The Next Generation of Meeting Sponsorships

How technology is creating new and more powerful ways to spread sponsor messages

Cover Story 1015 Opener

This month, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) is holding its International Convention & Expo in Indianapolis. With 6,000 attendees and an expansive trade show floor and education lineup, there is a lot happening, and to keep it all in order, the organization introduced a mobile app. It features general information about the convention; an up-to-date daily schedule of events with the ability to create a personal schedule each day; the ability to take notes during workshops and general sessions; speaker profiles; and details about the Expo Hall, including an exhibitor list (alphabetical and by category), floor map, and the ability for attendees to create a personal list of must-see booths.

But with all of that, it also had room for something else: sponsorships. The app itself is sponsored, with the logo of the contributing company appearing on the splash screen beneath the event logo. Within the app, is also included an acknowledgment page with links to a profile of each company. For any convention events or workshops that are sponsored, the app provides a note for those companies on each event page.

 

"Our sponsors are valuable partners and, naturally, we acknowledge their support of our convention anywhere we can; our app is another opportunity for us to do that," says Jessica Koth, public relations manager for the NFDA.

The NFDA is not alone in its effort to embrace new technology to create new sponsorship opportunities. Whether using mobile apps, geo-fencing technology, livestreaming, or even drones, event planners are finding a growing number of tools in their arsenal for delivering targeted sponsor messages. This embrace of high-tech gadgets and platforms is not only creating new revenue streams for planners, it's also making meetings more fun and worthwhile for attendees.


Killer Apps
As the NFDA example shows, mobile apps offer ripe opportunities for sponsorships. While they provide all the information supplied by a traditional catalog, they also allow for interactivity, from hyperlinks to animation, that can help a sponsor's message stand out. "Gone are the days when a sponsor logo linking to a URL of their choice is enough," says Thomas Hallin, CEO and co-founder of ITM Mobile, which specializes in designing apps and technology for conferences and events. Instead, he says that sponsors want to increase their visibility and ROI while planners want it to be "easier to sell sponsorships and generate incremental non-dues revenues."

For these reasons, ITM Mobile has found success by offering optimized sponsor listings within event apps. This allows participants to directly access sponsor company profiles and contact information within the app, while also giving the sponsor the opportunity to include a banner image and links to its social media channels.

A mobile app offers distinct advantages that online ads don't. When designed well, they can serve as a much more efficient tool for navigating a large event space than either the event website or a bulky print program. "Given that access to the Internet from a mobile device wasn't always reliable in a convention center, a stand-alone app that could be accessed even without an Internet connection was a logical step," says Koth.

Of course, all this is contingent on the app being designed in such a way that attendees want to use it. Planners will want to work with a professional app developer (NFDA tapped mobile design firm Bluebridge) to ensure the tool is user-friendly and loaded with the information that attendees will want to access. In its first year of use, the NFDA app was deemed useful by 83.9 percent of attendees surveyed in a post-event questionnaire -- just a notch below the 88.2 percent who said they found the printed program useful.

When designing an event app to help make it more appealing to sponsors, planners will also want to develop it to ensure that attendees will want to keep it on their smartphone long after the event itself. That may be to look up an exhibitor's contact information or to review notes taken during one of the workshops or to download handouts.

"This gives sponsors exposure beyond the event and reminds members of the support a particular company has lent to the association," says Koth.

"Planners are also interested in new ways to engage with participants on their mobile devices before the event while they also promote downloading of the app," adds Hallin.


Engaging Audiences
New-media sponsorships create unique opportunities to engage attendees in other ways as well. For example, when Oracle held the event COLLABORATE: Technology and Applications Forum, the Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG), a knowledge-sharing group for Oracle Applications users saw the event as a prime opportunity to expand its membership.

The company reached out to event services firm Meeting Expectations to help it devise a way to present the benefits of membership while creating sponsorship opportunities and boosting social networking activities around Oracle's booth. The solution they came to: RadioOAUG, an online radio station broadcast from the booth.

 

At Oracle's last user conference
the company ran a sponsored online
radio station from the show floor
At Oracle's last user conference the company ran a sponsored online radio station from the show floor

OAUG and Meeting Expectations set up a fully equipped radio booth where interviews were livestreamed and recorded, allowing the group to create immediate, timely, actionable content for the attendees at COLLABORATE and for the larger OAUG audience. They also created an online landing page that outlined all of the recorded sessions and pushed the livestream to various conference hallways while attendees were transitioning between session rooms.

"It was fantastic to see partners leave the show with a real takeaway," says Christine Hilgert, CMP, senior vice president of Meeting Expectations. "Many sponsors repurposed portions of the interviews and posted them to their own company websites and social media outlets."

To give the event an added audience, the OAUG staff hosted "Name That Tune" contests with prizes and live musical performances, complete with sponsor commercials throughout. In the end, almost 1,900 attendees visited the booth, and 16 sponsored segments were sold.

Meeting Expectations has run a number of other tech-focused sponsorship programs, such as "Daily Cash Giveaways" where a conference concierge tweets on behalf of an exhibitor to drive traffic to their booths, or giving exhibitors the option to upgrade their conference mobile app profile to include logos, links, press releases, and more.

"We've even hosted promotions via the mobile app activity feed and asked attendees to post photos of themselves to the feed conducting sponsor-oriented activities and challenges," says Hilgert. "We call these 'WigOUTs' -- random moments on the exhibit hall floor where we bring energy to a particular sponsor booth and then extend that moment into the app through social posts."



Augmenting Reality
For sponsors looking to help potential customers fully visualize their products, augmented reality (AR) technology provides particular promise. These tools allow for the real-world environment to be supplemented by computer-generated sounds, images, videos, and more. For example, while exhibiting or sponsoring an event, a company can invite attendees to scan their marketing materials (like brochure, product catalog, or flyer) using an AR app. This can link the 2D print materials to some interactive element, such as a product showroom, 3D model, or interactive webpage.

"Augmented reality allows [sponsors] to add a new dimension to their print campaigns," says Lindsay Boyajian, marketing manager for Augment, an augmented reality company that has developed AR platforms for clients to use at trade shows and conferences. "Companies invite customers to scan marketing material with their smartphone or tablet device to reveal a 3D model or a webpage."

She gives the example of Augment client Northern Lighting, a Scandinavian lighting company, which linked its brochures for the 2014 Maison et Objet interior design show to an entire product catalog. This gave their customers access to a virtual product showroom.

"Customers select the lamp they want to view in augmented reality," explains Boyajian. "The lamps appear in real time in scale in augmented reality on their device."

 

She also created a program for engineering firm Siemens, which used AR technology to do product demonstrations of its magnetic valves. Using an interactive brochure, the company was able to show potential customers the components of its valves in their actual size, in a way that is accessed from anywhere.


Measuring Impact
Technology is also offering a way for planners and marketers to measure the impact of their sponsorships. "SITO offers a product called Verified Walk-In, which measures the impact of both pre- and post-foot traffic at specific brick-and-mortar locations," says Meshekow. "We also do brand lift studies using control groups and exposed groups to understand the brand lift of these types of campaigns."

Sponsorships are a large funding source for many clients of workplace and event engagement company ITA Group, so the company came up with a tool called SHIFT, an event management platform that assists in a wide range of program challenges. "Many marketers either do not have a standardized process for measuring their sponsorship marketing, or do not attempt to isolate the impact of the sponsorship or event activity, versus other marketing initiatives," says Jill Anonson, manager of event solutions for ITA Group, Inc. "If a planner can provide their sponsors with the data and the expertise to drive actionable insights, it can support the value of the program and their funding of the event."

The program starts with understanding the objectives of the sponsorship program and defining what success should look like, such as increased trade-show traffic or social media buzz. Typical measurements are sales as well as digital and social media exposure, but Anonson notes a growing desire from customers to analyze sponsorships' role in building brand awareness and impacting attitude so as to lead to purchases and other desired actions.

"It is important to collect both qualitative and quantitative data," adds Anonson. "Marketing and sponsorship budgets are increasing. Companies need to make informed decisions about which sponsorships to maintain and where to prioritize budget and determine if sponsoring a certain event is worth the expense. Measurement stops the guesswork and can be the doorway to improvement and effective action."

For these reasons and more, Meeting Expectations' Hilgert says that she expects to see expansive growth of tech-focused sponsorship offerings in the coming years.

"I'd love to get attendees engaged with Instagram, Snapchat conference stories, or even use Periscope or Meerkat to livestream sessions," she says. "With technology growing like it is, who knows, maybe we'll soon be having sponsored mini-drones engaging with attendees, perhaps reminding them of what sessions to attend, instead of paper program guides."



Questions or comments? Email alexpalmer3000@gmail.com



This article appears in the October 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.


Follow the Beacon
Even as apps have gotten more sophisticated, there is arguably more development happening now around geo-location technology. Customers who pass a booth or enter a designated "hot zone" receive a notice or special offer targeted to that particular location, so the sponsor message can be more relevant.

"By placing our proprietary beacons at strategic locations, sponsors are able to engage and interact with visitors in ways never before possible," says Hallin, describing the growing popularity of ITM Mobile's beacon technology. "Signs and banners suddenly 'come alive' as the beacon triggers content to appear on participants' mobile devices once they approached that sign or banner zone."

In addition to the engagement provided by the more interactive, geo-targeted messaging, the program also allows event organizers to pull analytics on points such as how many people used a sponsored lounge area, how many times they revisited, and how many people interacted with content provided in various sponsored zones. Looking ahead, Hallin expects this kind of messaging to increase and become more precise, and that the acceptance and use of the technology among participants will grow.

"This will in turn open the door for more advanced IPS [indoor positioning systems], which are actually already available and allow you to create more precise geo-fenced areas also indoors," he says.

Adam Meshekow, EVP of strategy and national sales for SITO Mobile, adds that the message itself must be distinct from traditional digital marketing channels like email or social media, with a heavy emphasis on the immediate context.

"Try to avoid long video content or extensive rich media, as moments are less than 10 seconds in this type of environment," he says. "It is about multiple touch points and telling a story while in the moment."

SITO recently helped a major liquor company to create several different types of location-activated rich media that it used to connect with attendees of a music festival through their mobile devices. Not only did it engage them with the sponsor message at the event, but offered updates after the gathering to keep the conversation going.   

Meshekow says that as beacons become more common, there will be a more integrated approach to using them, so that interactions with attendees will become more fluid.

Tech Tips
Thomas Hallin, CEO and cofounder of ITM Mobile, offers some quick tips for leveraging technology to achieve maximum impact in one's sponsorship program.

1. Make sure that it is easy to view on a small screen

2. Design it to be responsive, so it looks good on different screen sizes (for example, both smartphones and tablets)

3. Ensure that it is targeted and relevant

4. Encourage interaction

5. Make it fun

6. Pre-determine what to track and how to measure

7. Be realistic about expectations as not everyone has a smartphone and not everyone has Wi-Fi or Bluetooth turned on

8. Do NOT bombard people with promotions from every exhibitor and sponsor as this likely will make your target audience turn off notifications, or even worse, stop using the app


Follow the Beacon
Even as apps have gotten more sophisticated, there is arguably more development happening now around geo-location technology. Customers who pass a booth or enter a designated "hot zone" receive a notice or special offer targeted to that particular location, so the sponsor message can be more relevant.

"By placing our proprietary beacons at strategic locations, sponsors are able to engage and interact with visitors in ways never before possible," says Hallin, describing the growing popularity of ITM Mobile's beacon technology. "Signs and banners suddenly 'come alive' as the beacon triggers content to appear on participants' mobile devices once they approached that sign or banner zone."

In addition to the engagement provided by the more interactive, geo-targeted messaging, the program also allows event organizers to pull analytics on points such as how many people used a sponsored lounge area, how many times they revisited, and how many people interacted with content provided in various sponsored zones. Looking ahead, Hallin expects this kind of messaging to increase and become more precise, and that the acceptance and use of the technology among participants will grow.

"This will in turn open the door for more advanced IPS [indoor positioning systems], which are actually already available and allow you to create more precise geo-fenced areas also indoors," he says.

Adam Meshekow, EVP of strategy and national sales for SITO Mobile, adds that the message itself must be distinct from traditional digital marketing channels like email or social media, with a heavy emphasis on the immediate context.

"Try to avoid long video content or extensive rich media, as moments are less than 10 seconds in this type of environment," he says. "It is about multiple touch points and telling a story while in the moment."

SITO recently helped a major liquor company to create several different types of location-activated rich media that it used to connect with attendees of a music festival through their mobile devices. Not only did it engage them with the sponsor message at the event, but offered updates after the gathering to keep the conversation going.   

Meshekow says that as beacons become more common, there will be a more integrated approach to using them, so that interactions with attendees will become more fluid.


Augmenting Reality
For sponsors looking to help potential customers fully visualize their products, augmented reality (AR) technology provides particular promise. These tools allow for the real-world environment to be supplemented by computer-generated sounds, images, videos, and more. For example, while exhibiting or sponsoring an event, a company can invite attendees to scan their marketing materials (like brochure, product catalog, or flyer) using an AR app. This can link the 2D print materials to some interactive element, such as a product showroom, 3D model, or interactive webpage.

"Augmented reality allows [sponsors] to add a new dimension to their print campaigns," says Lindsay Boyajian, marketing manager for Augment, an augmented reality company that has developed AR platforms for clients to use at trade shows and conferences. "Companies invite customers to scan marketing material with their smartphone or tablet device to reveal a 3D model or a webpage."

She gives the example of Augment client Northern Lighting, a Scandinavian lighting company, which linked its brochures for the 2014 Maison et Objet interior design show to an entire product catalog. This gave their customers access to a virtual product showroom.

"Customers select the lamp they want to view in augmented reality," explains Boyajian. "The lamps appear in real time in scale in augmented reality on their device."

 

Siemens used augmented reality
to create an interactive brochure
to use at trade shows
Siemens used augmented reality to create an interactive brochure to use at trade shows

She also created a program for engineering firm Siemens, which used AR technology to do product demonstrations of its magnetic valves. Using an interactive brochure, the company was able to show potential customers the components of its valves in their actual size, in a way that is accessed from anywhere.


Measuring Impact
Technology is also offering a way for planners and marketers to measure the impact of their sponsorships. "SITO offers a product called Verified Walk-In, which measures the impact of both pre- and post-foot traffic at specific brick-and-mortar locations," says Meshekow. "We also do brand lift studies using control groups and exposed groups to understand the brand lift of these types of campaigns."

Sponsorships are a large funding source for many clients of workplace and event engagement company ITA Group, so the company came up with a tool called SHIFT, an event management platform that assists in a wide range of program challenges. "Many marketers either do not have a standardized process for measuring their sponsorship marketing, or do not attempt to isolate the impact of the sponsorship or event activity, versus other marketing initiatives," says Jill Anonson, manager of event solutions for ITA Group, Inc. "If a planner can provide their sponsors with the data and the expertise to drive actionable insights, it can support the value of the program and their funding of the event."

The program starts with understanding the objectives of the sponsorship program and defining what success should look like, such as increased trade-show traffic or social media buzz. Typical measurements are sales as well as digital and social media exposure, but Anonson notes a growing desire from customers to analyze sponsorships' role in building brand awareness and impacting attitude so as to lead to purchases and other desired actions.

"It is important to collect both qualitative and quantitative data," adds Anonson. "Marketing and sponsorship budgets are increasing. Companies need to make informed decisions about which sponsorships to maintain and where to prioritize budget and determine if sponsoring a certain event is worth the expense. Measurement stops the guesswork and can be the doorway to improvement and effective action."

For these reasons and more, Meeting Expectations' Hilgert says that she expects to see expansive growth of tech-focused sponsorship offerings in the coming years.

"I'd love to get attendees engaged with Instagram, Snapchat conference stories, or even use Periscope or Meerkat to livestream sessions," she says. "With technology growing like it is, who knows, maybe we'll soon be having sponsored mini-drones engaging with attendees, perhaps reminding them of what sessions to attend, instead of paper program guides."



Questions or comments? Email alexpalmer3000@gmail.com



This article appears in the October 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.