Simon Clayton: The use of event apps

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Drink two litres of water a day, replace your mattress every eight years and an engagement ring should cost three months’ salary; all these facts were created by companies looking to profit from them – but if advertising statements are repeated often enough we actually start to believe them.

 

Does this apply to exhibition apps too?

 

Perhaps the people saying that apps are vital to exhibitions are the very companies that create them? But when was the last time you heard an unbiased visitor extolling the virtues of an exhibition app and how their experience was greatly enhanced by one? Personally, I’ve not heard anyone except a vendor saying those things but perhaps that’s because the apps aren’t yet useful enough?

Simon Clayton, chief ideas officer at RefTech, asks: What does the average event app give you that you can’t get from a piece of paper or good event website?

 

Many of our industry shows have used apps – they were announced with a huge fanfare and possibly I suspect, as a result of a commercial deal that allowed a fledgling app developer to create the app with the premise that it would be used by thousands of event organisers (i.e. potential customers).

 

Some are still using them, but some have dropped them; quietly, with no fanfare and I’ve seen no furore in the media to make me think that anyone has really noticed. At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, what does the average exhibition app give you that you can’t get from a piece of paper or good event website?

 

I do think there is potentially a place for apps, it’s just that the majority of exhibition apps haven’t really got enough benefit for the users. A successful show is predominately down to the attendees’ experience but if it can’t be demonstrated before the attendee has the app, that the app will clearly add significantly to their overall experience then the attendee is unlikely to download it.

 

So how do organisers transform an exhibition app from a novelty into a necessity? Firstly an organiser needs to realise that visitors have the “what’s in it for me” mind-set and “because it’s the official app” doesn’t carry any weight because there’s no real consequence to not having the app for most people. The downloading of an app is going to take effort (no matter how small) and uses valuable space on a personal device and in cases I’ve experienced myself – can continue to drain your battery when the app isn’t even in use! So there really needs to be a valid reason or benefit to get people to install.

 

Google now sees more than half of its 100 billion monthly searches occurring on mobile devices. Couple that with research from Nielsen’s smartphone app report, which explained that adult smartphone users were spending an average of more than 43 hours each month accessing content via applications, and it’s easy to see why the exhibition industry is trying to utilise the power of mobile – but why an app?

 

An awful lot of the content in an app can be communicated to the audience with a good, mobile enabled website. So I would urge organisers to take a close look at their websites and ask whether they provide the information users want and whether it’s easy to find. Is the website responsive – meaning does it automatically adjust for mobile devices? Are the dates, location and opening times shown at the top of the home page? How many clicks does it take to find the seminar programme? Does the website adjust itself automatically to show the relevant things on different days of the show? These days it’s very easy to deliver different content to mobile devices and desktop browsers.

 

Most exhibition organisers can see the benefit of replacing a paper show catalogue with something, but why should they be stuck on apps? It’s a shame that the convenience, reliability and cost effectiveness of a mobile enabled website is often overlooked by organisers in favour of an app, but that is probably due to the hefty marketing budget wielded by the app developers.

 

So whether you are buying a new mattress, or a new app, my advice is: Don’t believe the hype.

Simon Clayton
Posted by Simon Clayton
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