Yes, they inserted a lion into the photo.

Expo halls are a weird scientific study: Get a few hundred people in the same industry to talk about their industry and watch what ideas and products get sold to them. They are massive Rorshach tests, helping an industry see itself in its own mirror. This is how you can see where an industry is thinking it is and where it thinks it’s headed.

Event Marketing Summit 2013 was no exception for the event industry and I enjoyed soaking in every moment of the Expo Hall, to share those observations with you. Bear in mind that I will skip accounts of any vendor who talked about physical structure. There were plenty of people who could sell you tents in every shape and size, trucks that transformed into theaters and branded marquee floor panels, but since I couldn’t tell you the difference between a free-standing event space and a camping tent, it’s best if I let smarter heads comment.

But beyond that, the industry seems to be in a shift, moving from a period of time when any new, sexy, novel idea could gain traction to one person when everyone seemed to be asking the same question: What’s the real value?

Novelties

Not to say that there wasn’t a number of very… novel ideas floating around, many of which revolved around the tenuous intersection between the physical world and the world on the screen. For example, nSixty videoed you and inserted a lion into the image so that you could appear to be petting a lion. It’s a thing, I guess.

These ideas do little to move the discussion of technology and events forward. They are novelty for novelty’s sake. But if you look past these tricks at what’s left behind, you can see an industry that has begun to absorb all the technologcal changes of the past three years.

The Future Is Now

Photo and QR-centric connections

We live in a world where everyone has a smart phone and/or tablet and, most importantly, knows how to use them. They aren’t just playing Angry Birds and checking email, but really doing business on their devices. We need to assume that every attendee of every event – a trade show, B2B conference, or open event – has access to a camera, a video camera, a browser, social networks and audio recorder.

This shouldn’t be a surprise as this trend has been obviously growing, but we’ve reached a tipping point where social and mobile tech isn’t seen as an emerging idea, but as a reality. Event marketers must all learn to exist in this new reality.

So the conversation becomes: How do you keep the attention of the attendee when Twitter’s backchannel is more interesting?

RFID tracking and engagement

You could build an app that has its own self-contained social network that’s solely focused on the event conversation or that connects attendees to existing social networks so they can share their event experiences with their own networks. One of our partners, DoubleDutch, has a product that does just that. As we found in the Expo Hall, you could also build an app that uses native hardware to do tricks like take photos and share them to specific people (Picture Marketing).

We also loved this article from Ad Age on what to do when event attendees are distracted by social media.

Metrics and Measurement

Another conversation-starter overheard in the Expo Hall: How can I measure the value of all this tech, and maybe even the value of my event? Events are like Christmas trees where everyone wants to put their own ornaments on it – either in the shape of campaigns, ideas, speakers, sessions or technology. Every ornament has a cost, and people are asking if that new technology solution or speaker is really worth it. In such a mixed-use environment, it’s crucial to re-evaluate the return on such an investment. But how?

A way to collect and analyze event data would be through RFID. If each attendee has an RFID-enabled badge, you could track every booth and session they go to, helping you see what worked and what didn’t.

All analytics, all the time

A handful of companies are using metrics and measurement in their sales pitches, but one company (FISH) is focused on trying to tie all those metrics together to build a picture of how your event impacted attendees. I would expect to see more companies move into this space in the next year as more clients and agencies ask these difficult questions.

Who caught your eye in the Expo Hall at the Event Marketing Summit this year? What other trends did you observe?