Tradeshow and Exhibit Thoughtleaders
"The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge
and the dissemination of truth."

John F. Kennedy
Meet our Thoughtleaders:  An Interview with Michael Younder
by Gordon Nary


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Gordon   Can you give us a reality check of the trade show and event space as Panvista sees it? 

Michael:    Engagement: that’s the word that we hear and it’s what hosts and exhibitors need and want from shows today.  How engaged is my audience with the show I’m putting on or the products I’m showing?  The hosts want busy events with content resonating with attendees and activity appealing to exhibitors and sponsors.  And at their shows, exhibitors and sponsors want to be with the right prospects and see proof that this is the right show to come back to.  There’s choice on where to spend money each year and lately, we’re hearing that those budgets are becoming tighter. 

Events and trade shows today use proven but limiting tools like hardcopy agendas, maps and sign-in sheets.  They use mobile event apps and badge scanning hardware for lead capture and traffic management.  We also know that event organizers typically have been in this business for a long time and do possess their own intuition and subjectivity.  In their eyes, events often just look busy.

But, and this is a big “but”, we think more can be done in capturing and understanding the physical activity of those present at an event.  We think events that understand attendees in more than one dimension are the most successful.  Hosts can get increased revenue from exhibitors together with a reduced churn in bookings for next year.  And exhibitors can get the clearest line of sight yet on booth activity for qualified lead generation.   

We’ve seen lots of show websites and prospectuses and common metrics shown are numbers like total registrants and profile breakdowns of those who come, i.e., managers, buyers, visitors from Ontario etc.  This starts to tell a story but where it stops short is revealing what people do once they are in an event.  What do they see, how long do they stay and how often do they return to booths or sponsored areas?  An attendee registering for something is often different from what they do when they are actually there.  We all have busy lives outside of the shows and events that we attend and sometimes those lives take over.

Gordon:   So, what are Beacons and how do they work?

Michael:    Think of something about the size and weight of a U.S. quarter that’s powered by a small battery and sends out signals via Bluetooth LE.  This device can be attached to a standard lanyard and badge that we’ve all worn at events.  Once set up, Beacons can be part of a solution that has a wide range of sensitivity, from covering individual booth space right up to large rooms indoors or outside.  They are cost effective when the event size, hardware and deployment effort are considered.  And compared to RFID, another technology they are often confused with, Beacons are easier to deploy (lighter, less cumbersome equipment), offer greater coverage and accuracy.

Gordon:   So where can they work in an event area specifically?

Michael:    They can work in food and beverage areas, breakout rooms, in session rooms or keynote ballrooms, in common or pre-function rooms or on the tradeshow floor.  They can also work in specific areas within larger booths like demo theatres or big equipment that may be on display.

Gordon:   How is a Beacon solution set up? 

Michael:    It starts at registration, where an attendee gets their badge.  Upon pickup, a Beacon is placed inside the badge after being paired with the attendee’s registration information, usually via a quick bar code or QR scan of the badge.  The attendee then begins their event visit.  As they walk around the trade floor, as they attend courses or seminars, as they listen to guest speakers – wherever the host wants to see their traffic – their activity is being measured.  This is made possible by the badge pinging small sensors deployed throughout the show space. 

This activity happens each second and the results are delivered in near real time, about every 10 to 15 minutes.  Data is uploaded via Wi-Fi to a cloud-based portal for the organizer to see.  Having been in many event spaces, we know that Wi-Fi can be a challenge and not always available, so the solution can run on its own proprietary network if needed.

When the show is over, the sensor hardware is returned and put away for next time.  If the event badges are returned and recycled – something we support by the way – the Beacons inside can also be re-provisioned and used again.  All the equipment is very robust and hides in plain sight.      

Gordon:    You mention registration.  How does Beacon technology work with registration companies?

Michael:    Very easily.  All that is needed is a copy of the registration file of attendees before show time; typically an Excel or CSV formatted spreadsheet.  Come show time, they provide badges to attendees like they always do, only the badges they hand out have Beacons in them. We have several registration companies that we have relationships with. 

Gordon:    And how does an event organizer turn these little Beacons into something that can drive big event analytics?

Michael:     Beacons drive analytics in three ways.  The first way is by explaining through a very clear and simple line of sight, what a busy show or booth is and what that means to the host and exhibitor.  As I mentioned earlier, knowing that 1,000 people are in a room only goes so far in understanding engagement.   

The second way is by showing data in multiple dimensions such as number of visits, dwell time at each location – say a booth, sponsor area or seminar room and interest level.  Regarding this latter example, you can do some very clever things by labeling each exhibit booth or seminar room with a theme tag.  Say you were running a staffing conference.  The theme tags could be payroll, legal, benefits and social media.  Then by cross-referencing visit data by interest level you start to see a real qualified view of each attendee.  For example, Mary was most interested in anything to do with payroll across her journey to several booths and seminars.   

The third way Beacons can drive analytics is through proximity based messaging.  Say you have been standing in a beverage company booth for a period of time that conveys a certain amount of interest.  In other words, you’re not just swinging by to get a free sample.  By seeing that level of activity, a Beacon solution could then trigger a text or email message to you that says something like “please join us after the show in the hospitality area” or “don’t forget about our live taste test this afternoon.”  So a very targeted message to someone that’s accurately and most importantly, legitimately in the crosshairs of the exhibitor.   

Gordon:    So for the show or event organizer, what’s the business case for using this solution?

Michael:     Let’s start with benefits for the host.  The main benefit they get is hard data supporting booth and sponsor traffic, data that can help reduce booth churn and increase the profile of the show.  How does it do this?  With simple activity reports that show things like traffic per booth or aisle, the dwell time in sponsored or trade areas and the number of return visits someone makes to an exhibitor or sponsored area.  Think of this last number as a ratio: 80/20 would suggest that 20% of booth traffic is not unique, but instead is people coming back for a second or third look.  This is a very telling measure of engagement.  All this hard data helps win the business case for investing in the solution based on booth rentals and sponsorship deals won.

The second benefit is proof of attendee engagement.   In other words, which part of the show got the most traffic and longest attention span of those attending the show?  This insight can help organizers plan better.  A third benefit is the new operational insights the host or organizer would get.  For example, to help better determine where resources are needed via traffic flow maps.  Think of how expensive events are to host and run.  Look at the cost of food.  Data analytics driven by Beacon technology could show organizers how many people ate (versus attend) and how long they spent in hospitality area.  Armed with this data, planning for the event next year could be more accurate and costs possibly lower now that the behaviour of attendees is more clearly understood.   

Gordon:    So, out of 1,000 attendees, I can now see for example, that only 517 had lunch and they spend 20 minutes eating on average.  Next year assuming my attendance is in the same ballpark, I may order less food and not need to leave an hour for lunch.

Michael:     Exactly.  Now, let’s look at benefits for the exhibitor.  The biggest bang for the buck is very qualified lead information.  As we like to say: whom do you call on Monday?  They know the answer to this question because they can see in a simple report, how long someone spent in a booth, how many times someone visited a booth and what other show content did they take in that was most appealing to them.  We talked about this earlier when I was discussing tags.  If I’m an exhibitor selling the latest x-ray equipment at a dental show, I could know that a visitor to my booth had spent most of their time taking in content that had to do with x-ray equipment.  They’d be a pretty warm lead to follow up with.  And collection of this data is easy with Beacons, as exhibitors don’t need to actually hold badges and scan them.  In a large and busy booth, this is important, as I may not get to everyone who’s there.  

Gordon:    I would think that some attendees would raise a concern about privacy. How would you respond?  

Michael:     This technology is new and does reveal a lot, there’s no question about that.  But remember: events and shows are fairly public to begin with.  Attendees walk around with big name tags, they are shown on delegate lists or questionnaires, they are often scanned during the event – in many cases, this is mandatory for things like admission.  If attendees are using event apps, then I’m fairly certain these apps are capturing usage patterns and profile data from attendees.  Attendees are also captured on security footage.  So the bottom line is: events aren’t really the place you go to be left alone. 

Beacon technology is really just a variation of analysis already being done.  However, it can be modified to show anonymous traffic data and it can be deployed on an opt-out basis at registration.  Also, by taking sample data of a large population, not everyone needs to be tracked.  For example, a 5,000-person event can have 588 attendees assessed to achieve a 99% +/- 5% confidence interval.  I’ve been behind the registration desks at several events where this solution is deployed.  The key is to be open and straightforward with attendees on what the Beacons do and why they’re being used.  In my experience, less than 5% of attendees voiced any concern about it.   

Gordon:    Thanks Michael.  So how would you sum this solution up for our readers? 

Michael:     This is a cost effective, easy to deploy and accurate technology for event hosts and organizers to use to prove and assess attendee engagement at their events, towards getting a better ROI.