The proliferation of smartphones has opened up a new marketing and communications channel for show organisers. Nadia Cameron investigates the rise and rise of mobile apps.
Mobile apps were a foreign concept in the exhibition industry 18 months ago. However, soaring smartphone uptake and iPhone app mania have seen these bite-sized platforms infiltrate a host of UK trade and consumer shows.
“2010 and early 2011 were essentially about exhibition organisers getting to grips with the technology and starting to look around at potential suppliers,” business director for apps provider Quickka Events Paul Lanzone told EN. “Exhibition organisers are now buyers.”
Quickka is one of several mobile app providers offering organisers apps for their exhibition.
Marketing director for rival apps provider GenieMobile, Michael Douglas, agreed the majority of event organisers are either already planning to do something or in a position where they feel they should. His company now boasts Reed Exhibitions, Clarion Events and Imago Techmedia among its clients.
So why are we falling for apps? Easy: Visitors. While the brands are different, exhibitions owners all see apps as a way of achieving better attendee buy-in to a show.
Apps are available either as native, downloadable pieces of software, or as Web apps (HTML sites optimised to display on mobiles). Key features include an interactive floor plan with exhibitor profiles, seminar scheduling, tools to connect exhibitors and visitors, venue information, sponsor and organiser messages and news and social media for the show.
The marketing potential of mobile apps, particularly in the three months lead-up to an exhibition, is a further plus. To top it off, potential sponsors see apps as a sexy new way get their message across, helping you get your return on investment.
In the last 12 months, Black Pepper Software has taken its Companion apps product into shows such as BBC Good Food and Motorhome and Caravan. Head of solutions Adam Wright said active navigation and real-time rich content is key to an app’s success.
“We think of Companion as a digital extension of the physical space,” Wright said. “Once attendees are engaged and using the technology on a variety of devices, it provides the platform for communication and analytics for the whole event.”
SO Visit’s offering is based on apps technology developed by German-based Messe Munich and aimed at large-scale shows with multiple halls. Its key selling points are the ability to capture visitor data and integrate this with the show’s registration systems, MD David Cunningham said. “If apps allow a visitor to get more out of their time spent in an event and engage with them to stay longer, then they’re an asset,” he said.
According to Douglas, half the visitors at shows with apps are now downloading them. Usage can be even higher across a business audience. Often, visitors will log into an app 15-20 times while at a show.
To gain maximise show benefits, GenieMobile advises organisers to launch apps at least a month before. Douglas said Reed’s decision to launch three months out from its 100% Design show (bought by Media 10) was a great example of apps driving attendance.
“By offering valuable content and outlining what’s on at the event first, Reed generated significant industry interest,” he said. “With one month to go, the app was adapted to include utility information.”
While many organisers have bought into the apps proposition, Douglas admitted poor showfloor connectivity remains a hurdle by making it difficult to use or update Web-based apps effectively.
Another thing organisers worry about is having to produce apps data separately or being unable to merge it with other platforms, Lanzone said. These issues are in no way insurmountable and over time, app providers expect both Wi-Fi and app functionality to become more integrated. The advent of indoor mapping solutions via Wi-Fi triangulation, along with the rollout of Near-Field Communication (NFC) will add another dimension in terms of visitor tracking, Douglas predicted.
“We’ll also see organisers incorporating apps more into their normal operations, much like a website,” he said. “This will bring further efficiencies for organisers.”
Rather than custom-build apps from scratch, Quickka provides clients with a content management system to control the features, look and feel of the app. Lanzone said the company planned to integrate ‘Bump’ technology into its platform so visitors could exchange details simply by hitting their phones together.
Cunningham expected 4G Internet services to improve website functionality on mobiles. “We are investing in both apps and websites because in the end we have to ensure the services we provide are valuable,” he said.
Whatever features they promise, the ultimate goal of apps is to give organisers more insight into visitors’ tastes, Wright said. And that can only be a good thing.
“This is a very exciting time,” he added.
Usage: Things to watch out for
Michael Douglas shares his top tips on apps.
App type: Apps are available in two types: Native apps downloaded to the phone; and Web-based apps, which are basically mobile websites. The type you choose can influence connectivity, upgradeability and usage.
Usability: Douglas advises organisers test out potential apps by switching their smartphones to ‘airplane mode’. “By doing this, you’ll get a good sense of how the app will work in an event with poor connectivity”, he said.
Updates: Organisers also need to be mindful of how they will update the app leading up to, during or after a show. What you don’t want is to republish or force users to have to re-download the app. “The other thing to remember is a 10- or 12-minute update is simply not practical,” Douglas added.
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