The merging of live events with digital content and remote attendees was bound to happen. When the Internet poked her head through the ceiling of the convention center, the industry expected something interesting to follow. The divide between face-to-face and virtual experiences has already been narrowed by hybrid events, but the convergence won’t stop there.
There is another side to opening up the Pandora’s box of digital and pouring the contents out onto the trade show and conference room floors.
Hybrid event producers and platform providers have done a fabulous job of providing remote attendees with access to the live event environment. Live presentations are streamed out, while virtual “visitors” chat, tweet and Skype their thoughts and images back into the physical event. Everyone is happy; the “outsiders” are rewarded with great content and some engagement and the “insiders” reap the benefits of increased visibility and net-new live attendees.
But, what happens when live attendees are given access to the digital environment, all of it, even exhibitors, presenters, and content that isn’t physically there?
When we can harness the universe
Imagine a time in the future when a face-to-face event attendee will be able to visit a physical trade show, come upon an interesting booth, engage the exhibitor in conversation and collect product information, BUT instead of moving on, he will linger in the aisle to learn about all of the other companies that offer similar products and services—even the ones that aren’t at the show.
Also in the future, a live conference attendee will be able to sit in a presentation, hear something compelling, life-changing, even transformative and afterward learn about other presentations, companies, ideas, books, white papers, movies and Ted Talks related to the session topic—even those not featured at the conference.
This blending of live and digital is a game changer. Where before, the remote attendees extracted value from the live environment (and craved to experience it), in this new scenario—the next logical phase of event hybridization—live attendees will be able to obtain value from the virtual environment (and they will crave the live experience even more). Going forward, the blending of the real and digital worlds will come full circle.
Mobile will bring it all together
We have all of the tools now to make the convergence happen. Using mobile devices and specially designed applications, live event attendees can scan barcodes, QR codes and augmented reality symbols or tap NFC-enabled phones on posters, columns and signs to access new content, be “transported” into another realm or simply direct the information they desire to a central database for later review.
I haven’t even mentioned Google Goggles.
Before the riot starts
What live event organizer in their right minds would agree to flinging open the digital doors and exposing their existing customers to the competition of companies that aren’t even there? What exhibitor or sponsor would pay to exhibit in or sponsor a live event that supports their competitors? ALL OF THEM. Here’s why:
- Some time soon, fewer attendees will use live events to initiate buying decisions or learn new information because the events won’t be representative of all of the products, topics and solutions that exist. They will only come if and when they are ready to buy, choosing instead to collect digital information to narrow down the field.
- Blended (phase-two hybrid) events will be more compelling than stand-alone events. Live attendees will have (and want) the best of both worlds to experience and reach their goals.
- Exhibitors and sponsors that participate in the live event are automatically privileged over companies that only participate digitally.
- Organizers are paying much more attention to the attendee experience. What could be more fulfilling for conference-goers than to be able to compare, contrast and continue the learning from a single location?
- Additional content (from digital participants) represents potential revenue streams for the organizers and introduces a type of tiered participation scheme.
- Nothing replaces the face-to-face event (so it’s been said a million times) and if the convergence is inevitable, live events will be the only environment where live and digital can exist together.
- A certain percentage of the companies that participate digitally at first may one day exhibit in and sponsor the live event. It is a brilliant onboarding strategy.
As the next phase of hybridization emerges, event organizers will have to rethink the value proposition of stand-alone events. They will have to become curators as well as planners and use technology to make sense of the digital landscape as an extension the physical floor plan. More than anything, they will have to understand that hybridization will eventually become a two-way street—remote attendees looking in and live attendees looking out—and it will change the live event game for good.
Bob James says
Michelle, you are describing the “global mind” that Al Gores depicts so vividly in his new book, “The Future.” As you do so well, you’re foreseeing the way things will work at events in only a few years.
Luddites and vested interests will roadblock access to the global mind. But they cannot reverse an irreversible trend.
I’d quibble with only point you make. You write, “Some time soon, fewer attendees will use live events to initiate buying decisions or learn new information because the events won’t be representative of all of the products, topics and solutions that exist. They will only come if and when they are ready to buy, choosing instead to collect digital information to narrow down the field.”
I think, in reality, attendees will continue to skew away from “ready buyers” toward “researchers” (or, more accurately, “searchers”); ad-hoc buying teams (work-groups) that have been charged by their firms to investigate offerings that may be needed (or not needed) two years down the pike.
All the current literature on selling, buying cycles, and marketing automation supports this “brave new world” of corporate purchasing. And it’s a trend Exhibit Surveys has quantified now for several years.
That reality doesn’t help an exhibit sales rep “close” a booth sale this afternoon. But it says a lot about the long-term viability and vitality of live events.
By the way, you write, “When the Internet poked her head through the ceiling of the convention center, the industry expected something interesting to follow.”
I check with Al and verified that the Internet is male.
Your comment, “I think, in reality, attendees will continue to skew away from “ready buyers” toward “researchers” (or, more accurately, “searchers”); ad-hoc buying teams (work-groups) that have been charged by their firms to investigate offerings that may be needed (or not needed) two years down the pike,” actually confirms the value of the convergence I am referring to.
I checked with my computer, and the Internet is female.
Thanks again for your additional insight.
Sean Guerre says
Very interesting trend prediction Michelle! I see a huge amount of opportunity in the blending of digital and live media and how it ultimately can tie back to the overall value of both channels. Of course those who do not stay ahead of this kind of trend may suffer a similar fate to Best Buy and having their events become a “showroom” for the digital markets & content providers, and peer networks. I wonder how long the adoption curve will be on the bolder ideas you are proposing?
I hear you’re now in a position to be among the first to experiment with this idea. Let me know when you do.
Bob James says
Yes, absolutely, my sense about tomorrow’s attendees does confirm your point about the value of convergence.
And yes, you are right, the Internet is female.
That would explain why it so often freezes on me for no apparent reason.
Trace Cohen says
The future of conference growth and leadership will come through social media and content marketing. In industries with little to no media, conferences and their associations need to step up and take control through thought leadership and interacting with everyone. CES recently hired my company Launch.it to work with their exhibitors and manage all of their news to make sure it can be found, discovered and shared by all the attendees, media and professionals at the show. bit.ly/EurekaParkPartnership
There is a big whole in the market for a company or conference to take advantage of here to really drive this momentum.
You are right. As an industry, we have to rethink value propositions if we are going to keep pace with changes in technology and attendee behavior. I agree that content and social channels will play prominently in the discussion. Thanks for your input and congratulations on the CES opportunity.
Great thinking in this amazing transitional period we are in (Trade Shows, Events, Conference and more). What a great challenge we have as designers, producers, programmers and curators to make “physical venues come to life”. We have been working on an on-location solution for a couple of years and will not just settle of an “informational” app, we are trying to merge the physical nature of trade shows with mobile digital devices (any devices) and deliver experiences. The key to a successful product is: Very simple installation, Very simple data manager and at an Economical price so the smaller exhibitor can participate as well as the larger exhibitor and do so over a period so we can measure results industry wide…
I would love to know more about what you are working on to make physical venues come to life. I love that perspective of mobile platforms.
Michelle and Trace,
I am trying to understand how social marketing benefits an attendee that is already overwhelmed with informational “noise”. How relevant is the information to a buyer going to CES with very specific needs and little time for “noise”. How do you distill the “noise” and make relevant to a buyer looking at LED TV at the Sony booth that needs or should be comparing to other brands? How do you recognize the buyer’s interest as and exhibitor? and how would you connect with them face to face or send an invitation to a meeting?
The little social channels are pieces of a large complex experiential puzzle that we have yet to create as an industry. The wonderful thing about our industry is that it is massive and will accommodate many solutions from many creative vendors ;).
My 2 cents
Tradetec Skyline says
The trade show industry is constantly changing and the idea of hybrid trade shows is becoming more and more prevalent. Still, as you said, nothing replaces face to face contact though.
You got a great insight, Michelle. It’s a must-read for everyone who are planning to get into event planning, tradeshow, seminar, and even virtual events without breaking their budget. I can now foresee a huge number of participants who will come running into these traditional events. This also welcomes everyone including those who are unable to attend due to time zone or travel constraints. I will be looking forward to this great insight.