Events gone virtual. Is there a future for mobile?
Virtual event experiences are here to stay, and the industry is justifiably focused on virtual technology. By comparison, mobile event apps are barely on anyone’s radar and have seemingly become an afterthought. This begs the question: Is there a future for mobile in a post-COVID-19 event technology landscape?
Just a few years ago event apps were the event industry’s hottest growth trend, spawning hundreds of startups, including Attendify. In fact, leading research had predicted that the market size of mobile event apps was projected to nearly double from approximately $5 billion in 2015 to $10 billion in 2020. Today, growth in mobile has slowed to a crawl, and the category has lost its luster. But, we’re here to argue that the mobile story is just beginning. In fact, mobile apps will increasingly become more central to virtual event experiences and are poised to usher in a data-centric renaissance for the industry when live, in-person events come back strong in 2021-22. There are three main reasons we’re more bullish about mobile and virtual event tech now more than ever:
Mobility Matters. The best virtual events will serve attendees on their terms and cater to their modern lives–meeting event participants wherever they are, and empowering attendees to engage on any device.
Hybrid Glue. When hybrid events kick-off, native mobile apps will be the key to bringing virtual attendees and in-person audiences together to interact, engage, and connect with one another, dramatically increasing your event’s reach, value, and impact.
A Pixel for the Real World. The true potential of mobile event solutions has always lied in helping event organizers and marketers to better understand their attendees. Mobile is the only event technology that can use ‘tracking pixels’ to serve as the unique ID to enable the accurate and in-depth data collection necessary to power personalization and intent marketing for in-person, hybrid event experiences.
The Evolving Role of Mobile in a Virtual-First World
In the short term, we’re seeing mobile apps emerge, as an essential part of virtual event experiences for a simple reason: it’s hard to sit through a long virtual event. Zoom and virtual event fatigue is real, and it’s a challenge that event organizers have to start confronting today, particularly full-day or multi-day events, if they want to be successful tomorrow.
The bottom line is that you have to deliver content where your customers want to be, not where it’s convenient for you. Mobile apps make it possible for attendees to experience events from their living room, backyard, jogging trail, local cafe, or anywhere else, they choose. Switching locations throughout the day is a simple way to mimic what happens at real-life events and combats the fatigue we all feel when tethered to our laptops. Recently Julius Solaris of the Event Manager Blog, wrote about the “Rise of Audio in Virtual Events,” saying:
Mobile apps that support background audio-only options make this exact use case possible out-of-the-box, delivering a more flexible and dynamic experience.
Hybrid events present many unique challenges for event organizers and marketers, from both experiential and business perspectives. Those challenges are real, but events will eventually find the right balance between leveraging the incredible scalability of virtual events and recreating the immersive environment unique to in-person experiences. No matter what such future experiences look like, networking, interactivity, and personalized content will be at their core, and mobile is the only form-factor that can become the glue that connects virtual and in-person attendees.
A new generation of mobile event apps that are focused on real-time content consumption and communication will make this possible in a way that feels authentic and productive. We’ve already seen that virtual connection is both accessible and can be very meaningful, particularly in a business context. The worst thing we can do today is limit ourselves to old mental models of what mobile event apps are capable of, because in reality, they are already being reshaped and reimagined.
A Pixel for the Real World
To bring things back full-circle to the boom times of mobile event apps, let’s talk about data. The original promise of mobile apps was always centered on their unique ability to capture what happens at real-life events. Think of mobile apps, like web tracking pixels for the real world, software that captures data to help event organizers better understand their attendees’ behavior. Until now, this data was previously impossible to collect, much less leverage.
Unfortunately and despite all of the talk about the possibilities of this data, mobile event app vendors never delivered solutions to actually make that data useful. Let’s be clear: We’re not talking about “the mythical ROI reporting,” which sounds great in theory, but when put to test, doesn’t actually deliver strategic value. The problem with looking at the value of event data from a reporting and ROI perspective is that there’s no single metric to define event success across different organizations. More importantly, it misses the real, strategic value of event data… which is its potential to identify purchase intent.
Imagine being able to specify any action that occurred at virtual, or in-person events, and then, be able to instantly pull up a list of attendees, who performed that action, or sequence of actions. Whether it’s engaging with sponsors, attending specific sessions, networking, or any combination thereof that data signals engagement and intent. These types of signals tell a story and can be leveraged by event planners and marketers to achieve strategic objectives, like boosting attendee retention, driving outcomes for sponsors and exhibitors, or providing more meaningful and personalized event experiences. Digital marketers have done similar things for the past 20+ years. Isn’t it finally time to bring events up to speed and unlock their full potential? We certainly think so.
What’s Next for Mobile & Virtual Events?
Data will transform the industry; it’s not a matter of if, but when. COVID-19 is often seen as a “great accelerator,” and nowhere is that truer than in the event industry. Virtual-only events have shown that digital experiences are at the very least, ‘good enough,’ and as the technology gets better and becomes more ubiquitous, data will continue to play an increasingly important role.
We’ve never been more bullish on the event industry, nor the role of mobile in its future, because it is the only way to capture engagement data at scale and in a way that unifies virtual and real-life experiences. What is still needed are ways to unlock the value of that data, not just as “moment-in-time,” general reports, but also as actionable intent signals that can be integrated with other systems to power marketing and personalization campaigns. Making marketing and experiential event use cases a reality will open up the opportunity for a more strategic and hopeful future for event technology, than we’ve seen in decades. The days of registration-focused event technology are numbered, and the future of events will be fueled by mobile data.