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Mobile apps have revolutionized the event industry and have become a must-have for event professionals all over the world. Discover how mobile event and conference apps increase attendee engagement and provide real-time event performance insights.
Technology changes quickly and it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with the pace. The mobile world is no exception. In 2006 when Apple released the first iPhone, the world discovered the app, a new way to interact with a design created for the phone. Some apps are more content-oriented, some are more engagement or social media-oriented, while others will focus on lead retrieval.
Smartphones and tablets are in the hands of most professional event attendees these days. 37% of corporate & conference planners utilize a mobile event app for their meetings, so there is a growing expectation of mobile accessibility of information at almost every event they attend – from large conferences to intimate meetings.
There is a plethora of information available to anyone with an interest in learning about the benefits of event apps (for both organizers and attendees), on what to look for prior to purchase, and how to implement their use. This information is spread across many channels, but this guide compiles and streamlines that information so you can make an informed decision about the best app for your event.
This guide will walk you through all aspects of mobile event apps and how you can leverage best practices, practical knowledge, and tips and tricks for implementing mobile in your event strategy. It will show you how event apps bring added value not only for your attendees, but also for your sponsors, speakers, and finally for the organizer, to get more insight, increase the ROI of your event, and protect your precious marketing dollars.
"A mobile event app is a piece of software downloaded from an app store and installed on a mobile device such as a smartphone, tablet or smartwatch, used within the context of a physical event with the intention of providing up-to-date information, enabling interaction and increasing engagement for all stakeholders involved."
An event app in the early days was indeed a digital version of the event’s agenda. Today, it’s so much more. It’s an essential tool for anyone attending your event: attendees, sponsors, speakers, and exhibitors, plus your team members and sales representatives.
Mobile apps can include networking features, advertising, audience response, polling, and even tracking of learning objectives and continuing education credits. Event apps leverage the best features and functionality of mobile devices and combine those with unique touchpoints, interaction abilities, and data collection opportunities to enhance the value of even a small meeting for all of the participants.
Integration: You need to sync both ways with your ecosystem, likely your EMS (Event Management Software).
Engagement: This is not just social media: from voting to messaging, make sure your app features engagement tools.
Personalization: Agenda, content, meetings. an attendee can create THEIR own experience by customizing their day at the event.
Data & ROI: Market the event, leverage event data, and capture behavior behind the scenes to measure success.
By using an event app, organizers can keep track of the whereabouts of attendees. The app acts as a “sensing device,” and can show when an attendee arrives at an event, which sessions they attend, and much more. Event apps can also send alerts to sales representatives when specific customers arrive, thus providing them with an opportunity to better cater to customers and prospects.
An event app is somewhat like dropping a cookie on a website. The mobile app allows you to keep track of your audience before, during, and after the event, in order to capture relevant data and communicate in a personalized manner with each individual. The result is a whole new level of engagement that will dramatically increase the ROI and impact of your event.
A company spends on average 24% of its marketing budget on events, yet many marketers claim they have no idea how to measure the return from that marketing spend. During an online advertising campaign, metrics such as CPM, CPC, and CPAs are each carefully tracked. So why should an “offline” event be any different? Using an event app is an invaluable tool to know how to calculate the exact ROI of your event so that you can use that data to benchmark future events and improve ROI with each instance.
Having an app in the hand of each attendee at your event provides a window into tracking behaviors, interactions, and how they consume the information you, your speakers, and sponsors provide in support of the event. It simply provides a unique data capture tool, unmatched even in the digital realm.
At this point, attendees simply expect an event mobile app to be available - and, a full-featured one too! They want to connect with peers, provide their opinions, and download handouts to connect with speakers throughout the event. The average event attendee owns 1.57 devices, so they’ll expect the app to work across all of them, on their desktop beforehand, and to update regularly and seamlessly. Your event app is your event legacy.
Stop printing event schedules, leaflets, and other collateral. That info goes into your event app. What’s more, you can update the content at any point in time. Have a last-minute change to the floor plan? Not a problem. Changing the room for a workshop? Easily make the changes within the app and your attendees will have up-to-date information at all times. You can even send push notifications to notify people of a change in their personal program, weather condition updates, and transportation announcements. It may seem like a small thing to save on paper but it’s not just a financial benefit, sustainability is an ongoing agenda item for 70% of companies.
It goes without saying that an event app is a unique communication channel between you the organizer, your partners (sponsors), and your attendees. Keep your audience alert and engaged with live polling, well-timed push notifications to announce important sessions, and surveys to capture valuable feedback.
An event app is a perfect tool to capture lead data when it matters most: during your event when your prospects, customers, and partners are fully focused on your products and services.
Read further to find out exactly how you can capture user interests and other valuable data and feed it directly into your CRM or marketing automation platform of choice.
Your event app is of course a mobile guide to your event, before, especially during, and even after the event. Basic event information includes venue information, the overall agenda of the event, speaker bios, an attendee list, etc. See a detailed checklist with content and features required for an event app later on in this guide.
Tradeshows and larger conferences will typically add a floor plan to the app, ideally, one that is able to zoom in and be navigated by users. This means it provides an overview of the venue layout, and the ability to find individual exhibitors, points of interest (info booth, toilets, bar, workshop rooms), and meeting points. An advanced app will also allow users to get a route from point A to B.
After the event, the app is an ideal tool to reach out again for follow-up. Provide speaker slides for download in the app, share pictures from the event, and send push notifications to announce the next edition. That’s important from a marketing point of view. An app is so different from a mobile website because an app stays on the device of the user, it’s a permanent communication channel and it extends the impact and lifetime of your event.
A smartphone is considered a personal device, and your app should act accordingly. A good event app is a personalized event app. For example, think of a personal schedule for each attendee.
The attendee’s initial selection of sessions can be pulled automatically from your registration system, placed in the mobile event app, and can then be utilized by the participants to further personalize and customize their schedule, based on the agenda function in the app. Attendees will tap the “add to my schedule” button to select the sessions, breakouts, individual meetings, social events, and workshops they will attend.
The app then becomes the “schedule of record,” notifying the user of upcoming sessions and will make sure no double bookings occur for parallel tracks. More advanced scenarios include the possibility to limit the availability of sessions to the user role or to session signup in the app, based on room capacity or participant role.
Another good example of personalization is sending out push notifications to groups of attendees. Push notifications are of great value, but if you spam your attendees, they will turn off the notifications and you will lose your instant communication channel. Therefore, it’s important to strategize the scope of each message and timing to those involved. Is the VIP dinner bus ready to leave? Push a reminder to your VIP attendees only. Want to send a reminder for the 6 am fitness walk? Make sure that goes out at a reasonable time the evening before!
An event app is a great way of keeping your audience engaged. They have the opportunity to connect – the reason they come to an event in the first place – and to lend their insight, skills, and experience to the event at large.
The event app is also a unique audience response tool to offer live Q&A: attendees can ask questions to speakers at the end of a session or during a debate. Gathering questions through the app is a democratic approach and alleviates the social pressure of asking a question in front of a full audience. This works especially well with an international audience where English is not the native language for every attendee. You could have the questions translated to English before handing them over to the moderator or speaker.
Keep the conversation going with in-app strategies:
Many event organizers struggle to demonstrate ROI from previous events to potential sponsors. However, ROI is a vital value driver. In an industry survey, 71% of exhibitors and sponsors noted the importance of improving key performance indicator metrics – this can only be accomplished through data. An event app opens up new measurable sponsorship opportunities that you can drive increased revenue with.
88% of sponsors attend events to increase awareness. Your app provides various ways of exposing your sponsors. You can sell banner ads inside the app, typically displayed at the bottom of the app’s home screen. Ads can link to a mobile website of the sponsor.
Provide premium listings and feature opportunities inside the app in a variety of places. Have an exhibitor list? Why not add the ability for gold sponsors to be listed on top?
Have a sponsored dinner, gala, or awards ceremony? Ask participants to ‘check in’ at the event or to scan a code on entry so the sponsor of the event knows how many attendees interacted with their brand.
Sponsored push notifications are another great promotional tool. For example, you can send a push notification to promote a sponsored workshop or booth.
Through your app analytics, you will be able to show sponsors the value of their investment from the extra visibility they received (e.g. number of views compared to non-premium listed sponsors).
Your event app can include a full-fledged lead retrieval module, which is only made available to select sponsors. The lead retrieval module allows exhibitors to use their own smartphone or tablet to scan a barcode or QR code on the badge of booth visitors. At the end of the show, they can download a list of all the leads they captured. Make sure to enable a lead form so that exhibitors can input extra information when they scan a badge for efficient follow-up after the event.
You can also enable advanced scenarios where the lead capture form is customized for each exhibitor. Company X wants to capture product interest, while Company Y wants to capture some extra personal info. It goes without saying that you can charge your sponsors extra for these types of services, after all, 72% of exhibitors and sponsors attend events to increase leads.
There’s nothing more frustrating for an exhibitor than an empty booth.
Event apps to the rescue – once again! You can organize a scavenger hunt in your app, with a bit of gamification built-in by having attendees scan QR codes on each booth, and perhaps answer a few questions in a short quiz. It’s a good replacement to old analog games involving stickers or dots, and an ideal way to incite conversations and keep exhibitors interacting with attendees.
Trigger location-based content and measure foot traffic
You’ve probably heard about iBeacons. They are part of the “Internet Of Things” (IoT) movement, and an attempt to bridge the gap between the digital and the physical world (the brick & mortar world as we call it). An iBeacon is a small device that sends out a Bluetooth signal. The signal is picked up by smartphones and tablets and allows your app to trigger an action based on the location of the user. iBeacons are affordable, with an average of between 20 and 30 USD per iBeacon, batteries included.
You can place iBeacons at strategic locations across your event, for example on the booth of a sponsor. The iBeacon allows the app to trigger an automated message (that can be personalized) when a user is in range of that booth. Something like, “Annie, visit the booth of Company X and view the free demo to be entered to win an iPad.”
In addition to location-based messaging, you can also use iBeacons to silently measure foot traffic at your event. Wouldn’t you love to provide valuable data to your sponsors after the event including statistics on booth traffic throughout the show, and a detailed list of booth visitors?
Please note that iBeacons are not 100% accurate as the signal radius is always approximate. Also, not every smartphone supports iBeacons and Bluetooth can be switched off by the user. As with any marketing channel, you will not reach everyone, it’s simply one of many ways of reaching a subset of your delegates in a context-aware manner.
We looked at bringing value to attendees and sponsors, and finally, this section is about creating valuable insights into the overall event performance for you, the organizer. 60% of top-performing companies engage attendees before, during, and after the event with two-way communication and engagement tactics. These tactics create a variety of opportunities to gather valuable data.
An event app is above all a “sensing device”, to get real-time data from the event floor. The session and speaker rating features are the perfect way to get immediate feedback from your delegates on content.
Reporting should be available at any time to view which sessions and speakers are performing, and which session topics need improvement. You’ll want to get out in front of any potential issues and to prepare great speakers for what might be overwhelming follow-up from participants.
Some corporations have developed an internal quality system based on NPS scoring (Net Promoter Score) or, “the ultimate question.” Understanding how a brand is performing – even at a live event – is important to business stakeholders. If this is the case with your company, make sure the Excel export of your session rating and event rating results allows you to easily calculate the NPS per session and for the overall event. The instant availability of the NPS score can have a substantial impact on the overall organization.
Your app is the perfect place to conduct one or more surveys. Surveys should be sufficiently short and easy to complete, preferably by using multiple-choice questions and not too many open questions.
An intelligent event app platform will allow you to send out reminders after the event to people that did not yet fill out the survey. Completion ratios will drastically improve with the transition from paper surveys to in-app surveys.
Event ROI is very important, but how do you know what to track and report on when you’re starting out with mobile event apps? The ROI of an event can be established as an aggregation of all the data captured via the app. Use the data points illustrated below as a starting point to understand how your event is performing:
Feedback from Attendees
Each of these parameters can be weighed for importance, or you can get a summary in the dashboard report. The result is a quantified measurement of your event performance, which can be used to benchmark your event against previous ones and to make your event ROI tangible.
Marketers spend a lot of time ensuring that leads are being captured and stored in a CRM or marketing automation database. This data often includes the lead’s interest in certain products or services, readiness to buy, etc. This type of data is likely already being captured through the company’s website, email campaigns, and other digital channels. However, events can be something of a “black hole” when it comes to capturing lead data. This is unfortunate considering approximately 24% of marketing budgets are spent on events. The day of your event, when attendees are 100% focused on the topics you’ve defined, is the ideal time to be capturing lead data.
Think of your event app as a virtual sales representative; in the pocket of your attendees, available throughout the day to interact on your brand, products, and topics as you have defined them. The app is a way for your audience to express their interests in two ways:
Direct - pushing surveys via push notifications, asking questions, involving attendees in discussions, and getting instant replies through the app.
Indirect - bookmarking content they like or adding a workshop to their personal agenda in the app are valuable pieces of lead data.
All that valuable lead data (indirect + direct) is captured by your intelligent event app and stored centrally and securely in the cloud. The data is then sent to your own CRM or marketing automation platform of choice. The result is a real-time data profile of each attendee, centrally available for follow-up by your sales team, allowing you to further personalize your communication towards each individual.
Event apps as mobile sensing devices to capture “offline” lead data
The next big thing in marketing automation is going to be “omnichannel”. Marketing automation today is a pure online play. All online or digital communication channels are combined to create a unified view of your leads, including your website, social media, and email. But what about the real world?
Let’s take the example of Annie, she’s looking for interesting investment opportunities for her savings, and you are the bank. When she visits your website and clicks on your investment products, you will store that information in your marketing automation platform to personalize what she will see next on your website’s homepage or email newsletter. When Annie closes her laptop and steps back into the real world, your digital communication opportunities become void.
Two weeks later, Annie visits one of your roadshow events to learn more about your investment products. Annie downloaded the event app right after registering for the event. She used the app to select the workshops she wanted to attend, save notes on speaker slides, and ask a question during sessions. All that data was added instantly to Annie’s profile in your marketing automation platform, making the profile dramatically more rich and up-to-date. Annie became a loyal customer shortly after.
We know that your top priorities when hosting a virtual event are keeping your attendees engaged, ensuring that sponsors get the greatest ROI from their event investment, driving leads, and successfully translating content from a physical to a virtual environment.
Engagement is key when it comes to hosting a successful virtual event, and while many top virtual providers include several features to keep attendees focused and feeling included, your mobile event app can only enhance that experience. Some of the features you can utilize during your virtual event include:
Help keep attendees up to date. For example, organizers can send out important reminders such as when their virtual event starts back up after a break or to take a survey post-session or post-event.
Can facilitate networking opportunities even during virtual events. Promote these features throughout your program and attendees will be able to find others with similar goals easily.
Done via your mobile event app can help your presenters bring their presentations to life and make-at-home attendees feel more included in the conversation. Finally, in-app surveys are an easy and convenient way for event organizers to get feedback about their individual sessions, as well as the event overall. Attendees will be more likely to complete these surveys as it's right in the devices they use every day.
Opting for a virtual event doesn’t have to mean decreased engagement, sponsorships, or leads. A mobile event app can help you optimize your virtual event experience with robust mobile app features that mimic the onsite experience. Using these features, event organizers can rest assured that their attendees will get the full event experience from the comfort of their own homes.
The following is a checklist of features to consider for your next event app purchase. These features typically depend on the event type, event goals, and the event audience and participants.
The base of a great event app is offering the right information to your delegates. Features like general info, an exhibitor catalog, session agenda or speaker bios are indispensable features.
A great event app provides the user with the right information at the right time. This info shouldn’t just be static. The app has to interpret data so the user can navigate to a certain address, save specific attendee info or add an important session to their calendar.
Discover all the essential features an event app should have:
An event app should not just be a digital copy of your event guide, it should offer ways for an attendee to personalize the event experience. The app is also the best possible way to keep the user informed through push notifications or an event feed. Event apps can allow attendees to compile their own schedule based on the events’ session agenda or allow organizers to alert participants via push notifications of important things happening at the event.
Organizations that have used a mobile event app for their events claim to achieve a 33% increase in attendee engagement because a great event app offers ways for the attendee to engage with other people at the event. For example, live voting allows the audience to join in on discussions and make sessions more interactive. Attendees could even ask questions to the speaker within the app; these questions can then appear on a screen in the session room (after moderation).
Your app isn’t just a great tool for your delegates, it is a great opportunity for your sponsors. You could also use the app as another channel to offer more visibility to your event partners through in-app banner ads, sponsored push notifications and lead capturing.
Once you have an overall idea of what you’re looking for in an event app, it’s beneficial to have an understanding of how these apps work. Different app developers have their own jargon and processes which can all affect the development of your event app.
When an app is described as being “native”, this means that it’s a mobile app that can be published in the app store. A native app is a piece of software specifically built for either the Apple iOS family or the Android family. Most vendors do not offer a “native” app for Windows Phones because the market share is a lot smaller compared to Apple and Android devices. Instead, Windows Phone users (and Blackberry users) typically use a web app. The web app typically has a bit less functionality: no push notifications, no camera support (to scan QR codes), and no iBeacon support.
Your app must be published to the app stores because that’s the easiest way for people to install it on their own phone or tablet. If you publish an update of your app, the update will automatically be installed. Note that an app update is only necessary if you want to introduce substantial new functionality. Updating content on your app and even enabling new standard features should not require an app update. Check with your vendor to make sure.
One important thing to know is that Apple tests every new app which is submitted for publication. This approval process takes about 7 to 10 days, so it is important to submit well in advance. Additionally, an app will be declined if it does not adhere 100% to the quality standards of Apple. For example, missing content resulting in an empty screen or missing technical information could be a reason for Apple to decline your app. Once fixes have been made, it will likely take another few days to get approval.
When you submit an app to the Google Play Store, it will be published within a few hours.
As always, good planning is crucial. Below is a simplified example of a typical timeline with milestones for your event app. Based on the urgency, timelines can be greatly reduced, but the Apple approval cycle will always have to be taken into account. It is recommended to aim for the app to be live when event registration opens up (often referred to as “D-day”) because it allows you to promote the app together with the registration confirmations that you send out.
Event app adoption is vital in order to get any value from your app. Make sure to promote the app to all participants and emphasize the benefits. Vendors usually provide templates that can be used for promotional communications. Here are a few possibilities to promote your app:
Depending on the type of events you organize, here are a few tips and tricks that may come in handy.
Event apps have become so strategic at certain conferences, that it is vital for each attendee to have a smartphone or tablet available to access participation scenarios. For example, academic and life science conferences will rely heavily on the event app to distribute papers, gather feedback and track delegate activity for accreditation purposes. If this is the case, you can hand out iPads (rented for the duration of the conference) to all your delegates or to delegates without their own device. The app is typically pre-installed on the iPad with the iPad configured to be in “kiosk mode”. This means the iPad can only be used exclusively to access the event app.
Do you organize multiple events per year? Consider one multi-event app in the app store, instead of separate apps for each event. A multi-event app typically opens with a list of upcoming events. The user selects one event and is then provided with the content and features of that one event. You can also make certain events visible to a select group of participants.
The use of a multi-event app allows organizers to create one branded app that can be used for multiple events. By providing valuable and engaging content through this app year-round, you can build upon the attendees’ past attendance and build anticipation for future events.
Managing events often require an Event Management System (EMS): a hub that centralizes your event need including a website, email, marketing, registration, budgets, project, meeting management, travel, housing, etc. This is the core of your event and by integrating your event app with your EMS, you’re creating a loop wherein you can manage incoming and outgoing event data in real time. Integration in this case means that the app is able to sync key data elements from your EMS: registrant list, profiles, exhibitor list, agenda, sessions, everything will flow automatically to your app.
Also, your app should sync data back to your EMS, e.g. attendee activity within the app. Ultimately, this data will provide you with great event insights and help you to determine event success and ROI.
Make sure these items are part of the integration and that the integration is bidirectional. This will make your life easier, provide your attendees and sponsors with a greater benefit and you’ll get unprecedented insights about your event while keeping everything under control.
Great or Gadget?
The internet, the mobile phone, and now wearable connected devices. The Apple Watch, like many other wearable devices, is just the beginning. This is clearly the next big thing. The sensor industry is the fastest-growing tech segment and includes temperature, movement, position, and more. The connected world is exponentially growing by fragmenting the tracking of our day-to-day behaviors into each component in our life. Let’s look at the pros and cons to have the Apple (or Android) Watch with event-related functionality.
Limitations Note: by definition, the size of the screen is a clear limit. Many people made fun of Apple because they advertised the ability to draw on the watch. If an Apple Watch is prevalent in your participant pool, you need to focus on functionality that makes sense in the context of the watch. The pros and cons below will help you determine if your event can leverage watch features.
Smartwatch adoption is still very low. Some industries or audiences are more likely than others to wear these devices including medical events, tech events with early adopters, or sporting events where runners are well equipped. Thinking through your mobile strategy to include smartwatches can help position your event as a market leader in technology consumption, and educate your audience on new ways of sharing the event experience. YOU make the call.
Can I still use an event app?
A native event app typically works offline, but it needs internet on a regular basis to update its content. Hotels and venues have received the message that if they are not able to provide good connectivity, they lose business. Organizers are now very educated about the situation: forecasting the bandwidth and the number of simultaneous connections, given that their audience is likely to bring 1.57 devices. Given the engagement or type of media you are likely to deal with, your bandwidth becomes key. Now, there are still some, let’s call them exotic, locations where this doesn’t apply, and a couple of 4G relays won’t do the trick. Thankfully, there are solutions to allow your app to work offline:
Event apps are a vital element in any overall marketing strategy that includes events. They bring value to an event for organizers, sponsors, and participants alike.
The primary goal of any event app is to better serve your attendees by delivering up-to-date information, enabling unique interactions, and stimulating attendee engagement.
Next, an event app brings unique opportunities to provide extra visibility for event sponsors and includes monetization features such as lead capturing for exhibitors.
Most importantly, an event app is also a “sensing device”, capable of capturing valuable data before, during, and after the event. This data allows event organizers to monitor the health of the event in real-time, get feedback from attendees and measure overall attendee satisfaction. By aggregating and weighing all this data, event organizers can make their event ROI tangible and use it to benchmark their events against preset goals.
Furthermore, the event app can provide valuable data which is synchronized to a CRM or marketing automation database, helping organizations to learn more about their prospects and customers based on activity during the event.
The biggest challenge for organizers is to create an event that is memorable and engaging. A mobile event app is not just a flashy feature, it’s a powerful collaborative environment that has the potential to unlock interest and innovation in attendees.
With the inclusion of data acquisition, lead generation, wayfinding capabilities, and much more, an event app is a tool that has become a necessity for events. Keep the considerations outlined in this guide top of mind, to help you make strategic decisions on integration and what type of devices you’ll tailor your event app for.