With the growing adoption of mobile apps to support attendees at meetings and events, there will also be new opportunities for sponsors and exhibitors. Mobile sponsorships can offer excellent value for advertisers and exhibitors, but how does a potential sponsor really know what’s a good bet in such a new medium? Sponsors need to understand how to tap into the mobile devices that are in so many attendee pockets without disrupting their sense of privacy or detracting from the event experience. That means taking a close look at the sponsorship opportunities an event or meeting planner may propose and seeing if they are right for you.
Before you sign on the dotted line, here’s what we think every meeting and event sponsor should be asking about when they are considering a mobile app sponsorship:
10. Why aren’t you offering me mobile sponsorship opportunities?
Of the thousands of events, conferences, trade shows and meetings produced last year in the United States where sponsors paid for booths, ads in a paper or pdf directory, their name on a lanyard, the right to sponsor a sign or kiosk or email station, the right to host a party or attend a VIP luncheon or even name a sandwich, only a hundred or so offered an event or meeting app with serious sponsorship opportunities.
Potential or even just curious event sponsors ought to be thinking about mobile apps—even if the event or meeting planner isn’t. And maybe you don’t have to wait for the event planner (see question #6) to take advantage of mobile opportunities at events where your company has traditionally been—or wants to be—a serious presence. You can take the lead.
Mobile is simply the best way to ensure that your best prospects are aware of your company and your products and is the surest path to share of mind. A mobile sponsorship at a trade show is contextual. You are reaching people at a time when they are interested in learning about new products and services and at a place where they are expecting to learn about them—and with mobile you are reaching them as individuals (whom you can count, no less). People at a trade show or conference are in often buying mode as well.
What makes the mobile medium different is that is more personal and more effective than other advertising media. Research repeatedly shows that the mobile medium is surprisingly effective and delivers much better ROI than many other advertising channels. (Read this: “Mobile Ad Campaign 5X More Effective Than Online…” and this, “Mobile is most effective advertising medium to drive transactions…”)
9. What phones are you building for?
It isn’t enough at most US events to develop for iPhone only (two versions or one?). iPads are also increasingly popular choices at meetings and building for the iPhone is not the same as building for the iPad. You also need to think about the fastest growing platform—Android (three versions?). And given that, according to comScore, more than 35 percent of smartphones users use a BlackBerry and that BlackBerry (many versions) is still the choice for anyone needing better than average security, you may want to ensure that there are native BlackBerry options as well.
Sponsoring an iPhone-only app is probably not a worth much if it only ever reaches 10 percent of the attendee audience. It doesn’t cost a lot more to add other platforms, so why isn’t your event planner doing it? A one-platform approach doesn’t suggest that the meeting or event planner really has a mobile strategy.
Before you sponsor an app, take a look at this data from comScore. Ask the meeting and event planner to explain how, if they aren’t building a mobile program with this graphic in mind, their audience is different and how they know.
8. Will your apps be mobile-Web or native?
Apps that use a mobile-web only approach depend on consistent, venue-wide high-speed Internet access, no matter how many people are logging in looking for the same, or they simply don’t work. Even when they do work, they typically offer a slower, clunkier, and, in our opinion (though we encourage side-by-side comparison while walking around a venue so you can decide for yourself), significantly more irritating user experience than sexier native apps.
A purely native app, on the other hand, will work with or without Internet or cellular access and typically deliver superior performance. Better performance means that users will, in fact, use them—even a hybrid app will perform better than a mobile-web only app.
Usability expert Jakob Nielson is unequivocal: “In our iPhone usability studies, users strongly prefer using apps to going on the Web. It’s simply too painful to use most websites on the small screen. (Mobile-optimized sites alleviate this issue, but even they usually have worse usability than apps.)”
So mobile-web or native? Which do you think offers the better value for the sponsor?
7. How good will your apps be?
Mobile is different—high risk and high reward. If you app doesn’t deliver, users can be very unforgiving. Contrary to the name, an app is not about software applications. Apps are about the user’s experience and expectations. Users don’t care what software is involved—some don’t even think of an app as software. They just want apps to do what’s expected of them. They want a consistent, reliable, hassle-free experience (for more on this particular aspect of smartphone apps, please this previous entry in our series.)
When it comes to meeting and events, not all apps are designed to serve the attendee’s needs first. People won’t use a “crapp.” And worse, they’ll quickly associate a “crapp” with the brands that brought it to them. Look at the reviews of some branded apps in the iTunes apps store to see what we mean. A frustrating user experience is bad for event planners and really bad for sponsors. It’s not trivial—read this.
How do you know if an app is good? The number of repeat users and the frequency of use are two good indicators. Even better, test drive some apps for yourself. Don’t just click through the screens. Try to do things you’d do at a large meeting. Here are some typical scenarios that will lest you get a feel for the app’s quality: Locate a restroom. Get the email address for an exhibitor. Find out where and when the session on industry trends is located. See what people are tweeting.
6. Why do I need you?
The cost to an event planner of developing a first-rate comprehensive native mobile app program can be less than the cost of a booth at a major event. Add in the fact that a good app program can earn much more than it costs, and we think there’s no reason for any sponsor to settle for a half-hearted, not-so-user pleasing mobile-web or otherwise very limited mobile offering.
One large event recently charged $25,000 for the formerly white space on the back of an attendee badge. What’s the best use of your dollar?
Smart sponsors won’t wait for meeting and event planners to put mobile on the menu. Sponsors are already approaching planners with mobile ideas. Theoretically any sponsor could build its own event apps and make them available to event attendees as a free download if the event or meeting planner wasn’t interested in taking up the charge. And why not? A good mobile program could provide far greater ROI than an equal amount in traditional advertising dollars.
5. What will my ads look like in your apps—and will they piss off your attendees?
Most meeting and event planners will offer one or more of the following mobile opportunities. Here’s how we suggest getting the most from them.
1. Branding opportunities on the start screen. Every time someone launches an event app, they see your branding if you sponsor a start screen. At some events, people launch their apps 10-20+ times a day. That’s a lot of views. And if the app is really good, if it becomes something that the user can rely on, if it’s as pleasing as the smartphone it sits on, you’ll enjoy the benefit of being associated superior customer attention in a medium that’s also a little cooler, a little smarter, and a little greener than usual. When it comes to smartphones, the halo effect is surprisingly powerful (see our previous entry on this subject.) People like companies that care about their customers and care enough to provide them a free and indispensable tool that enhances their experience at a meeting or event.
Right now, depending on the app and the event, buying the start screen of a really good app might be more far valuable than buying a premium sponsorship for a whole event yet cost only a fraction of a traditional sponsorship. A very good deal, indeed!
2. In-app banner ads (those little strips on the top or the bottom of the screen with your name or logo). Banners are easy and can be programmed for specific pages or may pop up randomly. It’s worth thinking about their frequency and their message and how you want them to work for you because they can be very effective.
App banners may or may not have links. If the links take the user out of the app to the sponsor website, you might be asked to pay more. Don’t. In fact, we’d say don’t ever run a mobile banner add with a link that takes the user outside the app unless your goal is to annoy people at a time and place they are most likely to want to learn about your products. If there was ever a case of bad timing, this is it. Linking out may be a fine technique for some other app, like an app with tips about laundry, but it is not right at a busy trade show.
At an event, people launch an app for a reason—they need a piece of information quickly, a name, a time, a location. If they click on your banner (not hard to do on those small screens) you become the annoying sponsor that diverts them from their task. With a mobile-web app, clicking a link out can be so irritating to users, it can quickly become delete-inducing. Poof, the app is gone—and so is your sponsorship. Apps with a high proportion of link-outs are, by some accounts, the very definition of “crapp.” User irritation grows exponentially when you then provide a link to a website that is not mobile-friendly, especially when there is a trade show to enjoy with real people and real products to experience.
You already know how annoying things like this can be on a computer screen. It’s one reason pop-up blockers were invented. Mobile is a new medium with new rules. One of those rules is that annoying people on the small screen is no small thing.
A much smarter use of your sponsor dollar might be to buy up all the in-app banner ad inventory. In-app ads are extremely inexpensive compared to most other sponsorship opportunities available to you. Go hard for awareness. Highlight products or ideas or sessions. Take advantage of the fact that you’re at a short-lived live event. Think more about driving people to your booth or your people, rather than to your website.
3. Enhanced exhibitor listings. Some apps allow for a tiered presence of exhibitors through directory listings, some sort of booth highlighting on a trade show floor map, and premium individual exhibitor pages with special features. Curated, culled, or preferred listings are extremely popular with trade show attendees. Why? Because scrolling and search are a little complicated on smartphone. Any pre-selected list becomes very useful and much appreciated. If you are an exhibitor and you can buy a preferred listing for a hundred bucks or so, go for it, especially if your name starts with anything other than an “A,” and you are at a large show. No brainer.
Premium exhibitor pages may include branding or various ways to connect with exhibitors (social, email, sms, weblink, etc). Some of these features make sense (in-app email, e.g.). Some don’t (text messaging) especially if they end up costing the user, or annoying the user, or fail to meet user expectations (i.e., a link to unfriendly-to-mobile web page). If you don’t like your options, push the event planner and developer for an upgrade. Ask for an explanation of why feature A and not B, look at examples, get creative and put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
4. Full screen ads. If the meeting planner offers you a full screen ad that might pop up in the app when someone is looking for a bus schedule, lost and found or a bathroom, don’t take it. Run far away.
One part of an event or meeting app where it is appropriate for full screen ads might be in the trade show floor or exhibitor directory areas of the app. That’s where they make the most sense, fit most comfortably into the user experience and do not interrupt the user’s flow.
If you do go this route, don’t skimp on creating your ads. Full screen mobile ads really have to be smart, context-aware, user-focused and optimized for all kinds of phones. They need to use the mobile medium as well—just as a tv ad doesn’t work on radio, a web banner is not right for mobile. A full screen ad could end up being more expensive by far than the placement itself. We’re still waiting to see ads that really truly work as they should in a meeting or event context, and we’re not sure we have yet.
A word of caution: An app with a boatload of full screen interstitial ads will increase the app’s download time, effect performance and junk up the app from the user perspective, making it less, not more, indispensable. Moderation is key. If the event planner isn’t limiting the number of full-screen ads they sell, they aren’t focused on the user experience. Sponsoring a junked-up app full of ads that takes forever to download might not be such a great deal even if costs you little.
4. What data will you be sharing with me?
The meeting producer should be require the apps developer to include a way of capturing usage data. Data is one thing that makes mobile such a different medium and so more valuable than other channels to sponsors.
The sponsor should be told, at a minimum, the following:
- Number of downloads
- Number of ads served up and where
- Number of visits
It helps give context if the event planner can also talk about the types of phones in play, the results of any pre and post event surveys, data from their own websites, news mentions, and other PR, publicity. The meeting and event planner may also collect comments from review sites, blogs, tweets and other social media.
The sponsor might also add nuance by looking at social mentions, their own website’s web analytics and more qualitative impressions. How did the number of booth visits compare pre- and post-app?
Mobile is new. People are still learning how to measure it and how to use the spectacularly rich amount of data you have access to. The point is, though, that unlike so many other forms of advertising and sponsorship, you can use data to make decisions. And that makes for much better decision-making.
(We’ll be posting more on measurement, metrics, and ROI in the future—send us your questions and we’ll try to answer them!)
3. What’s your plan to promote downloads and usage?
There are two requirements when it comes to a mobile strategy. One is to build apps that become truly indispensable to attendees. The other is getting attendees to download and use the app. The success of any awareness effort can be easily quantified in by the number of downloads the apps have—a number that the event planner should be tracking and reporting. If people don’t download the apps, it means that they don’t know about it or haven’t been encouraged to download it.
Maximizing the number of downloads takes work and creativity. If the meeting or event planner thinks that all they need to do is send out a link to registered attendees, think again. That is not an effective strategy for driving use. The event planner needs to promote the app in communications with attendees, pre-event and on site. They need to give attendees good reasons to download the app and use it, especially the first time out. Some might consider incentives to promote downloads and even work with the sponsor to do that. Finally, the event or meeting planner might even need to help some attendees download and learn to the apps for themselves.
An event or meeting planner can build the best event apps in the world, but if the attendees don’t know about them and don’t download it, the sponsor is not getting much value.
2. Can we talk multiple events?
Mobile is still a new medium with lots of unexplored territory and opportunity. Because the event and meeting industry that has been squeezed hard in the last few years, some meeting and event planners may feel that they can’t afford to take too many risks. A multi-event sponsorship agreement can help ease some of that pain for the meeting planner and provide them with an incentive to take on mobile more vigorously. It can also provide you with the opportunity to refine and strengthen your sponsorship presence in ways that might not be obvious until you have some experience. By thinking ahead and working with a meeting or event planner over a couple of different events, a sponsor has the opportunity to gain mobile experience, analyze results and apply what they learn to a second event. The data that mobile generates, the ability to reach people as individuals, the live, real-time opportunities to test ideas can help you craft a highly valuable mobile presence that is continually improving.
1. Can you work with us and think outside the “ad”?
If your event planner says yes to the previous question, then find ways to brainstorm and implement new ideas that take mobile to a new level and increase engagement. Mobile offers the meeting or event planner many ways of enhancing the attendee’s experience at an event—and by extension, the value of a sponsorship.
Some meeting and event planners are already developing highly effective and productive ways to use the medium to improve networking and navigating, create excitement and buzz, enhance learning and education, increase leads for exhibitors and enhance sponsorship investments. Here are just a few of the many ways some planners and sponsors are going beyond the show floor map and a list of sessions—and this is just the beginning. Mobile really is a new medium with all kinds of new opportunities.
- Using mobile in sessions to seek questions, take polls, get feedback, etc.
- Greening the event through mobile
- Integrating mobile with digital signage and kiosks
- Integrating mobile with session graphics
- Integrating with “check-in” apps or SCVNGR
- Encouraging user-created and mobile-ly shared content
- Mobile-enabled session commenting
- Sharing of notes, slide shows, product literature and more
- Deploying mobile to spark flash mob style meet-ups in the venue or nearby
- Offering mobile party invitations and special announcements
- Supporting in-app chat between exhibitors and attendees
- Distributing mobile coupons and promotions from exhibitors and/or local businesses
- Offering mobile-based incentives, contests and drawings
There are hundreds of other ways to use mobile to enhance the event experience for attendees—send us your ideas or examples and we’ll collect them a post a list here in a future blog post. Any one of these activities or interactions can be designed to create more value for the sponsor while enriching the experience for the attendee. Sponsors who find ways to collaborate with event or meeting planner in using mobile to go beyond the basics will earn a lot more value from their sponsorship dollar.
What else do you think sponsors be asking? And what ideas have you see for using mobile to enhance the user experience?