In “The Face Of Digital,” It’s Now Or Never For The Event Industry

Event Tech Brief

In “The Face Of Digital,” It’s Now Or Never For The Event Industry

by: Michelle Bruno 21-Aug-2017


By Michelle Bruno

In their new book, “The Face of Digital,” Marco Giberti and Jay Weintraub give readers the most comprehensive overview to date of the challenges the event industry faces and the attitudes that hold it back. They also describe a business that can, with the right cultural and strategic rewiring, leverage digital technologies to their fullest potential and head off the disruption that many expect. In short, the book is a roadmap to the future for an industry that is still in denial. 

How digital technology impacts the event industry

The book begins with an admission. In its roughly 850-year history, meeting people in person to transact business has unfolded in exactly the same way. “People meet, interact, do business together, and go home,” the authors write. But that blueprint is beginning to feel stale as “digital technology is influencing all aspects of business, and the events industry is finally beginning to feel the impact.” 

Event organizers are feeling pressure on several fronts, the authors explain. For example, consumer expectations are increasing exponentially thanks to technologies like the smartphone. “If it’s possible to plan journeys, book hotels, and surf the Internet on our mobile phones, the expectation that it will soon become possible to simplify and streamline the experience of attending events looks like an eminently reasonable one,” they write. 

Software developers and younger, more digitally adept entrepreneurs are also turning up the heat on traditional event producers, Giberti and Weintraub suggest. Online platforms, such as Eventbrite (for registration and ticketing) and (for organizing gatherings), have democratized event planning and made it more difficult for professional event organizers to serve their communities. Plus, a growing trend “for events to exist in digital form long before the in-person element commences, and to continue to run digitally well beyond the conclusion of the face-to-face experience,” challenges existing event-industry orthodoxy. 

The impact of technology on the events industry is most noticeable in the discussions around disruption. While no one can be sure how disruption will occur (or when), Giberti and Weintraub make it clear that the events industry has a target on its back. “Sister” industries, such as print media, retail, and network television have already taken a considerable hit. But rather than state the obvious (the disrupted failed to react quickly enough), the authors characterize the “reactive stance” in which companies “tend to focus on protecting their businesses instead of serving their customers,” as a trap into which event organizers can easily fall. 

The promise of digital event technology

Even as digital technology leans heavily on live events, the authors see it as the ultimate tool (“if built and marketed the right way”) to foment growth and maintain the relevance and sustainability of this privileged marketing channel. They describe event technologies—several of which their firms have invested in—poised to redirect the trajectory of the industry. At the very least, such innovation can make the financial picture rosier. “Digital revenues related to live events are growing by more than 25 percent a year,” they write. 

The canon of digital technology that Giberti and Weintraub offer up as evidence of the burgeoning field of changemakers includes mobile apps that engage attendees and exhibitors and unlock crucial data insights. They also discuss mobile-networking applications that streamline connections and information exchanges between users, a marketing platform that allows “users to understand, grow, and engage with their audiences,” sensor-driven heat maps, and a host of other audience distraction-abatement tools. 

Giberti and Weintraub espouse a methodical and, at times, an experimental march toward the economy, productivity, and profitability of event technology. While they repeatedly write that online experiences can’t replace face-to-face ones, they are equally emphatic that so-called “365” events, B2B marketplaces, and virtual/augmented/mixed reality can complement the in-person experience. The task facing the in-person events industry, they explain, is “to take the best of what is available digitally and integrate it into an improved face-to-face experience.”

Calls to action for an industry on the verge 

Digital technology is central to an industry in flux. The event industry needs more resources to support and fund the developers of next-generation platforms. The “Face of Digital” authors float several ideas, including technology incubators to nurture young start-ups and “ring-fenced” event technology funding. They call for an industry-backed investment fund that “could finance the industry’s future competitiveness” and a serious commitment from all event stakeholders to adopt and advocate for new technologies and ideas.

Despite the present atmosphere of uncertainty, Giberti and Weintraub help readers see a path forward. “The period of change usually commences when technologies become affordable, scalable, and predictable,” a shift that has already begun in the face-to-face event industry. Unlike disruption that decimates an industry, events will see “category disruptors” that will only shift parts of the industry. And “once the most valuable technological developments have been selected, the industry will begin to stabilize and reach a state of maturity,” they write.

Innovation alone will not transform the event industry. A cultural change that sees decision-makers choosing a future in which digital technology is embedded in the fabric of events is mandatory. “Embracing these challenges, understanding potential trends, and being brave enough to engage with the cycle of testing/learning/fixing/retesting is part of a key cultural change that the industry is starting to realize is critical for future success, perhaps even survival,” the authors say.

Despite the event industry’s oft-declared love for a business model in need of a serious tune-up, Giberti and Weintraub make it very clear that anything could happen from this point on. Fortunately, “The Face of Digital” is packed with case studies, the names of some “first-responder” firms, and advice from two individuals seasoned enough to have a history with live events and savvy enough to call out a massive opportunity for those willing to listen.  

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