September 22, 2017
In Person Marketing Gets Connected: Part 3
If technology is aiding brands in collecting and activating event data, from pre-registration right through to post-event outcomes, how is it helping event teams? Is digital transformation happening at the planning end? I asked Talia Mashiach, founder and product architect at Eved, a payment platform for events and meetings.
Budget is a big piece
“Where there are multiple suppliers,” Mashiach observed, “billing and payments are not simple.” When a big speaker needs to be booked, or hotel rooms reserved, deposits need to made fast. Having a number of parties putting down their credit cards, with the expenses being reconciled later, just creates headaches. “Planners need to focus on experiences, and automate (the billing and payment) process completely. We overlay between traditional AP systems and suppliers,” she continued. “We disburse direct to the supplier. We make companies’ AP systems work for this category.”
That’s important, she explained, not just because event marketing can be a big investment, but because it uniquely represents a complicated web of — often — one-off dealings with one-off suppliers.
Eved’s flagship product provides a means of managing overall budget for large events; and there’s now a simplified version for smaller meetings. When event marketers like Melissa Blazejewski are calculating ROI on event (see part 1), they need to know the event’s true cost. “If you don’t understand what you’re investing… We’re one side of the formula. We help you literally understand the value of leads,” said Mashiach.
Manually compiling the data from the multiple transactions which go into any large event is time-consuming and inefficient; “and is prone to error,” said Mashiach. Eved also allows clients to “slice and dice” aggregated event data, identifying preferred suppliers and getting an overall view of performance.
Fortune 100 brands are Eved’s main customers so far, because of the sheer size and complexity of events — especially in the pharmaceutical and technology categories. And of course, it’s a specialty payment tool: Customers must look elsewhere for the kinds of engagement and data collection features offered by a Splash or etouches.
Despite the developments I’ve been looking at this week, the digital and data-led transformation of events marketing, including logistics and budget, is in its early stages. Indeed, one challenge I ran into putting this piece together was the reluctance of brands to discuss where they currently stand with event strategy and planning, except at a level of comparative generality.
Cecilia Farooqi, digital design director at Equinox, was willing to say this: “Technology has expanded the impact of an event beyond its physical duration. It’s now continuous throughout planning, attending, post-event, and all future interactions with the organization. Tools such as Splash have ensured that the impact is measurable, smart, and most importantly, maintains brand integrity.”
Although I spoke with representatives of other major brands — including tech brands — in preparing this story, getting them on the record proved impossible. My sense its that they are still feeling their way with these new opportunities.
I was, however, able to speak with some practitioners about persistent pain-points: aspects of event marketing which still need attention.
Fix this please
There was universal agreement that check-in needs to be handled better. Frequent conference attendees told me that there’s no reason registration can’t be handled off-site — at the hotel or even the airport. Those lines; that struggle to find the registration record; the fumbling with lanyards and brochures — it’s all unforgivably pre-digital. Blazejewski agreed: “It’s out-dated, and it needs to be revolutionized.”
Ben Hindman of Splash expanded on the point: “For the company hosting the events, there is benefit in just about every step of the event process. From making it easier and automated to understand who should be invited to an event, to being able to provide a completely on-brand event experience from the very first invitation, and easing check-in friction on-site at an event, while also keeping your team automatically informed when their VIPs arrive.”
For some brands, enhancing the VIP experience is all important. For example, Cisco adopted etouches’ smart badge technology (see part 2) only for the top VIPs at Cisco Live: They knew who they wanted to track.
For the average attendee, said Hindman, “it’s all about the consistent and efficient experience throughout the event process. From making registration simple and even fun to making sure they’re met by their sales rep or press contact the instant they arrive. And, that they always get important event communications from the agenda pre-event to room changes sent via text on-site and quick post-event recaps.”
As for seamlessly tracking the attendee’s event trajectory, even the kind of simplified Bluetooth network on which smart badging typically relies might be due for disruption. One of the more surprising solutions I came across in researching these articles was the ultrasonic audio technology under development by Ohio-based LISNR. It transmits data via audio tones, direct to the microphone on your portable device, with no need for the hardware infrastructure associated with WiFi or beacons.
The ultimate question
Much of the discussion in this series has focused explicitly or implicitly on the B2B event space. B2C events have historically leaned towards heightening brand awareness, or simply on-the-spot sales. Nevertheless, B2C events too are catching up with the importance of data. Hindman told me the space is “moving quickly. The early adopters have seen the benefits of events, event technology and event data. Particularly in retail, those that have adopted are experiencing measurable increases in foot traffic and sales to their physical stores because of events (think Nike Run Club or Home Depot’s Workshops).
“Similarly, with CPG brands, they’re benefiting from the ability reach broader audiences because of their new ability to scale on-brand event experiences with their active advocate communities. There have been enough wins with leading B2C companies that others have taken note and are motivated to catch-up.”
The ultimate question is this: Could in-person events move to center of marketing for brands, rather than remaining a separate channel? So far, Hindman told me, event marketers have failed to “connect the tissue” between live people in a room and the rest of the marketing mix.
“Events can be scary,” Hindman said. “They cost a lot of money. There are so many touchpoints that ROI is hard to measure. That’s the dirty little secret: it’s complex.” But events do earn trust, and can have great impact. Hindman will go so far as to call them, “a goldmine.”