Event organizers, exhibitors, and sponsors are all faced with the same seemingly overwhelming challenge: getting attendee attention. Sparking momentary interest with novel on-site elements is one thing — sustained interaction is an entirely different animal. “Engagement isn’t optional,” Danielle Puceta, Freeman’s senior vice president, digital, told Convene. “It’s a must.”
For Puceta, engagement means “creating a two-way conversation” by leveraging opportunities to do more than give an audience something to read, see, or hear. That mindset is part of the driving force behind Explore, Freeman’s new suite of packages that includes offerings in virtual reality and augmented reality, entertaining 3D photo opportunities, and digital product showcase stations.
Puceta knows that the prospect of integrating a new experience into an on-site environment can raise budget concerns. “When organizers hear the word ‘engagement,’ I think it’s easy to assume that it has to be very expensive or flashy,” Puceta said. “Sometimes, that’s true, but I also think that engaging experiences don’t have to be as complex as people expect. Instead, it’s about creating a dialogue.”
That dialogue can also involve a non-human voice. For example, Freeman worked with the organizers of ASD (Affordable Shopping Destination) Market Week to deliver immediate answers to around 7,000 questions from attendees. The responses came from a chatbot named Savvy Sara — powered by Freeman’s Fluent technology that understands natural language. “To keep attendees engaged, it’s important that they get the right information right when they need it,” Puceta said. “Fluent was able to answer attendees’ questions correctly with a 90-percent accuracy rate. In addition to making attendees’ lives easier so they could spend more time enjoying the experience, [the chatbot] gives the event team a chance to be more effective and strategic with their time.”
Bill Charles, chief information officer at Emerald Expositions, the owner of ASD Marketing Week, said that leveraging chatbot technology at events results in “significant operational efficiencies.” By providing attendees and exhibitors with instant answers to their questions, Charles said, “our staff is able to focus on building the best events possible.”
A Foundation of Inspiration
Explore packages are designed to help customers avoid feeling overwhelmed by VR and AR possibilities. “The new storytelling opportunities in virtual reality and augmented reality are so vast,” Puceta said. “So sometimes, people have no idea what they want to do when they get started. In those cases, the ideation sessions can take a lot of time, which drives up spend. We’re hoping that we can help save some of that time by launching Explore and offering a few ideas up front.”
While the packages need to be configured for each group’s specific set of needs, “the examples provide a baseline,” she added. “Getting from ideation to delivery can take much less time and money.”
Speaking of money, Puceta said that these experiences are often compelling sponsorship opportunities. However, these new activations require additional work to educate how a sponsor’s message will fit into the experience. “Most people understand what they are buying when they sponsor traditional signage,” Puceta said. “But it can be difficult to explain what a sponsor will get in these more engaging, experiential solutions. So it’s crucial to package it up so that sponsors can really understand what it might look like, how it will deliver results for them, and why they should consider investing in something that feels different.”
For example, one of Freeman’s clients in the automotive industry took traditional signage and supercharged it in a new environment. Puceta said that the company recently created an activation for a client that featured a virtual garage environment with sponsored posters on the walls and sponsored pop-ups. The experience involved more than virtually walking into a garage, though. Attendees were given a limited amount of time to build vehicles in the garage by correctly placing car parts where they belonged. As they worked, they saw sponsored content, and when they finished, they could share a score on their work on social media. “The social-media component played a meaningful role in helping someone who didn’t get into the virtual garage get a taste of the content,” Puceta said. “On-site attendees loved the experience, and sponsors were so happy with the exposure that our client has even more sponsors lined up for their second activation planned for next year.”
No matter how an organization covers the costs of an engaging activation, it’s important to recognize that the activation does not need to be a one-off. “Once you’ve created this content, it’s an asset that people can keep using,” Puceta said. “Sometimes people just look at it as something for one event, but it can live on with multiple uses at multiple shows. Some companies integrate it into their event strategies, and then, they might use it in their lobby or a sales tool in the field. If you’ve already invested in the content, it’s wise to think about how to repurpose it to stretch that investment and increase exposure.”
Freeman is one of PCMA’s distinguished Uber partners. See that partnership come to life at PCMA Convening Leaders 2020, where Freeman will be the creative force behind the Main Stage in San Francisco.