Has Technology Become a Roadblock to the Face-to-Face Experience? – Event Marketer

Has Technology Become a Roadblock to the Face-to-Face Experience? – Event Marketer

Has Technology Become a Roadblock to the Face-to-Face Experience?

If there is anything more ubiquitous than measurement in discussions of event marketing, it’s technology. Everything from event management dashboards and CMS to mobile apps, NFC and flexible displays is a part of every conversation and every event. And so it should be.

Technology has made this industry more efficient, effective and powerful than almost any other marketing channel available today. Consumers expect brands to bring them flawless integrations and, if you happen to be a tech brand, the cuttingest of cutting edge gadgetry. The b-to-b world is a bit more pragmatic. You want your tech to be flawless and productive. No flash for the sake of flash, but a well-crafted brand app or sleekly delivered content nugget can turn a “maybe” into a “yes.”

As a result, it might seem like pasting as much gadgetry onto your experiential campaigns is a no-lose prospect. But there is a pretty big unintended consequence of vomiting circuitry all over your marketing strategy. And its name is “distraction.” Remember, the whole point of event marketing is to forge a meaningful and measurable face-to-face relationship with a group of target consumers, with the goal of moving that relationship up the hierarchy from transactional to (ideally) familial.

So, what happens if, in the hunt for ever more interactive event deployments, you instead put so many devices and toys in front of your consumers that they aren’t interacting with your brand at all? How would that relationship be any different from the one a consumer might have with a video game? This problem of “technoverload” is one that is creeping into event marketing, and although it’s not pandemic yet, if you’re not careful, it could be.

So, how to avoid it? Kenny Lauer, vp-digital experience at George P. Johnson says the danger arises when tactical and technological decisions are made “independent of the global ecosystem of the event or the strategy that is meant to deliver an experience.” He says strategic planning must come first, and all of the additional, tactical elements must flow from that, including technology.

“There’s an intense desire to be first,” Lauer says. “To demonstrate digital innovation, but being an early adopter isn’t an end or a strategy by itself.”

Opportunity Nation, a brand that helps communities understand their economic relationships with each other, saw this temptation creeping in when it planned its Opportunity Nation Summit last September.

“We knew everyone was going to be on their cell phones and other devices the whole time, and we didn’t want it to take away from the experience,” says Cara Willis, associate director of communications for the brand.

So it went analog and printed each attendee’s hometown Opportunity Index number on their name badges to keep people talking to one another rather than just on their phones. “By giving folks their scores, it made all of the breakout sessions more personal and made the numbers more real for the attendees.”

The Opportunity Nation event was handled by Jack Morton Worldwide, and Ben Grossman, the company’s senior strategist says he thinks about this balance frequently.

“There are some technologies that can be quite seamless,” he says. “Where it can become disruptive is in the case of second screen, both when it’s part of the design and in the case that [the attendees] are on their own devices.”

The second screen experience (wherein an attendee watches a live event and taps away on their mobile device or iPad at the same time, ideally engaging in content provided by the event) is part of the world now, and it’s not going away. But making it work for your brand is the aioli in the secret sauce here. One way to keep check on the tech is to make your event’s second screen experience so engrossing and active (versus passive) that people won’t pull away from it to check email or Facebook.

A great way to pull this off is to create competition. Almost no one is going to get distracted by a mobile device when they’re trying to beat another team for a prize. Another way to make sure the engagement remains lively is to kill the kiosk, Grossman says.

“If you set up a screen that people will just stare at, the experience dies.” So kill the screens, not the experience. You’re not making TV, you’re making memories. Good technology integration, when it works, is invisible. “If the tech becomes present in the experience, there’s either an issue with the tech or the design of the experience,” Lauer says. “At the end of the day, technology needs to be integrated at the exact level that allows you to deliver the experiences that will motivate behaviors that will meet your brand’s goals.”

Photo courtesy: Keoni Cabral
This story appeared in the August 2013 issue

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