Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

April 14 2014

The New Technology That Can Transform The Trade Show Experience

By Carolyn Clark
Trade Show floor

It’s 2:30 at your trade show. Do you know where your attendees are?

If the industry can figure out a way to leverage location services technology with attendees, show organizers will soon be able to know the answer throughout every minute of the experience.

Terence Donnelly, CMP, Vice President, Sales, Experient, imagines a dramatically different experience for attendees as location services technologies mature.

“Once the system recognizes that you’re getting close to the convention center, your badge will be ready as soon as you arrive,” Donnelly says. “If there is a shuttle bus leaving in 30 minutes, you’ll already know where you need to be. When you’re on the show floor, your purchase history and demographics will help automatically chart a roadmap through the show to ensure you visit booths with products and services that fit your needs.”

“In real time, we’ll be able to modify the experience based on behaviors,” Donnelly adds.

SEE ALSO: How Big Data Makes Meetings Smarter

Mobile Holds The Key

However, this new experience relies on the device that seems to drive, well, everything today: smartphones and tablets. For location services to take off in the current environment, attendees will need to go mobile with the meeting long before they arrive.

“Many show organizers aren’t getting much intelligence before the event,” Donnelly says. “The downloading of the app isn’t happening until attendees are at the airport. I am personally an offender of this.”

In reality, it’s going to be very challenging to motivate attendees to actually download the meeting app weeks in advance. The right-here, right-now business environment gives everyone the ability to delay using a mobile tool until the moment they decide that they need it. With that in mind, Donnelly stresses the importance of providing a convenient mobile “responsive" website for the event, too.

“You can’t just have an app when less than 30% on average are downloading event apps” Donnelly says. “You have to have a great mobile web experience, too — particularly if you’re going to attract that remaining audience and the intelligence they can provide you.”

Brian Scott, CIO, Experient, says the future for mobile web at trade shows is counting on phone manufacturers.

“Currently, smartphones are placing limitations on what attendees can do within their web browsers,” Scott says. “Wayfinding, product suggestions based on behaviors and augmented reality all require tapping into a phone’s technical capabilities.”

“Until those issues are resolved, the industry will rely on native apps to enhance the experience,” Scott says.

SEE ALSO: The Future Of Mobile Monetization At Your Meeting

Testing, Testing

So how far away is the industry from seeing the possibilities of location services in action?

“There hasn’t been a real win yet with indoor location services,” Scott says. “However, Bluetooth Low Energy and Apple’s iBeacons could solve some of the issues the industry has faced.”

Scott highlights that iBeacons address many of the other shortcomings of tools such as near-field communications and RFID.

“RFID has been very successful, but there are many limitations, too,” Scott says. “RFID antennas and receivers still represent a fairly significant investment.”

“The cost of tagging has decreased, too,” Scott adds. “However, if you’re talking about a show with 60,000 people, those costs are going to add up quickly.”

“iBeacons are battery-powered BLE transmitters, and essentially every smartphone has built-in Bluetooth capabilities,” Scott says. “This addresses range, cost and deployment issues. There’s a lot of promise for the industry.”

Scott says that Experient is fully engaged in prototypes and beta deployment.

SEE ALSO: What Attendees Want From Exhibitors

Don’t Rush The Tech Revolution

There’s no question that this technology could translate to huge opportunities for attendees who want to enjoy the show more and exhibitors who want to track down the most promising leads. However, Scott has some simple advice for everyone in the industry: pace yourselves.

“Our industry as a whole could benefit from slowing down and focusing solely on what the ROI for the attendee will be,” Scott says. “Technological innovation is always exciting, but the best attendee experience isn’t always about delivering what’s new. It’s about allowing attendees to focus on the real reasons they come to shows — learning, networking and enjoying themselves.”

Looking for insights to make your trade show better? Check out this OnDemand webinar on trade show design.

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