App or not?

I
was talking to an Event Director about event technology and of course
we could not avoid the topic of mobile communication and mobile devices
as a way of interacting with event participants, and as a way of
increasing their experience and return of investment.

He was in a
process of sourcing an event mobile app and when asked why he wanted a
mobile app he replied ‘because my competitor has one’! After further
questioning, it transpired that the single most important feature he
required was for it to show delegates’ individual meeting dairy which,
naturally, can be delivered in many ways other than via an app.

This
unconditional fixation with using a mobile app is not unique. In
numerous discussions where I have challenged the use of a mobile app at
an event, if the response wasn’t ‘because my competitor has one’, it
would be ‘just because it’s there’.

Admittedly, I am
generalising, maybe somewhat exaggerating but there is a lot of hype[1]
around mobile event apps, and decisions to use them at events might not
be founded by sound strategic considerations. The hype is naturally
based on the technological development and opportunities it brings, and
is spurred by big players (Apple, Google etc.), as they push market
demand, that is you and I as consumers, through their app stores. That
creates a demand in the market which is leveraged by the mobile app
developers, which blur the vision of why you should choose a mobile app
for your event, or not!

I am not trying to deny that apps can add
value to an event, because they certainly can. I am merely trying to
question if this is always the case, if this is the only solution, and
if questions like ‘what does my audience want’ and ‘what is my
objective’ have been carefully considered.

A perquisite for a mobile app to be effective is that your audience possesses the device to be able to download the app.

Let’s look at some statistics:

  • 55-59 per cent of handsets sold globally in 2012 were not smartphones,
    they were feature phones (i.e. not able to download Apps).
  • Smartphone subscriptions globally account for 16.7 per cent and
    although sales of smartphones continue to increase exponentially, it is
    worth noting that the majority of these new sales are from those
    replacing their existing smartphones as opposed to those who are buying a
    smartphone for the first time.
  • Japan has the highest
    mobile web usage in the world, but a very low smartphone penetration
    (This shatters the misconception that you need a smartphone to access
    the mobile web. Companies ignore feature phone users at their peril).

Naturally,
there are also statistics that show business verticals where the
smartphone penetration is higher e.g. within the corporate delegates and
IT industry delegates. This should only underline that it’s important
to analyse who your delegates are, what type of device they have and how
they would like to be communicated to. Not all smartphone users
download apps and of those who do, not all use the apps once downloaded.

Ultimately,
most of these statistics show that it’s not evident that a mobile app
is the answer to mobile interaction with your delegates at your event.
You simply will not reach 100 per cent of your delegates, unless you
invest in smartphones, iPods, iPads or tablets for all of them at your
event (and even if you do, you can’t be sure that they all actually will
use the app).

The statistics also underline the ‘confusion’
there seems to be in the event industry (and many other industries)
about which mobile strategy is optimal for your specific event.
Determining what your audience wants will provide some clarity on what
kind of technology you should use.

Another strategy is that an
event app is part of your marketing strategy where you leverage on the
mobile app hype. Of course, the marketing effect of this cannot be
underestimated but the question is still if this will benefit you in the
long term.

You may wonder why I haven’t touched on tablets. The
sale of tablets is exploding, but the penetration is still not 100% per
cent, and there is still a bit of a way before that will happen too.
Again verticals might differ and of course, as mentioned, you can
provide tablets to your audience, budget permitting.

So what’s my suggestion for your mobile strategy around your event and activities?

First
of all, to outline a full mobile strategy would probably require an
article in itself, but a couple of very simple first steps can be
considered, and it is really not rocket science:

1. Have a mobile enabled webpage

If
you are seriously considering mobile event technology you should have a
webpage that is ’mobile enabled’. Irrespective of the device from which
your delegates access your webpage, they will have a smooth experience.
With a mobile enabled web page you will always be able to lead your
audience to it using mobile communication no matter which device they
use. You can make any static content available e.g. programme, speaker
profiles, floor plans, personal dairy, reports, video. This is not
difficult to implement and as the next step you would need to discuss
this with your web team or web agency.

2. Ask your audience how they wish to be communicated to

At
the same time you should ask your audience how they would like to be
communicated to during the event lifecycle.  Would they prefer email,
SMS, MMS, app push, calls or a combination? They might even have a
preference depending on the different stages in the event lifecycle e.g.
pre-event they might prefer email, because they are mainly at their
desk, but during the event it might be email, SMS, MMS and/or mobile
app. Surveying your audience should of course be planned properly, and
your marketing team should be able to assist. This step should be
relatively straightforward, especially during your event lifecycle when
you already have a captive audience.

Once you have addressed
these two points, you can better consider the type of mobile event
technology that will create the most value for all your stakeholders.
This step may seem daunting but with your survey as a basis and a proper
procurement process, you should be able to pitch your requirements and
select the appropriate vendor and mobile event technology. It’s likely
that you decide on a multi-channel solution, simply because your
audience will have a mix of preferences and because it’s important to
reach 100% of them.

There are certainly many vendors to choose
between from pure SMS, SMS/MMS, pure event mobile app developers to
those that provide a multi solution, in a simple and cost effective
manner.

I hope I have provided some food for thought and shown
that it if you chop the app elephant into smaller pieces and use some
good basic research it does not have to be too difficult to decide on
your mobile event technology. Start simple and move forward as your
audience and technology develop.

Any comments? Email sarah@mashmedia.net

ConferenceNews Guest Author

Conference News hosts great guests on its pages. Our Blog section is the collection of the best opinions in the UK and international events industry.

ConferenceNews Guest Author

Author

ConferenceNews Guest Author

Conference News hosts great guests on its pages. Our Blog section is the collection of the best opinions in the UK and international events industry.

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