Considering Free Event Technology? There’s a Price to Pay

Now more than ever, event planners are feeling pressure to deliver innovative event experiences that differentiate their organizations. At the same time, they’re dealing with the eye-opening reality of demands for internal cost savings coupled with shrinking event budgets. This dilemma has led to the inevitable question: Can these two priorities peacefully coexist?

So, when it comes to embracing event technology—and studies show that the vast majority of event professionals are in some capacity—whether to go “freemium or premium” is a key point of consideration for many planners. Should they try to save money by adopting a freemium version that offers basic features and services at no cost, and pay for advanced options later? Or is it better to purchase a premium platform and pay up front for a holistic solution?

This confusion among event organizers can be exacerbated by the fact that, all too often, new technologies spark a rat race among software companies competing to be crowned the most innovative player in their niche. This approach makes technology the “hot button”—the end in itself rather than the means to solving an event pro’s challenge. That’s because, in their eagerness to be one of the first to market, many vendors release freemium versions of technology that are suboptimal at best. When the tech later becomes an industry standard, only the best solutions survive. And that original freemium version? It’s most likely no longer supported … what I like to call “garbage tech.”

As a former event planner and an event and marketing technologist of 10-plus years, I’m going to lay my opinion on the line right here: If you strip away the screaming headlines and overheated rhetoric, it’s usually not in the event professional’s best interest to use free tech for their event. Here are four reasons why.

Premium version = Better support

When you pay for premium event technology, you generally get the support services that go along with it. And while the quality of support offerings vary widely among vendors—one look at G2 Crowd and Capterra makes that abundantly clear—access to responsive technical support teams ready to assist you before, during and after your event is not something you want to pull off the clearance rack.

“Whenever services are involved, smart buyers know that people are not a commodity,” writes Ian Altman, author of Same Side Selling. “You can’t just interchange one pulse for another. A buyer considers the likelihood that the services they are buying will deliver the results they need.”

There’s nothing like having the right to say, “I’ve got a problem with your software, and I’d like your help to fix it.” If you choose a freemium application and experience a technical snafu, chances are you’ll end up searching for solutions yourself, potentially spending hours online scouring forums, reviews and articles for answers (while your stakeholders and attendees sit and steam).

Freemium = Missing functionality

If you’re perfectly content with event tech that’s lacking in diverse features or functionality—for instance, if you need a simple event registration tool without any modules for paid tickets, coupon codes, or added session registration—go for it. Just please stick with a reputable software vendor.

But meanwhile, in another corner of the event technology universe, a lot of tech-savvy event planners are realizing that while the price of event tech is important, it’s just as crucial to find out what the tech does. If a freemium version is available, what features are missing that might detract from the attendee experience? In the long run, many event organizers find that using free event tech to cut costs wasn’t actually the best way to go. A limited feature set can result in productivity loss and deeply dampen interactions for both event pros and attendees. And if that doesn’t negate the benefit of “free,” I don’t know what does.

Ian Altman quote on services and pricing

You pay for consistent innovation

When you purchase premium software, you’re also partnering with a product team that’s invested in understanding what you want to do with the software rather than what they want to develop. But if there’s no paying customer, there’s less incentive to monitor usage patterns and service levels.

A freemium vendor is focused on the kind of mass market that a free product must by nature appeal to, and is less likely to spend money developing new features and ensuring uptime. Instead, the development of the technology becomes a game, one limited to increasing the volume of free subscribers who can later be bait-and-switched into buying premium products, not providing a quality experience for each user.

Again, all event tech vendors—including those selling premium versions of software—differ when it comes to bandwidth and talent for intelligently bettering their products. As always, a good rule of thumb when choosing a provider is checking the three Rs: Their ratings, reviews and product roadmap.

Yes, it’s a cliché,  but there’s no free lunch

Event planners know this better than anyone: Everybody wants stuff for free. Unfortunately, in the case of freemium technology, we rarely question what it means to get something for free. Often, it’s a lot more headache than you bargained for. For instance, accounts created to access freemium technology require your email address. Once you provide it, you’ll be automatically added to a database and receive a wealth of “offers.” Your choice? Deal with it or get fed up and unsubscribe.

“If you’re not paying for it; you are the product,” Scott Goodson, CEO of StrawberryFrog, writes in Forbes. As an example, he cites the fact that in exchange for use of Google’s array of free products and services, consumers help the brand behemoth build an enormous data center filled with our personal information. We pay, just with personal data instead of traditional currency.

The bottom line: Quality wins

In the end, the freemium vs. premium argument comes down to one thing: quality. Getting access to free event tech might be worth suffering a few user-experience shortcomings, especially if they’re not impacting attendee or planner interactions. However, before embarking on a potentially turbulent relationship with free tech, be sure you understand precisely what you’re exchanging for “free”— is it features, support, usability or even personal data? With events, you’ve only got one chance to get it right. Safe is, hands down, better than sorry.

Anati Zubia is the Vice President of Marketing at Attendify. She’s spent the last 15 years growing global IT enterprise and SaaS companies by pairing best-in-class technology stacks with best-in-class humans.

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