In the ever-changing, tech-filled world of meetings and events, the attendee badge has been a constant, consistent presence in the industry. In fact when most people picture the classic attendee badge, three things probably come to mind: a lanyard, paper and a plastic badge holder.
Although still simple in design, the attendee badge IS evolving. Different materials, sizes, styles and even updated printing processes have allowed badges do more than just display attendee information. Today's technology can turn a standard badge into a place to collect leads for exhibitors, manage session check-in for event staff, and act as a digital wallet or networking tool for attendees.
With all that in mind, you may find different badging options overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. If you keep your event planning goals in mind, whether it's to enhance networking experiences or increase lead capture for sponsors, you can find the right badging solution for you.
Here's your five-step process to selecting the perfect badges for your next meeting or event!
1. Research Current Badge Technology
Before you invest in any sort of badging solution, the first step to learn about what technology is going into badges today to make them more interactive. Here's a rundown of some of the most common badging technology options and what capabilities they have:
Adding a barcode to an attendee badge is the most simple way to track attendees as it can be scanned by a mobile app or separate scanning device. However, the code only carries an attendee ID number that can later be matched to an attendee. This does mean more work is required later to get all the important attendee info, but a barcode is good for simple events where you just want to track attendance.
QR Codes work similarly to barcodes as they are also scanned by another device, but they can include a lot more attendee information, such as name, title, location, contact info, or even social media handles, which is perfect for lead retrieval for your exhibitors.
Near-field communication (NFC) and radio frequency identification (RFID) are very similar technologies, but have their differences. According to RFID Insider, "RFID is the process by which items are uniquely identified using radio waves, and NFC is a specialized subset within the family of RFID technology...NFC is designed to be a secure form of data exchange, and an NFC device is capable of being both an NFC reader and an NFC tag."
Basically, instead of scanning a code, RFID or NFC allows data to be exchanged just by holding a badge close to another device. This can help not only save time and streamline processes like check-in, session tracking (both active and passive) and lead retrieval, but it can power other exciting badge features, like digital wallets, swag distribution, and more. Overall, these badges can hold 30x more information than QR code badges, allowing everyone at the event to gather more information on each attendee.
2. Select Your Badge Type
Your badge material and size can make a big difference in what capabilities and features you can offer your attendees and exhibitors. Here are of some of the most common types, plus their benefits:
Paper badges are the most classic, but that doesn't mean they are a bad choice for certain events. First and foremost, they're likely the most affordable option, and with different sizes and designs to choose from, you can still make your paper badges stand out and make a good impression. Paper badges can also be enhanced with heavier, more durable paper options, printed bar or QR codes and NFC stickers.
Overall, paper badges are a great choice for low-key, shorter events.
Plastic or Vinyl
Using plastic or vinyl badges might cost more, but they can certainly be worth the investment. On top of being extra durable for multi-day events, these materials can have NFC or RFID technology built directly into the badges, which creates a sleeker more high-tech option.
NFC wristbands have all of the same capabilities as NFC badges, just in a different format. Wristbands are perfect for large festivals or events where an attendee wouldn’t want something hanging around their neck.
3. Design Your Badge
When working with paper or plastic badges, design is especially important no matter the size of the badge. Not only do you want your design to look attractive and tie into your event branding, but you want it to be clear and concise for your all attendees and exhibitors to read and interact with. Here are the top elements you should consider including on your attendee badge and how:
- Attendee Info: This is your standard name, title, company and/or location. It may depend on your event, but mostly likely name and title will want to be the focus of your badge and should be in the largest font that is also simple, clear and readable from a few feet away.
- QR or Barcode: Below the basic information is the perfect place for any scannable features such as a QR or barcode. Just make sure it prints large and clear enough to be scanned correctly. Make sure you make time to test this badge feature ahead of time with your scanning devices to ensure a smooth experiencefor your attendees, sponsors and staff.
- Attendee Status: Both for security and logistical reasons, it's usually a good idea to also include whether a person is a general attendee, speaker, VIP, exhibitor, staff, etc. This can be an added line of text, a graphic or a ribbon added to the bottom of the badge.
- Picture: This is optional depending on the type of the event, but if security is an important factor, including a photo of your attendees on their badges may be something to consider.
- Sponsorship: Attendee badges are also a great place to monetize your event. Whether it's including a logo on the badge itself or the lanyard, sponsoring your badges can help offset any costs.
- Your Logo & Branding: Finally, don't forget your event's own logo, branding and colors! After all, your badges are also a place to market and promote your event while onsite (especially if your event is taking place in a busy convention center or popular city). Bright pops of your brand colors can help make it stand out. Include your logo, event website and even your Twitter handle or event hashtag. The key is to incorporate these details in a way that doesn't distract from the most important information.
Overall, attendee badge design features will be different for every event. It's key to think about what's most important to you and your attendees and to make sure these features flow nicely in an aesthetically pleasing way. Take note of current graphic design trends and incorporate them as well to make a good first impression.
4. Consider Extra Features
Badges with interactive capabilities, whether it's via NFC or scanning a QR or barcode, are most commonly used for lead retrieval. But these technologies can do so much more at events that can equally benefit attendees and planners alike. Here's what else badges can do:
Access control provides a quick and easy way for event planners to restrict attendee access into certain areas and even at certain times by encoding the rights to those areas onto the badge before the show. This can be beneficial for three primary reasons: safety and security (i.e. protecting the main staff room throughout the day or the exhibit hall after hours), event set up & timing (i.e. allowing staff into the exhibit hall before and after hours, but not attendees), and special areas for attendees (i.e. VIP and special events).
Badges can also be used for session tracking at events, in lieu of paper sign-in sheets. With a QR or bardcode, attendee badges can be manually scanned at session room entryways, or attendees can simply tap their badges to a pod using NFC. This not only makes it an easy and quick experience for attendees, but by tracking session attendance, planners can get an idea of what parts of their program are working and what’s a dud. This can help them get a better idea of what content attendees want, and therefore, can help tailor future event programs to their exact interests. Having this information can also help attract speakers who will be reassured they’re speaking to the right audience.
From laptop bags and purses, to conference totes and paperwork, attendees usually carry around a lot of stuff at conference or event. While badges can't replace all of that, they can be used to make an event cashless, thus eliminating the need for attendees to bring or fumble for their wallets. The primary way to go cashless is with an NFC enabled badge. Before the show, attendees are given the ability to load money, or tokens, onto the badge. The badge can then be tapped at any booth or stand with an NFC hotspot. The hotspot will consume however many dollars or tokens the item costs and those credits will be deducted from the attendees account. The whole process occurs in a matter of seconds. No wallet, cash or fumbling necessary.
5. Make the Switch to On-Demand Badge Printing
Now that you've built the perfect attendee badge for your event, you may think you're done, but there's still an important element to consider and that's your badge printing process.
Planners usually fall into two camps when it comes to badge printing: pre-printing and on-demand. In recently years, more and more events are printing their badges on-demand and for good reason!
Why Pre-Printing Badges is Problematic
It's logical why planners have pre-printed their badges for so long. After all, they were likely thinking if they print badges ahead of time, they can cross that task off their lists and it'll be one less thing to worry about while onsite. However, pre-printing is flawed for several reasons:
- It's Tedious and Time Consuming: Not only is tasking someone to print hundreds or even thousands of badges and organize them all in one shot not a smart use of their time, but valuable seconds or even minutes can be wasted with an attendee if a staff member is flipping through names to find the right one.
- There's Room for Error: Whether an attendee made a typo when filling out their registration form, or their name or title has recently changed, pre-printed badges are too often incorrect or out of date. This leaves the attendee with a badge with inaccurate information, one that looks unprofessional with it hand written or edited, or with them waiting as a staff member hastily prints another one.
- It's Unsustainable: The above example also makes pre-printed badges unsustainable as having to re-print or handwrite another badge means there's wasted paper or materials. Not to mention, there's almost always no-shows or last-minute cancellations at events as well, which leaves planners with a handful or even dozens of unused badges (and money) gone to waste.
- It Leaves a Bad Impression: Overall, whether it's wasted time, an incorrect or unprofessional badge or noticeable waste, pre-printing badge practices can leave attendees with a bad impression for the rest of the event.
Why On-Demand Badge Printing is Here to Stay
- It's Faster & Cheaper: With today's on-demand printing technology, it takes only seconds from check-in to printed badge. Plus planners get back the hours they would have wasting printing and organizing badges ahead of time to focus on more important matters. That plus the shipping costs, going on-demand can also save your event money.
- It's Flexible & Sustainable: Before printing a badge on-demand, attendees can review and edit their information, which means those with any changes receive the same quality badge as other visitors (no more handwritten or misspelled event badges!). This also reduces the use of the extra paper or card stock and can eliminate printing unused badges, making it better for your event's carbon footprint.
- It's Professional: Because it's faster and more efficient, on-demand badge printing overall makes for a better and more seamless attendee experience, ensuring they start your event on the right foot.
- It's Less Stressful: Planners already have enough on their plate and, simply put, on-demand badge printing allows them to have one less headache in the days and weeks leading up to an event.
In conclusion, the attendee badge is an area of your event that you shouldn't overlook or settle on. The world of badges for meetings and events has changed in recent years and is expected to continue to evolve. Since picking up their badge is usually one of the first steps of an attendee's journey, it's a great place to invest in to make the experience a little more special than just a piece of paper and lanyard. Overall, it's an opportunity to make a positive first and lasting impression, while enhancing your entire event experience from beginning to end.