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Comment to the Guardian re how technology is changing, and will further change, the exhibition space and experience.

February 25, 2013 |

James Rook, managing director at global exhibition specialists Nimlok, said: “In the first six months of this year, 55% per cent of the stands we worked on for clients involved some form of digital content ranging from augmented reality and digital brochures to social media links. We expect this to increase significantly year on year.

“Technology used to be an afterthought or a nice gimmicky extra, but exhibition stands are now being considered more and more by marketing teams as an experiential marketing tool and a way to boost engagement before, during and after an exhibition.

“Twitter walls, augmented images and games whose results can then be uploaded to social media channels are all typical examples of projects clients expect to be included as part of their stand build.

“Advantages fed back by clients are that such tools have helped to capture more contact details for marketing databases, draw a larger crowd and amplify the impact from the event through post event communication channels. City & Guilds used 48 iPads at a recent exhibition to enable students to play a DJ mix game. It resulted in almost 3,000 uploads to Facebook (a reach of around 379,000 people based on average number of friends per profile). A seamless integrated plasma screen also welcomed students to a ‘talent revolution’ and this year their plans are even bigger with augmented reality expected to play its part.

“Technology is an important addition to marketing strategy but it won’t change the landscape totally. However what it does do is change how communication is conveyed. The traditional show and tell is replaced by engagement and interaction and a new way of triggering information. For example our proposition pilot for BOSTIK saw users create an interactive house model with touch screen capability to highlight relevant information (e.g. parts of the building in this case). The visitor can also take control of the information on offer, find what’s relevant to them and cut through the noise.

“We have ourselves discovered some of the benefits and pitfalls. At Marketing Week Live our display incorporated augmented reality into our stand. We had 170 leads and our social media campaign on the day created a potential reach of 52,000 users.

“What was also interesting however was that our review of the show revealed that only 10 per cent of people integrated social media within their stand*. That’s far less than the number handing out sweets to entice visitors for example!

“The other lesson from Marketing Week Live is relevant for anyone looking at using technology within a stand – it won’t compensate for forgetting the basics. Staff not approaching people (only 22% were doing this) and people on stands talking on their phones not potential customers (10%), are things good technology can only partly overcome.

“For technology to work it must be tied into the exhibition strategy and not say, merely used for technologies’ sake. Exhibitions are fundamentally about human interaction which is to be celebrated and embraced, not substituted. The acid test should be, how will this enhance our stand staff’s ability to engage, interact, demonstrate, inspire, record or communicate? Technology on stands can range from fun to intellectual to practical, so from a game to a survey to an animation with loads of options inbetween. But the question must always be asked “what’s in it for the participant?” and it must be highly relevant.

“At the fun end, we’ve create a “space invaders” game for a computer virus protection company, made relevant by the “invaders” being icons representing the problems/bugs faced by the prospect’s systems and eliminated by the exhibitor’s service. The “what’s in it for them” was a competition entry which also enabled the exhibitor to collect data. At the more intellectual end, we’ve created a survey with a “live opinion barometer” that positioned our client as a thought leader by asking questions about their customers’ key challenges that the whole peer group was interest in. Whilst not directly related to their product, it helped them with insight into what product to develop next, and the published survey results promised to benchmark participants’ opinions against that of their peers.

“One massive shift we expect to see next year in both areas is a move by clients to use technology in their exhibition spaces to generate product sales. Direct commerce will become more important than using technology to simply inform and showcase innovation. Direct sign-ups to services and products sold will shift delegates and exhibitors’ experience. It will enable exhibitions to become much more than an information gathering exercise and give marketers a stronger sense of return on investment.”

Extra info

* for infographic of full survey results

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