Written by Stephan Forseilles
When Swapcard‘s Ilan Goren asked me if I’d be interested in contributing an article to their Blog on “What event engagement tech should /could do for event organizers to survive and thrive in the digital age”, I jumped on the occasion. It’s not everyday that you can have such a “blue sky” approach to the question.
The first remark that often comes up in discussions about the future of the event and exhibitions industry is: “Is it worth bothering? Will trade shows and live events even exist in 15 years?”
Are live events a thing of the past?
I’ve asked a lot of people. Within the industry first, through my activities in the Digital Innovation Committee of UFI (the International Association of Tradeshow Organizers). There, of course, almost everybody thinks live events have a great future. But they might be a little bit biased.
The same applies outside of the industry. I visited a lot of start-ups, including in Silicon Valley. I also participate in incubation and mentoring programs. Every time, when asked about the future of the exhibition industry, those young entrepreneurs, who are the future of business, answer: “Yes, of course, people will always want to meet face-to-face!”
But there’s a caveat that often comes after that first sentence: face-to-face events will have to become more meaningful.
“More meaningful?” What does that mean?
How can events become more meaningful? The first thing to consider is the Millennials generation. Those younger people born between 1980 and 1995 don’t care much about brands or even prices. They’re all about the experience. They’ve grown up with Amazon, Google and Netflix, always connected, everything super-personalized, everything quick, everything relevant.
They expect our events to be the same. As organizers, we are not really competing against each other anymore, we’ve learned not to step too much on each other’s toes in terms of geographies, topics, and dates. We are competing against the GAFA (Google/Amazon/Facebook/Alibaba) -like companies where everything is personalized, fast and meaningful. Amazon and Netflix’s recommendations? Real-time, personalized and meaningful. Airbnb search results? The same. Instead of roaming the streets flailing my arms to get a taxi, I spend LESS but MORE MEANINGFUL time ordering an Uber.
Why are the Millennials so important for our future? They’re the pivotal generation and by 2020, they will represent 50% of the workforce. Enough said.
But how can technology companies help make our events more meaningful?
1. Let me know if I should attend/exhibit
Don’t trick me into visiting your event if it won’t improve my life. Don’t overpromise. If you do, I might come and visit. Once, and I’ll never come back.
We must realize that we are in a subscription business, like Netflix. As long as we provide meaningful content, visitors will come back. And exhibitors will book again.
It is much easier and cheaper for me, the organizer, to keep my visitors and exhibitors year-over-year than to find new ones. The best events have an almost-100% ‘rebooking’ rate (exhibitors booking a stand for next year even before this year’s event is over).
2. Don’t waste my time, it’s my most valuable possession (and it’s not renewable)
Give me the information I need, and it’s not the same as what the guy next door needs. Be Netflix or Amazon. Be relevant, not exhaustive.
Be my ‘event assistant’. Learn my needs and remember them. How many events start from scratch every year? I have to register again. Complete my profile again. Install another app… It just does not make sense.
And make it easy. I don’t want to install 2 different apps and use 3 different websites to manage my participation. With disjointed and badly integrated systems for registration, access control, catalogs, conferences, and matchmaking, this often happens. Be seamless or, even better, be frictionless.
And last but not least, to save my time, do not overcommunicate. I receive hundreds of emails per day. Why would the one titled “Fill-up your online profile for Cabbage Soup Expo 2019” be more important than the others?
3. Add relevance
I come to your event to see things, meet people and learn. The rest, I can do online. So, help me find the right ones. Which keynote should I attend, which exhibitor should I meet, what products should I see?
I need personalized advice based on my interests, what I’ve looked at in the online catalog and what I did last year. Help me organize meetings without exchanging 12 messages with an exhibitor, make the timing correct and achievable.
4. Help me follow-up
If you aim to be my assistant, you’d better remember what I’ve done. Smart badges are a good way to do it. Help me construct long-term relationships with the meaningful contacts I’ve made through relevant social networks, be it LinkedIn, Xing, Facebook or any other.
Of course, there are lots of other things that technology providers can do for organizers: a clear and scalable business model, easier integration APIs (or even presence on an integration platform like Freeman’s Fuzion), onsite support to help our overworked and overstressed teams on the event floor, training material, etc.
All this, event technology suppliers can do to help the industry survive and thrive in the future. Because those who won’t thrive won’t survive.
As David S. Rose, the famous investor, said: “Any company designed for success in the 20th century is doomed to failure in the 21st”.
So, help us make events more MEANINGFUL.
PS: If you’ve read all of this you’re probably very interested in the topic. 😉 I’ll be speaking at Easyfairs’ Meetings and Event in Helsinki on the 4th of September. If you’re around, let’s have a talk!