There are massive technological advancements on the horizon with the potential to have an impact on trade shows and conferences, in ways big and small. And while the horizon may be years away for some of these tools and technologies, others, like Google Analytics 4, are right around the corner. While in no way an exhaustive guide, this primer is intended to introduce tech neophytes to some of the vernacular — filtered through the lens of an event professional — needed to begin making sense of it all.
BASE TECHNOLOGY: Web 3.0
If 1.0 was the introduction of the World Wide Web and 2.0 was the leap from static web pages to interactive, user-based content creation, then 3.0 promises another huge step forward. According to some proponents, the key features of Web 3 will be decentralization and democratization, where technologies like blockchain and NFTs enable users to not just create content but control its ownership and usage.
Another thing users will be able to control: how their data is shared. If Web 3.0 evolves in this direction, it may present event producers with new methods of audience engagement. Currently, many event organizers are using online data from attendees to market in an individualized way. In the future, however, the focus could shift to building community by giving attendees a voice in event content, speaker selection, etc. — perhaps doing so in exchange for NFTs.
The following technologies are related to Web 3.0, so you can expect to hear them discussed together:
If event marketers start experimenting with NFTs or cryptocurrency, they’ll rely on blockchain technology to power it all. The blockchain is a distributed network of computers that keeps track of digital assets, with the idea that this decentralized system offers greater stability and security against hackers than relying on one lone service provider to do the work. Compared to a traditional or centralized database, blockchains are much slower, have some distinct security vulnerabilities of their own, and — due to the energy demand created by these large and growing networks — have raised concerns about their environmental impact.
The metaverse is a way to bring people together and interact in a digitally enhanced environment — although what that actually looks like depends on who you ask. For some, it may be adding AR to product launches or speaker sessions at in-person events; for others, it may mean creating a VR environment where attendees around the world could network or buy goods and services in real time. Digital twin technology, in which a physical space is digitally replicated, also offers exciting opportunities.
By the simplest definition, an NFT is a “token” that serves as proof of ownership for a digital item. Think of it as a special, unique hyperlink with your name on it. And while there is much debate about whether one can actually “own” a digital asset, there is also some talk about NFTs being the next big thing to create excitement and engagement for events. Some event producers are using NFT tickets — digital tickets that are stored and managed on the blockchain — arguing they allow small businesses or associations the ability to access a ticketing system that is not owned or controlled by any one organization. Also, there are now rentable NFT event photo booths that can take photos or videos and instantly write them to the blockchain, where they can be collected, traded, or sold. Some have suggested incorporating NFTs into swag bags.
BASE TECHNOLOGY: Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Event marketers are already reaping the benefits of using AI software. Using mathematical formulas called algorithms, the software learns through time and repetition how to make decisions without the need for human intervention — a process known as machine learning. This type of AI can be employed in marketing automation platforms to determine whether a lead is a good fit for a campaign, recommend improvements in email messaging or cadence, and much more. Read on to learn more about what AI innovation has in store for events.
The following technologies are examples of AI:
Machine learning teaches computer models how to make decisions, like filtering spam emails or influencing internet search results, based on large sets of data. Generative AI tools like ChatGPT take that one step further, using the source data to actually produce new information. In essence, your wish is their command: ChatGPT can generate ideas or even full copy for social posts to promote a keynote session, write session descriptions, or recommend venues for your next event. ChatGPT can also function as a conversational chatbot, which could be customized and incorporated into an event landing page to answer potential attendees’ questions.
Created by Open AI, the same company behind ChatGPT, DALL-E is a generative AI tool that creates images instead of written copy, based on your specifications. Event marketers may find it useful as a concepting tool because DALL-E creates multiple variations of each requested image, and those can be used to guide creative development. It could also be an effective way to produce an image for an email banner, social post, or similar deliverable. And as DALL-E and other types of image-generating AI become more widespread, event attendees can be encouraged to create their own shareable content for greater engagement. Because the AI behind DALL-E is “trained” on photos and artistic works found across the Internet, the legal and ethical questions around its use are in flux. A number of court cases are in progress.
BASE TECHNOLOGY: Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
On July 1, GA4 officially takes over from Universal Analytics (UA) as Google’s flagship data measurement tool. Unlike its predecessor, GA4 is able to monitor both websites and apps, but the big change is in how it tracks visitors. Where UA would deliver raw, unfiltered data about users and sessions, GA4 focuses on engaged users, and the reporting forefronts people who spend more than a few seconds on your site or who took an action while there, like clicking on a video. This enables more effective measurement and focus on audience segmentation — think buyer types, journey mapping, etc. Beyond this, all the same benefits of the “old” Google Analytics apply to GA4, just with a brand-new, reimagined user experience, and a data model that’s a better fit for the web of 2023. Additionally, Google recently announced that its AI platform will soon integrate into all of its apps, meaning that Gmail, Google Sheet, Slides, Docs, etc. will all have AI-enabled design, copy, and editing capabilities.
BASE TECHNOLOGY: Artificial Reality
Most experts use this as an umbrella term for two types of artificial reality. Augmented reality (AR) is a digital presentation that is visually overlaid on top of a real-world location. This can be used, for instance, to create an enhanced, interactive show-floor map that can be accessed with a smartphone camera. Virtual reality (VR), by comparison, is an immersive, wholly digital world that typically requires special equipment like a headset.
Do you find you have more questions than answers after reading this? Good! It’s important that, as event marketers, we keep researching and learning about new concepts so that we’re ready to embrace the technology innovations that provide additional pathways to engagement and community building.
Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes is president and chief marketing strategist at mdg, A Freeman Company, a full-service marketing and public relations firm specializing in B2B events.