Meeting planners, publications executives and chief officers in associations (and corporations) are now confronted with an expectation of attendees – when will the conference be available on my iPad- my computer, or the device of the day? Sponsors who have increasing appetite for improved return on investment- and looking for enhanced venues for informing attendees and non-attendees about their products and services.
Services such as digital, rapidly available meeting content, integration of surveys, continuing education, distribution to mobile devices and aggregation and search of other content (publications, posters, etc) are all part of the new landscape of the live meeting. In addition, a new crop of ‘virtual meetings’ are being developed and implemented.
We are seeing a new wave of technology which unites conference content, exhibits, as well as publications with powerful search capabilities.
Growing digital expectations of attendees, sponsors
Consider the following facts in terms of media consumption:
- 24 hours of video viewing is uploaded every minute on YouTube.
- Amazon sells more e-books than printed books.
- Since 2008, video games have outsold movie DVDs.
- People view 15 billion videos online every month.
- About 1.8 billion people connect to the Internet
- Google handles about 1 billion search queries per day
- 160 billion emails are sent daily
- Over 250K WebEx sessions occur daily
- Facebook has 500 million registered users
- There are more than 4 billion cell phones in use.
These trends are driven by the popularity of digital media and digital enabling technologies:
- Television (Hulu and others) as well as digital video recorders (TiVo and others)
- Community created Media streaming live and on-demand (YouTube, Vimeo, and other services).
- Movies (NetFlix, YouTube, Amazon)
- Books (Kindle, Nook, iPad)
- Conferencing (WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype, Voice Over IP (VOIP)).
- EBay– with the ability to build a multi-billion dollar community around self empowered commerce
- Online gaming and multi-player gaming. Gaming capabilities that run the gamut from ultra-realistic simulations to cartoonish games that run on mobile devices.
- Blast email. The ability to inform, at unprecedented low cost, large audience blocks.
- Standard formats for electronic information. The ability to output to formats that large audiences have ‘readers’ or players for- e.g., Adobe PDF, ePub (for electronic books), MP4 for video, MP3 for audio and many other formats.
- Cloud computing – with the ability of on-demand, scalable computer resources for setting up web-based capabilities (Amazon, Microsoft and other solutions)
- Apps – dedicated focused content/programs typically at low price-points or free on mobile stores (Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, GoogleTV and other platforms).
- Music (iTunes, Amazon)
- Playlists (organized preferences for music- or other media files).
- Search (search engines such as Google, Bing)
- Social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning)
- Encyclopedic information (Wikipedia)
- Rapid, short messaging via subscription or ad hoc (Twitter and txt messaging)
History of meeting archives.
Creating archives and sharing information from meetings has been around for quite some time. People have been sharing notes from meetings, newspapers and television have reported on some of the data and innovations shown and various recording devices have been used to record sessions- from floppy discs, CD, and DVD to record and distribute slides from conventions and conferences. Audio tapes, CDs, DVDs and Web have been used to record and distribute presentations. Coupling the power of electronic media with email blasts- creates an unprecedented cost-effective marketing campaign for conventions and conferences. Further supplementing this capability with rich, deep content from multiple sources (conference, publications, exhibits) with powerful search, generates new value and revenue streams for the entire conference ecosystem (potential attendees, attendees, exhibitors, meeting organizers).
As well as the growing popularity of the mobile media device (iPad along with laptops), we are experiencing a culture of continually connected, anywhere, anytime media and information consumption. Meetings are increasingly viewed as another ‘channel’ of content that attendees, non-attendees, and sponsors expect will be available rapidly, on-demand and with an increasing array of distribution and social networking options.
In addition, meeting participants are increasingly looking for more ‘discoverable’ assets- better abilities to search content and to search across different media types (websites, PDFs, videos, books, music). The meeting participant wants to consume the conference in a wider variety of technological environments and form-factors- from small mobile tablets, to computers and the next generation of smart televisions (televisions that have the ability to surf the web and to receive Internet-based television programming). Sponsors and exhibitors are looking for more effective methods for reaching, communicating with and engaging the meeting participant. The convergence of all of these trends creates new opportunities. We are seeing organizations who are able to grasp the opportunities flourish both economically as well as creating a new excitement in meeting the needs of the digital ‘ecosystem.’ In this paper, we will provide an overview of what is possible so that you can evaluate and begin implementing solutions.
Along the way to the digital future, there are a number of misconceptions that have arisen. These misconceptions can interfere with the leveraging these new technologies to the benefit of your association.
Myth 1: Electronic recording decreases meeting attendance.
Electronic recording does not diminish meeting attendance, but the opposite has happened. For every event that we have seen recorded, we have not seen a drop in subsequent meeting attendance. In fact, the electronic media can inform additional audiences about a meeting and increase both live and build an audience who would not attend — ‘virtual attendance.’
Case Study: TED and TEDX
One great example of the ability to reach new audiences is the TED and TEDX conferences.
“Over the last five years, TED’s audience has evolved from 1,000 conference attendees to 100 million people worldwide. TED Talks have been viewed more than 400 million times, and are available in 80+ languages, thanks to volunteer translators. And more than 1000 independently organized “TEDx” events have been held worldwide, in 100 countries and 50 languages.” — June Cohen, Executive Producer of TED Media
While every conference may not have the widespread appeal of a TED conference- one has to realize that the content of a given TED talk is very specialized. TED re-defined conference distribution, multi-lingual support as well as provides a model for aggressive sponsor-based promotion. The TED ‘ecosystem’ has expanded as has the TED brand, and revenue. From our list above; TED uses many of the available technologies to it’s benefit; specifically:
- Television (TED is available through on-demand products and services- Apple, Virgin Airlines, GoogleTV and the new digital televisions)
- Community created Media streaming live and on-demand (TED is available on YouTube, Vimeo, and other services and they offer a premium live-stream service to listen and watch the conventions and conferences in real-time).
- Standard formats for electronic information. TED conferences are available on-demand in a variety of formats and in multiple languages.
- Apps – TED has developed Apps to enhance the viewing experience of conferences
- Playlists – You can generate Playlists of Conventions And Conferences that you want to listen to in TED Apps
- Search – TED offers the ability to search and browse content
- Social networking
- Rapid, short messaging via subscription or ad hoc (TED leverages Twitter)
The TED experience is repeated across the 50 association customers that Astute provides solutions to. With increasing revenue, attendee satisfaction, as well as increased quality of the brand.
Here are some of the capabilities that can be made possible with appropriate application of digital strategy and technology:
Online advantages to the attendee and others
The digital technology enables the attendee experience with near-instant access to digital archives of the sessions; ability to view concurrent sessions, as well as to share materials with peers.
Online learning opportunities
Layering online testing and certification on digital meeting assets enables the end-user to answer surveys, as well as take tests on on materials; gaining credits and/or credentials. This augments the experience and the capability of the online experience.
The ability to offer translations and localizations of content through a digital vehicle provides the opportunity to sell and have sponsorships of meeting content throughout the world. New revenue steams and audiences can be enabled. Adding additional language tracks and/or captioning can allow this capability. Additional context or lectures can be added to localize content as well as modifying the digital framework so that the menus and instructions are available to reach the targeted audiences.
Ability to cross-reference other materials.
The ability to integrate slide sets, meeting abstracts, poster-sessions, print publication information- all in one searchable archive. All of these capabilities provide a growing value to digital media. In addition, the digital archive provides a growing value proposition as it is accumulated over several meetings to build true ‘digital libraries’ of content.
Ability to cross-link to sales/marketing materials from exhibits.
This area has the ability to further advance the value proposition to one of the largest revenue elements of meetings- the exhibits. The topic is illustrated in Myth 5 below.
Myth 2. Cheaper is better
Many web-based services are available at no or little cost. You could post your meeting using an iPhone and YouTube. However, the benefit to your audience, sponsors, exhibitors will be consistent with the price.
As the old adage states, “You have to spend money to make money…” The TED conferences use first rate production techniques, have developed their own iPad apps (several versions) and make use of aggressive digital media campaigns and partnerships. This involves strategy, project management, technology and marketing. A poorly executed strategy can mean wasted staff time, money and most importantly, time and potentially ‘damage the brand‘ of the conference/organization. Just as a poorly implemented website can hurt the chances for sponsorship, exhibits, attendance and membership- the same principle holds for digital media. We have seen many organizations make use of a spare staff member to try to capture part of a meeting or use a company which does not have timely or current approaches and the revenue opportunity is diminished. It is not just diminished for the year of execution- but also hurts opportunities for sponsorship as well as membership/attendee interest for years to come.
Few executives would elect to reach just the 2,000 attendees on-site, when their message can be appreciated by 20,000 customers on-line. There is an annual, growing annuity- and a competitive market place- so a poor decision can rapidly result in millions of dollars of lost revenue and a relatively small audience for a convention over a 10 year span.
In addition, meeting attendees are interested in buying products that are tangible- DVDs, USB sticks. In almost every instance, attendees will upgrade from a ‘web-based’ product to one that they can put on their shelf. When individuals are asked why ‘upgrade’- they frequently say that they want to make sure that they can access the information when they want it- and do not know if and when materials will be removed from the web. As a result of this trend, many organizations that simply place conventions and conferences online are leaving attendees less satisfied as well as generating substantially less revenue for the organization.
In this ‘attention economy’ where few organizations are not without peers- it is of key importance to get it right and refine. The digital economy is one that requires constant re-assessment and re-definition- it is tremendously fluid and the opportunities are great. However, it is a market that requires careful staging and ‘cultural transition’ to extend the brick and mortar event to digital. Engaging the right company to build a strong digital foundation is essential to success.
Myth 3. My conference is too ( fill in the blank- too small, too specialized, etc )– for digital
This is a key component of building the digital strategy- sizing the opportunity and determining the appropriate road map. Many small conventions and conferences have a much wider appeal than the brick and mortar event (e.g., TED) or specific tracks or lectures may have much wider appeal than the conference itself. The agility of digital makes capture distribution and monetization of meeting content possible.
When you consider the expense for the attendee to fly, stay, eat as well as lost individual/organizational revenue from being away from the office during a meeting; one can realize that attending a conference represents a major commitment. Digital media can complement the investment that an attendee is making in the conference- by allowing him/her to enjoy the content from concurrent sessions as well as share information with colleagues. In addition, the universe of prospective attendees is much larger than actual based on the out of pocket, scheduling and opportunity costs related to meeting attendance. Hence, a quality rendition of the conference is a welcome opportunity for many individuals who are unable to attend. Sponsors and exhibitors welcome the opportunity to extend their outreach.
Meeting announcements can serve as a great place to begin marketing to the attendee and non-attendee. These announcements typically go out to a much larger pool of potential participants and can provide the platform for beginning to build the brand and outreach regarding the digital product.
Typically, there is a stepped pricing model associated with the life cycle of the event. Lower pricing prior to the event, slightly higher at the time of the event and then an increase; and later decrease in pricing for the digital materials. In parallel, organizations can begin building ‘digital reference libraries’ that will hold long-term value as well as selling to both individuals and institutions.
By offering ‘ad-on’ product extensions to the meeting floor- exhibitors will appreciate the effort and ability to reach a larger audience. Successful implementation of an exhibitor digital strategy can smooth out issues surrounding level of foot traffic- by supplementing it with digital accessibility. When you add up the benefits- for attendees, non-attendees, exhibitors and enhancement to the brand- the benefits of the virtual conference make sense to almost any venue. It’s a matter of coming up with a strategic plan that works from a balance sheet perspective as well as from a marketing/brand perspective.
Myth 4. My members won’t pay for digital
Members can and will understand that digital assets have value and are worth paying for. Some organizations consider what should be included in membership versus ‘pay for view’ or subscription products. This is similar to the same issues surrounding publications within organizations.
People are now accustomed to paying to rent movies, to buy eBooks, as well as a wide variety of other digital assets and they buy digital conference materials! Millions of dollars in found revenue are generated annually through the capture and distribution of digital conference material. Sales are increasing on average 10-20% per year in the purchase of these materials.
As stated above, meeting attendees are interested in buying products that are tangible- DVDs, USB sticks. Attendees will upgrade from a ‘web-based’ product to one that they can put on their shelf.
Pricing models are also very important. One needs to set the ‘wholesale‘ price of digital materials at a level that shows value. If pricing is too low, there is a perception of diminished value; too high and there will be too few buyers. Establishing the appropriate pricing is a critical exercise.
The ability to offer discounting during registration as well as onsite (although less of a discount than during registration) will drive sales. Most sales occur onsite, followed by registration. Interestingly most organizations under value/under price their content. Many organizations price access to conference content at well less than $100. Unfortunately, that sends a message of ‘low value’ to members and also frequently precludes the production of high quality media- which in turn, disappoints the purchaser who is used to NetFlix quality video and instantly available on-demand video and instead may receives a poor-quality product two to three months after the event.
Producing high quality, searchable media in multiple formats (mobile, web, and DVD/USB) provides a much better product for the end-user and the organization. Members are paying for digital in large and small organizations world-wide.
Myth 5. This only is for the attendees- there’s nothing in it for the exhibitors …
The power of digital technology also extends to its ability to link and relate content. Imagine playing a session on new telecommunications technologies and along side the session are a number of resources (exhibitors) who have services and equipment that are related to the topic being discussed.
Bridging the gap between the conference and the exhibit. Immediate contextual relevancy is one of the hallmarks of digital media and this can be leveraged to the advantage of the attendee and the exhibitor. Just as Amazon has a recommendation engine which relates your prior browsing and purchase behavior to a continually updated list of products that ‘other people like you’ have purchased; the opportunity to provide this type of recommendation is a powerful adjunct to a meeting.
The time for the ‘sales’ opportunity is much longer and more targeted in this venue- as an end-user is often watching a 30 minute plus digital media lecture and has the targeted products that are related to this presentation present during the entire viewing experience.
With a clear demarcation between the brick and mortar conventions and conferences and the digital domain; there are solutions that combine both of these environments. The combination of the live venue with the digital has been called a ‘hybrid experience.’ There are a range of hybrid experiences; from meeting overflow rooms that make use of cameras in a room to broadcast the event to another room in the event convention center or hotel or another state or country. Other ‘hybrid’ experiences enable both live participants and cyber participants (using live video streams, email, text messages and chat rooms) to listen and interact with speakers as well as other participants.
Many vendors have developed ‘virtual exhibit halls’ which are also being increasingly used to augment interactions between participants in the brick and mortar world and the cyber worlds.
When considering each of these possibilities, thorough technical business and logistical planning needs to occur to insure success.
Summary and key points
We are in the midst of one of the most rapid transformations of the information landscape and it is important to adapt and adopt the best possible digital strategies.
It is of key importance to provide digital solutions that augment the brand of your meeting and organization.
Timely, high quality digital media that is available in both online and offline (DVD, USB) and mobile formats is essential for optimal organization revenue generation and attendee satisfaction.
There are profound efficiencies in making use of technology- driving meeting revenue, enhancing the ability of attendees to enjoy a meeting (viewing concurrent sessions, sharing content with peers).
The ‘footprint’ of the meeting can be expanded to offer continuing education and certification as well as internationalization of the meeting to enable targeting specific countries of interest.
Blending content can enable new opportunities for exhibitors as well as integration and discovery of content from other sources (publications, posters, abstracts) and other content that previously was not accessible through a single ‘portal.’
Most organizations are faced with competition from both other similar organizations as well as additional digital content in the area of focus. It is becoming increasingly critical to offer tools to both capture the value of meetings as well as to assist in navigating and unifying the information which is key.
Critical Timing. Use technology to make content available during highest demand- at the conference- enhancing sales and availability Over 60% of online viewing occurs during the the conference or convention until 2 weeks after the event.
Editorial Control. Web-based editorial tools can be used to quickly edit the conference (remove copyrighted materials, pre-publication graphs), and other issues that need to be cleaned up before publication to the web.
Mobile and e-learning. Consider publishing to iPad, iPhone, Android, computer, web, and DVDs/thumb drives. Add e-learning, testing and certification to offer additional value.
Enhanced value for attendees. Attendees can virtually attend concurrent session and review and share key lectures.
Bridging the gap between the conference and the exhibit. Just as Amazon has a recommendation engine which relates your prior browsing and purchase behavior to a continually updated list of products that ‘other people like you’ have purchased; the opportunity to provide this type of recommendation is a powerful adjunct to a meeting.