The event technology space is coming off two years of breakneck innovation, a remarkable run for a sector that doesn't typically see quick adoption of new ideas. We're all well aware of why the innovation happened so quickly; meeting professionals learned and implemented a wave of new approaches because they had to. But what happens now?
As enlightening as the past two years have been concerning what we can do with event tech, the more fascinating era is just beginning, as planners determine which of the takeaways from the past 24 months will be most pertinent in shaping their new normal.
After all of the quick pivots and broad experimentation, planners need reassurance that in-person events will proceed smoothly. The goal is to return to in-person success, without giving up the gains they've made over the past two years in terms of audience data and reach. Fueled by new products and announcements from major industry tech players, the following long-simmering trends are again taking shape.
In-Person Is More Digital
This is the overarching theme: As organizations return to ballrooms and convention centers, they seek to maintain the data-driven advantages they got from virtual meetings. Think of this as the next step in the evolution of mobile apps for events.
When meetings went digital in 2020, what we previously identified as event apps quickly became virtual meetings platforms, in which all of the app content was combined with livestreaming capabilities to deliver the meetings experience remotely. As the focus now shifts back to the in-person experience, those virtual platforms will be referred to once again as apps — but they are now the central resource of information for on-site attendees as well as those who access the meeting's content remotely.
While theoretically a natural progression, tech providers will need to work at smoothing out this transition back to in-person. Meetings-tech giant Cvent, for instance, announced at its recent Cvent Connect user conference that its legacy Crowd Compass mobile app will be supported only through the end of this year. Crowd Compass is being phased out in favor of the newer Attendee Hub, the platform that debuted in 2020 to run the all-virtual Cvent Connect. Though it was introduced in 2020 as the "Virtual Attendee Hub," the platform has since transitioned to being the central portal through which all attendees access conference information and content, whether they are on-site or elsewhere.
Such dual-purpose platforms help merge the event experience for the in-person and online audiences — and this worked seamlessly at Cvent Connect, where in-person attendees could access the archived versions of sessions they missed, in the same portal they used for scheduling and navigating the in-person show. But whether or not your event has a virtual option, such an approach streamlines the collection of audience data, maintaining a digital record of participation, regardless of where or when the experience occurred.
Exhibitors Want to Sustain Their Data Fix
Trade show exhibitors and sponsors also crave this audience data, even if they were some of the most resistant to the digital format when the online shift first occurred. "If you remember when we went from in-person to virtual, the first two to three months these stakeholders were the most vocal about how horrible this was," says Joe Schwinger, chief of innovation at MeetingPlay + Aventri. "'This is never going to be sustainable! I'm not getting ROI!' they were saying.
"Over time, they adapted and started to uncover how to leverage the new tools they were provided to increase their ROI," he notes. "A lot of that discovery was through data: The data that was collected in the last two years for sponsors and exhibitors is like nothing that they had ever seen prior to the pandemic."
Now, says Schwinger, despite the demand to be back in person, exhibitors and sponsors are feeling some anxiety about getting back to business as it was. "They're nervous that when they go back on property and get their lead retrieval, they'll be missing the metrics and the benefits of what the virtual environment brought to them, and they will not be able to articulate the complete story," Schwinger explains.
That's why ExpoPRO, the first new product released by MeetingPlay + Aventri since the companies merged early this year, is aimed squarely at the anxious exhibitors' need to maximize ROI at in-person events. The platform's functionality hearkens back to remote-work collaboration tools like Asana and Slack, assigning tasks and roles to all stakeholders, and ensuring that on-site relationship-building is optimized, while keeping a digital record of the interactions that occurred.
"We're trying to ensure we forego that two- to three-month disgruntled transition period we experienced at the beginning of the pandemic," Schwinger says.
Technology Will Help Showcase Content
We need to stop looking at the list of features promised by tech platforms, advises integrated marketing and strategy expert Bob Mitchell, and start thinking about how the tech will support content strategy.
"Audience experiences are about emotional connections to content, aligned with the customer journey," says Mitchell of Mitchell Partnership Alliances. "That needs to happen pre-event, during and post-event, across various channels and formats."
Creating these connections requires the content to be both accessible and easily digested, and a growing number of tools are meant to ease the process. One of Cvent's principal product announcements at Connect was the new Cvent Video Center, expected to be released in Q3 of this year. The YouTube-like home for event video content will be an online library of sessions, marketing reels and related content, organized by event. AI-driven video tags will allow the content to be categorized and sorted by channels, giving the audience a way to search and browse content by topic, speaker, event and more.
"It really ties into that glue that connects your different events, connects your community and creates value," explains Cvent cofounder and chief technology officer David Quattrone. "Whether it's the connections you're making with attendees, the video snippets that you have, or the edited content and videos from your event, we're looking to streamline that so people can access the correct pieces of what they need."
Creating that library is only the beginning, Quattrone adds. Machine-learning algorithms, tagging and captioning will eventually allow viewers to skip to and subsequently share the relevant information within various sessions.
There is growing demand for that kind of enriched content — in which videos aren't simply a rehash of a live session, but rather completely searchable recordings, broken down into sections or chapters with topic tags. CLIPr is one tool that provides such functionality now, along with metric-tracking reports that reveal to event organizers the most resonant, most searched for and most shared highlights from each video.
Vetted Marketplaces Can Facilitate Sourcing
The idea of an event-tech platform curating a collection of trusted, vetted supplier partners isn't new, but as in-person events continue to make their comeback this has gained a lot of traction. Notified launched its MarketPlace last fall with a couple dozen partners, initially as a way to facilitate sourcing but with plans to open up APIs in subsequent phases, to ease that tech integration, as well.
Like a number of other event-tech suppliers, Notified expanded via acquisition during the pandemic so that they could offer a more robust end-to-end solution when in-person meetings returned. But as planners well know, "end-to-end" doesn't truly cover all of the moving parts live events require. "We realize we can't develop everything ourselves," says Notified president Ben Chodor. "Everything that we use in our own tech stack we take great pride in, but when a client comes to us and really wants to use a photo booth, for instance, or an on-site entertainment vendor, we've always been open to integration," he explains. "We just wanted to make it easier now."
The Notified MarketPlace connects planners to their partners in one of five categories — marketing, content, analytics, language and production — in order to cover the requirements of the broader event cycle.
Quick access to trusted suppliers is particularly crucial these days, adds Cvent's Quattrone, in reference to the similar Cvent Vendor Marketplace that was launched in April.
"I think right now, every organization is dealing with a staffing crunch," he says. "They're doing more with less and they're looking for vendors to help them, and they might be relying more heavily on them than in the past."
Response to Cvent's early adopter program for the Marketplace indicates as much: Third-party planning firm HelmsBriscoe, one of the first large organizations to pilot the program, saw associates issue requests for information through the platform to 40 vendors in just the first two weeks of use. "These are numbers we expected to see over several weeks of use instead of just two," notes a Cvent spokesperson. "It's great to see there's a need for this."