Ten technologies you want to know about right now
If there’s one thing technology is doing in the event space it’s making it easier to get exposure. From the latest cell phone technology to the most innovative web applications to handheld devices and the latest and greatest projection applications it all means more of your messages can get to your customers quicker easier and in way cooler ways.
The funny thing is new technology isn’t necessarily making your job easier but it is making it more interesting and effective. And it’s allowing marketers to be more creative and offer experiences that can really wow even the most sophisticated “I’ve-seen-it-all” event attendees. Sit back relax and take a trip with us. Ten tech tools you’ll want to use right now.
Technology: 2-D Bar Coding
How it works: People use their camera phones to take a picture of a bar code which can be placed on signage billboards fast food wrappers or even stitched into a pair of jeans (more on that later). The picture triggers the download of
a message onto the phone. This can be anything from mobile videogames to promotional codes to complete conference schedules or even nutritional information. (In Japan McDonald’s puts a code on its food wrappers and consumers download nutritional facts for the hamburger they’re eating as they’re eating it.) The technology is not officially available in the U.S. yet but that didn’t stop the U.S. Air Force from previewing it during its recent Do Something Amazing mobile tour. There they allowed attendees to borrow phones with the code already downloaded. By clicking on the 2-D images throughout the exhibit they were able to download Air Force-themed videogames streaming video and the locations of recruiters near their homes. Why aren’t the codes available yet? Cellular carriers need to agree on a standard so that all phones can read all codes. There are still some issues to be hashed out but most insiders are optimistic that standardization and adoption will happen. “Within the next six months you’ll see trials and in one year applications ” says ScanBuy ceo Jonathan Bulkeley the company that provided the codes to the Air Force.
Application: Your entire message using video audio and online can literally leave the event with the attendee right on their mobile phone. Remember that code stitched into jeans? Why not clothe your brand ambassadors in code-encrusted gear? Let’s talk conferences: Attendees walk in take a picture of the code on the welcome signage and have the entire conference program loaded into their PDA in an instant. Sponsoring the transportation at a big festival with multiple pick up/drop off points? Outfit the vans with GPS and put a code on your signage. Attendees can download the code and find out that the next van is two minutes away so there’s no need to hoof it. (The French are already doing it on selected bus lines in Paris.)
How it works: A walk-through projection screen made out of well dry fog. It uses a tank of tap water blasted ultrasonically into very small water droplets. These are pushed up by a set of fans into a thin central channel. As those water particles fall under gravity a very thin wall of fine mist or fog is created. On either side of that wall of fog is another set of fans that keep the fog bound almost invisibly by a wall of air. The fog sandwiched between these air currents becomes a thin screen on which video can be projected. Why don’t you get wet when you walk through it? The water droplets are so small that they move around your body as you walk toward it and any moisture that hits your skin evaporates instantly. So the feeling is a sense of cool. “It’s funny for people because they can tell they’re walking through something but they feel nothing ” says Jorden Woods president-U.S. operations at Fogscreen.
One popular application of the technology is as an entryway that allows guests to walk right through the video projection in order to enter the event. “People walk right through that image and in walking through it’s like they’ve arrived and are officially part of the event ” says Woods. Dell recently used Fogscreens to kick off its Urban Challenge a treasure hunt it held in 10 cities to kick off a new line of laptops. Teams ran through the screens as they started on the hunt.
Application: By incorporating tactile visuals like Fogscreen you can give attendees something they can’t experience in their own homes. “People are getting tired of plasma screens and LCD walls ” says Woods. “The beauty of the Fogscreen is you can walk through it you can play with the fog you can project the image on yourself as you walk through it. It’s an immersive experience.” That’s something people can sink their teeth into.
Technology: Online Hospitality
How it works: A customizable online interactive database allows companies to organize streamline and track their entire inventory of hospitality assets used to host customers. Beyond that this system can measure return on investment for hospitality events in a way never before possible. AT&T recently adopted such an online database (called AT&T Virtual Box Office created via The Marketing Arm Dallas) and according to AT&T corporate event area manager Maureen Casey it has been a huge success.
Authorized users request tickets through an online system and must input information such as who will be attending what the business reason is for the meeting and what he or she hopes to get out of it. After the event the user is required to fill out a post-event form that includes questions like “Did it meet the objectives you outlined up front?”
“The analysis we get out on the backend has been extremely helpful ” says Casey. “It’s the first time we’ve been able to identify what’s working
and what’s not.”
Let’s talk productivity. Before Casey’s group had to input each set of tickets manually. Now what once took a full-time staff member three or four days can be done with a couple hours of setup time and an eight-minute import.
McDonald’s and Valvoline have implemented similar systems designed by TSMGI Chicago. “The question is always how do you track it ” says Jordan Bressler president of TSMGI. “This lets us put evaluative reports in front of marketers. We can tell them ‘You spend so much on tickets but it contributed to this much in incremental sales.’”
Application: Whether you get those tickets through sponsorships partnerships or just buying them outright your investment in hospitality is substantial. What are you doing with these resources? And what are you getting out of them? These are important questions in today’s budget-squeezed times. Online ticket tracking allows you to set out clear objectives for sponsorship and hospitality-related business and share them with your entire organization. Then measure the return on objective using hard data. It’s a whole new way of looking at hospitality dollars.
Technology: Live Viewing
How it works: The latest and greatest way to enhance the experience at live sporting events is by allowing fans to watch all the action on handheld LCD video players. These aren’t televisions. Instead the arena sends video and audio signals directly from the camera feeds into the device. It replays action on demand from any camera angle at full speed or slow motion allows users to zoom in and shows stats not to mention important tidbits of information such as where to get food. How does this fit into event marketing? C’mon it’s easy. What better way to reward your customers on site than with a free handheld video display to use during the event. That’s what American Express did at this year’s US Open. It gave out 2 000 devices free to cardholders. Fans just had to walk up to the American Express booth and have their cards swiped (there was a $350 charge if the device wasn’t returned) and then dial in and watch the action on six courts. A great way to get more out of the event.
Application: More and more consumers expect perks with membership (see story on pg. 59 for more). And everyone expects to be able to customize the experience. Devices like these allow fans to do just that. And if it’s with the help of your brand all the better.
Technology: Interactive Wall
How it works: What’s the difference between an interactive touchscreen and an interactive wall
you ask? Size baby. Technology is now available that can combine high-resolution graphics with touchscreen interactivity on a 20-foot wall. That’s six to eight times the resolution of a standard HD television. There are differing but similar technologies out there including that of Perceptive Pixel by founder Jeff Han who has been wowing the tech community since 2006 with his multitouch interface that allows users to manipulate images intuitively with just the fingertips. “Minority Report” is happening.
An interactive wall at Accenture was originally conceived as a way to allow large groups to work together on complicated specs in control room environments. But the applications in marketing were just as compelling. “When people talk about digital signage they’re usually talking about a plasma screen showing a video ” says Kelly Dempski senior researcher at Accenture who helped create the technology. “The problem with that is there’s no way to respond to viewers’ needs or if I see something I’m interested in there’s no way to get more information.” The touchscreen wall changes that. Visitors can easily touch on the area of the screen that interests them and be led to the exact content they want.
At the same time the screen collects that information so you know what your visitors were interested in. There are even ways to integrate the wall with technologies like text messaging and Bluetooth. “You can do one level of gathering publicly as people touch on what they’re interested in and at some point you can continue that conversation using cell phone technologies to have a more personal and long lasting interaction because obviously people aren’t going to want to put their personal information onto such a large display ” says Dempski.
Application: “I believe the adage is nothing draws a crowd like a crowd ” says Dempski. “We’ve found in most cases that if one person is using it many people get drawn into it.” The key is that marketers can create experiences that are satisfying to the user and entertaining for all of the people watching the user. It’s also possible for more than one person to be using these walls at once. That math is simple.
But the walls themselves are designed to deliver an experience to one person and larger groups at the same time. “Accenture wanted to create something that had three levels of usage ” says Dempski. “First for someone who may be 50 yards away they should get some impression of what the message is. For someone who is 10 feet away they should get that secondary experience where they’re not driving but they are getting something out of the wall. Then there’s the person who is arm’s length away they’re using it to get content.”
Technology: Digital Graffiti
How it works: Digital graffiti uses a combination of lasers and projectors to create what amounts to a digital pen. By pointing the laser pen at surfaces such as walls buildings even the side of a mountain the user can “write” messages on the chosen surface. The message will stay put as long as the projector is pointed in its direction. Once the projector shuts down or is reset the writing disappears. “Guerrilla marketers are using it right now ” says Mike Burgess a director at agency InVision. “They drive around and create a stir by using it to write messages on buildings and then they jump in the van and go to another location.” But this technology has applications at corporate events too. Picture it: You’re holding an outside event or a pool party. Digital graffiti allows you to use whatever architectural or natural element dominates the surroundings for projection. If you were near a mountain or a historic building you could start projecting winners’ names or a welcome message or sponsor logos right onto its surface. Or how about letting consumers “sign” their names on a landmark and take a picture home with them?
Application: This one is easy. Guerrilla messages scrawled on buildings and no one knows where it’s coming from? These are the kinds of cutting-edge technologies that make people talk. And isn’t that the whole point of event marketing?
Technology: 3-D Holographic
How it works: A high-definition video projection system allows free-form 3-D moving images to appear in a live setting and interact with real people. It takes only a single camera shoot single projector playback and does not require any special audience props like 3-D glasses. The system is based on an old theater lighting trick called Pepper’s Ghost but the projected images are much more realistic. There is a very thin screen material that the image is projected onto. As live presenters interact with the hologram they can walk completely around it without losing the effect. Recent high-profile uses of the technology called Eyeliner available through U.K.-based Musion include the projecting of Al Gore onto the stage in Tokyo during this year’s Live Earth concert. The technology also allowed Madonna to perform with the animated band Gorillaz during the European MTV Music Awards. And in London a pop band called Girls Allowed appeared in a shop window on a popular shopping thoroughfare. That appearance was so successful it had to be shut down because it was causing traffic jams and pedestrian buildup.
Application: There’s much more than just the wow factor at work here. The 3-D technology allows presenters to appear on stage and give dynamic real-time presentations without incurring travel expenses or being thwarted by busy schedules. Since the technology can be used for objects not just people it can also save thousands in transportation costs for high-value heavy equipment to be shown at trade shows and product launches. Earlier this year Toyota completed installation of the largest virtual 3-D video hologram ever to appear in a single unit retail outlet—the projection of a full-size Toyota Auris family car spinning midair complete with a life-size human test driver. It was on display for four weeks at the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent in the U.K. GE also used it to display a 10-ton jet engine at the Farnborough Air Show in Farnborough U.K. last year. “It’s such a stunning technology ” says Burgess. “You’re only restricted by your own imagination.”
How it works: Lightweight comfortable fabrics are embedded with colored light-emitting LEDs that are completely integrated into the fabric. Fabrics can be used to make clothing carrying marketing messages or drapes cushions tablecloths and sofa coverings so you can outfit your brand ambassadors in them and gussy up the booth or the bus as well. This might not look like cutting-edge technology but that’s the genius of it. It’s so advanced it looks simple. In reality it took years of research and a number of prototypes to create a fabric that looks and feels good and is easy to work with. The fabrics run on batteries that are lightweight and often embedded right into the clothing in a small pocket or other hidden-away location.
Application: People like shiny things especially in places they’re not used to seeing them. But beyond the obvious what makes these fabrics great is their versatility. They’re easy to clean (just remember to remove the battery pack) and they add sparkle and depth to displays without a monster of an investment. They can take a display to a higher level and now that the technology has been perfected that’s a level the industry will have to rise to. Everyone working your booth or your footprint becomes a walking billboard. It’s a new medium on which to paint your branded portrait.
Technology: 360-Degree Surround
How it works: Advances in video projection technology now make it possible to use virtually any surface as a video display without distorting the image. The effect is achieved using a mix of standard video projectors at a variety of angles along with new software that can map a curved surface feed the specs into the computer and project the video onto the surface accounting for and avoiding any distortion. At Oracle’s North American Sales Kick-off attendees walked through a tunnel-cum-projection screen in order to enter the general session (vendor: Obscura Digital).
At another Oracle event this time a product launch at the Equitable Building in New York City images were projected onto the venue’s arched ceiling that traced the history of technology—everything from electronic typewriters to ticker tape. As the guests entered the reception space there was a screen that was the full size of the stage but the ceiling was also mapped by Obscura Digital. “There would be letters and images on the ceiling that would fly to the screen ” says Rod Mickels ceo at handling San Francisco-based agency InVision. “So the audience was surrounded by visuals and moving images that weren’t distorted and those images were able to interact with our screen and turn the space into one big image.”
Application: It’s becoming more challenging to wow attendees used to HDTV high-tech videogames and surround sound everywhere they go. Technologies like 360-degree projection that completely immerse the attendee in the experience are becoming more essential. It did the job for Oracle. “We knew it worked because as people were walking in they were overheard saying [how different it was]. These were press and technology analysts and they’ve seen everything twice. So it was great to give them something they hadn’t seen ” says Mickels.
Technology: Web 2.0
How it works: Web 2.0 multi-laced integrated platforms that unite and form a new super-Web isn’t exactly emerging. It’s here. But its potential hasn’t been fully formed in the event space until now. In a recent mobile tour targeting its web developer community Adobe Systems brought together all of the pieces of the puzzle in a program that serves as an example of what can be done when next-gen web technology reaches its full potential. As part of its promotion of a new web development product called Adobe Air the company set out on an 18-city bus tour complete with one-day educational seminars in each location. The seminars were held in unique venues such as the roofs of pubs and abandoned firehouses that appeal to the quirky creative types Adobe is targeting. There were six Adobe people on the bus and a variety of celebs from the developer community on board at various locations for short stints of time.
But to really appeal to this audience the technology had to be spot-on. First all seminar presentations at each location were recorded and the video made available on the mobile tour’s blog with no copyright restrictions. Members of the blogging community could watch the videos but were also free to redistribute them. “We’ve heard of a lot of people taking them and translating them to other languages ” says Adrian Ludwig group manager-product marketing at Adobe.
The bus was equipped with cameras providing live streaming video inside the bus. Another camera took a picture of bus activity every minute. Since users have open access to the video and live pictures they could manipulate them to create their own videos
and post them to the official blog.
The bus was also equipped with GPS so the website could track its location in real time. This led some members of the blogging community to create an application that uses Google Maps and the information available through the GPS to figure out exactly how far the bus is from a Starbucks at any given moment.
Live blogging is a given but community members are also using Twitter—it’s similar to blogging but the messages upload instantly and must be 140 characters or less—to bring the experience into real time for those who are attending the one-day events and those who aren’t. “At the first event we used Twitter by broadcasting it onto a screen using a projector so that it was exposed for everyone at the event ” says Ludwig. This allowed people to post semi-anonymous comments about the event while it was happening. “People were saying things like ‘You’re out of beer’ or ‘The room is too cold.’ Getting that kind of feedback from the audience made it easy for us to make it a better event at each successive location.”
Admittedly the developer community Adobe is targeting practically invented Web 2.0 so they are probably ahead of the mainstream curve but it’s only a matter of time before this scenario is the norm for all event programs.
Application: So let’s recap: live blogging streaming video all content available online to users without restrictions live pictures all up on social networking sites for all users to access GPS technology and Twitter. This is how people communicate now and sooner or later they’ll expect all of these technologies to be a part of every experience they have. Two years ago you never dreamed you’d have a MySpace page but you do don’t you? Well even if you don’t we’re willing to bet at least one person in your household does. Think the rest of it won’t be mainstream soon? OK but think it at your peril. We told you so.
Want to see the technologies in action? Click here to view videos and get more information.