/smart badges
  • social walls
  • matchmaking and networking tools 
  • live streaming and photo sharing apps
  • microphone apps for attendee access
  • second screen technology
  • interactive sessions
  • people discovery -- Tinder for events?
  • content sharing and management
  • projection mapping, digital signage and other advanced AV products
  • hassle-free two-way contact information exchange
  • A more seamless, friction-free management of attendee management logistics including registration, exhibits, content, and more.

This plethora of engagement tools is working into events in a big way and will transform the impact and power of face-to-face meetings in very substantial ways.

6. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are starting to make headway at events.

This was one of the key trends listed in my last year’s trend article. Although this will take a few years to fully develop, the billions of dollars spent by technology firms such a Google, Facebook, Samsung, Microsoft and others are beginning to show at events and tradeshows. VR is the closest thing we have to the Start Trek “Holodeck” and, as these tools develop, these virtual approximations will become increasingly realistic. Here are some of the ways this will play out for events and tradeshows:

Virtual Site Inspections:

A number of hotels and destinations a moving to VR to give event attendees and others the most realistic site inspection yet provided.

  • Destination BC has created an Oculus Rift VR tour to promote at tradeshows and to travel writers to demonstrate the beauty of their area.

Tradeshows:

  • VR Expos & Tradeshows are popping up in numerous places.
  • Companies are recognizing that VR can give booth attendees an incredibly immersive and engaging experience such as the following made by Arch Virtual.

Virtual attendance:

  • The NBA is making significant plans to distribute their games in VR. Other opportunities for “virtual attendance are being considered for music concerts, special events and even major conference events.

Gamification:

  • The huge success of Pokémon Go (a mobile augmented reality game) will likely make its way in some form into event gamification. The CEO of Niantic Labs (creators of Pokémon Go), John Hanke, has indicated that events will play are role in their product: “You will see new Pokémon come into the game around special events at certain times in certain parts of the world," Hanke stated in a Forbes interview. "You’ll see us do some things around events."  Similar augmented reality games would be a natural for engaging attendees at events.

We are just scratching the surface in this area. The major hardware is yet to roll out and we will see significant advances in the next couple of years. it seems inevitable that we will VR and AR tools proliferate at events and exhibitions.

7. Facial recognition, biometrics and sentiment analysis will be used to measure attendees’ mood, engagement and demographics.

Technology has developed to the point where face recognition systems can determine attendees’ gender, approximate age, ethnicity, mood, and even specific individuals in a photo database. Postings on social media can be analyzed for sentiment as well. We will see these tools used as events and exhibitions to measure engagement, demographics, sentiment and even spot potential troublemakers. Here are some examples:

Sightcorp’s CrowdStats Audience Analytics system promises “real-time insights in your audience behavior and interest.”  Using simple cameras, this face analysis technology captures the “faces of an audience, collects the above mentioned data, and presents the processed results in an intuitive dashboard in the Cloud - and all that anonymously, subject to strict privacy protection policy.”  It can measure “People count, Viewer ratio, Gender, Age brackets, Mood, Attention & Dwell Time” in your booth or in other event locations. Other companies such as Visage Technologies and Mood.me are also working in with face tracking and analysis technology.

The XOX Emotional Technology Platform provides a sensory wristband to measure attendee excitement (galvanic skin response), heart rate and other biometric measures.

 

In the future, these measurements could be captured with mainstream activity bands such as Fitbit or Apple Watch if biometrics developments continue and attendees opt-in.

Currently, wearable beacon technology such as EventBit by Experient measures a wide range of location-aware attendee behavior, including providing detail to attendees on how many miles/kilometers they have walked through an exhibit hall or meeting space.

Bonus Trend: A repeat from previous years’ predictions:

Despite the increased use of virtual meetings technology, face-to-face meetings and tradeshows will remain viable.

Webinars and other virtual meetings are great for short information exchange. However, in today’s multi- tasking and often distracting work environment, attention spans are short. Thirty to forty-five minutes is usually the maximum you can expect someone to pay attention to a webinar while sitting in front of a monitor.

Meetings, on the other hand, take people to a more focused environment with fewer distractions. As long as attendees are informed, entertained and fed, event hosts can keep them engaged for days. At the minimum, we share a social contract to at least look like we are paying attention at an event. The opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and relationship building are usually far greater at face-to-face events than online. For an exhibitor, it is often the best way to meet so many qualified buyers in such a short time. For buyers, it is a great chance to meet vendors of interest – all together in one location, categorized and mapped for your choosing.

Meetings provide a vastly richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than nearly any virtual meeting.

These are just a few of whirlwind of changes coming.  Do you agree with them? Do you have others? Please leave comments and let me know your thoughts.


Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP, DES, MS is a speaker and independent third-party consultant focusing on meetings technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity He can be contacted at his extensive web site Corbin Ball & Co. - Meetings Technology Headquarters (www.corbinball.com) and followed at www.twitter.com/corbinball.

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