Technology enhances event experience

Companies use apps, social media and IoT to reach attendees

As Twitter boards replace wireless microphones and mobile apps replace paper schedules, corporate events are becoming increasingly tech-centered. Milwaukee area companies are both producing and consuming various types of event technology at an accelerated pace.

The rise of the “Internet of Things” indicates companies are trending toward an increase in technology usage, but consumer preferences and technology adoption levels vary. This is true for app-based event technology, one type of corporate event tool.

A branded Snapifye photo posted on BizTimes Media’s Facebook page.
A branded Snapifye photo posted on BizTimes Media’s Facebook page.

Popular mobile event apps, including Eventmobi, Bizzabo and Guidebook, serve both the company and the attendee before, during and after the event. The company uses the app to plan and execute the event, while the attendee uses it to experience the event.

As a bonus, the paperless nature of mobile event apps appeals to many business’ sustainability commitments.

Before using an app, the user must download it on to a mobile device—but herein lies the problem, for some companies.

“Across the U.S., event and tradeshow companies are disillusioned with how many people use the event’s app. For some shows, companies got rid of the paper directory and went to an app, but when the event was over, no one kept the app,” said Jay Partington, president of Hartland-based Expo Productions Inc.

According to Partington, app-based event technology works well for large events such as the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, one of the largest industrial trade shows in the world, which hosts upward of 100,000 registrants.

But for mid- and small-sized tradeshows or events, the expense of creating an app is not worth the minimal number of users.

Steve Anderson and Josh Holtz, co-founders of Milwaukee-based software startup Snapifeye, encountered this issue with app-based event technology when they started developing the Snapifeye app in 2013.

“We learned that people are really reluctant to download new apps, especially if they will only use it temporarily,” Anderson said.

The app, launched in 2014, allows a company to capture event photos and brand the photos with custom frames. Then, both the company and the attendee can share the photos via multiple social media platforms at one time.

Before launching Snapifeye, Anderson and Holtz first tested consumer interest by visiting various Milwaukee restaurants and offering patrons a beer in exchange for downloading the free app.

Generally, even that incentive failed to persuade people to download a new app, Anderson said.

As a result, the team adapted the technology so only the brand ambassadors, event planners or company employees download the app, capture event photos and share them across the company’s social media.

The app also allows companies to send attendees links to the branded photos for them to share on their personal social media accounts. Sharing an experience at an event is as easy as copying the link and pasting it into a Facebook status.

“People trust their friends more than they trust ads,” Anderson said.

When users re-share a branded photo, they are personally endorsing that brand, which is one of the most powerful marketing tools for companies, he said.

“Snapifeye definitely touches on the experiential side of events. It takes that user’s experience and broadcasts it,” Anderson said.

The app’s technology is versatile for events of all sizes—as large as the Indy 500 and as small as Bank Mutual Corp.’s Milestone Summer promotional events.

As part of Milestone Summer, Wisconsin radio stations set up radio remotes at Bank Mutual locations to play music and give away prizes. Event attendees pose with props and frames and Brown Deer-based Bank Mutual captures and shares branded photos via Snapifeye.

“People are much more likely to get their photo taken if they can have it sent to them… it’s a lot easier for customers and creates nice conversation, as well,” said Lora Steinmetz, account supervisor at STIR, a Milwaukee-based marketing agency.

Unlike Anderson and Holtz, Marquette University recently received a different response to app-based event technology when it used Guidebook, an app designing program, to accommodate 1,600 incoming students and 2,000 parents during its four pre-orientation sessions.

Guidebook, launched in California in 2011, allows the user to design and launch a mobile app for various types of events. Event attendees use the custom-made app to navigate through the event, receive event information and share their experience via Facebook and Twitter.

On the other end, companies use Guidebook to communicate with attendees, update event schedules and features in real-time, display sponsor advertisements and collect attendee feedback.

“They don’t have to browse through a website or carry multiple pieces of paper to find the information they need,” said Julie West, Marquette’s coordinator for leadership programs.

After the sessions ended, students could still access FAQs and helpful links through the app.

Guidebook was successful and the university plans to use it again for New Student Orientation this month, said Caitlin Weitzel, the university’s coordinator for new student and family programs.
Conflicting preferences for event app usage has left many companies with no choice but to accommodate both sides.

“Companies are giving people the option,” said Mark McDonald, director of event management at Milwaukee-based Marcus Corp. “If people want to have event information readily available on their device, that is available to them. For people who want to have a handheld paper agenda, that is also available to them.”

At seminar-based events that feature presenters, McDonald said most companies utilize Twitter boards and hashtags to engage with audience members.

Meeting or event set-ups often include one large screen or multiple small screens displaying a live Twitter feed that attendees use to tweet questions for the presenter or moderator.

A different, more company-centered type of event technology is much less conspicuous than photo sharing or a user-friendly app–and it’s not in front of the attendees’ faces like a giant Twitter feed. Instead, it’s under their feet.

Milwaukee-based Scanalytics Inc., an “Internet of Things” startup founded in 2012, develops floor mats that detect customer foot traffic at retail stores and corporate events.

The SoleSensor platforms allow Scanalytics to collect data on customer behavior–occupancy, wait times, engagement times, traffic flow, populated areas–within the space. The company then analyzes the data and makes recommendations to improve the store or event’s layout.

According to Scanalytics’ account director, John Colle, its consultation service differentiates it from other sensor technology companies.

Like many companies developing or adopting new technology for corporate events, Scanalytics’ motivations are to better serve consumer needs.

“The question that we help our customers answer is, ‘How can we help you improve?’” Colle said. “When it comes to tradeshows, it’s working with exhibitors one-on-one to make those changes.”

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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