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Digital transformation in the events industry

5 March, 2019

I’m unashamedly a tech geek who loves trying new things. So I’m really excited by the current buzz around immersive virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). I’ve seen some mind-blowing examples of these new technologies being used to wow people in both retail and events spaces. I’ll talk about some of them later in this blog post.

But first I want to explore the broad topic of digital transformation in events.

Digital transformation (also known as DX) basically means:

  • Keeping up to date with the latest tech advances
  • Understanding how digital technology can be used to solve problems – in your business and for your customers
  • Integrating digital into all areas of a business to deliver improvements
  • A culture change – which is happening all around us, and which we ignore at our peril
  • Described by CIO as “a profound change in how an organisation delivers value to its customers”

social mediaOf course digital transformation includes the “wow factor” stuff. But to unlock the full potential of DX for events also means making best use of “behind the scenes” technologies to facilitate things like:

  • More efficient event planning and operations
  • Speeding up ticket checks in entrances
  • Monitoring audience engagement and the quality of audience experiences
  • Measuring event success
  • Delivering more value for all your stakeholders

In this blog I will give a whistle-stop tour of new developments that are enabling digital transformation in the events industry, and look at some of the best campaigns that showcase them – starting with the basics.

Online portals

Most events now offer some form of online registration. But what if it didn’t end there? What about if we thought through the whole user journey of a corporate booking delegates onto an event? Management of that event could take place inside an online portal that gives the client much better visibility and more assurances. Regular contact could be made at key points before and after the event. Both sides can be more productive. The portal could also extend to managing exhibitors and their exhibition spaces – virtual or augmented reality could bring the space to life, so exhibitors can see what it looks like beforehand and create the most impactful exhibition stands. Just my thoughts!

ROI and attribution

Measuring ROI for events has always been notoriously difficult. Back in 2013 I looked at some issues with existing attribution models, and how they could be improved.

I discussed some simple ways to measure ROI of your event on the CHS Group blog last year. But new technologies now also enable for much more accurate attribution, ie which points of contact have had the most impact or made the biggest impression on stakeholders and audiences. Which piece of content first reached a potential customer, and which converted them? Digital technology allows us to construct sales funnels and measure them.

I don’t have time to cover attribution in detail here, but this is a great blog on attribution for events if you want to read more.

And here is a list of the tools you need to measure ROI.

Brand turnaround case study – Burberry

Image courtesy of DigiDay

I wanted to share this example to illustrate how new digital technologies are not just a nice to have at events, but can change a whole brand identity.

A few years ago you may remember Burberry was suffering an identity crisis after this luxury brand became associated with “chav” culture. Burberry realised there was an opportunity to reclaim its luxury brand status while becoming relevant to a new emerging market of millennials. They put digital at the heart of their events strategy, giving exclusive access to behind the scenes content through their social channels, going against the closed door policy of most luxury brands. This is how Burberry became the top luxury digital brand.

Know your audience

Target AudienceAnother advantage of digital is that it allows you to really drill down and understand the behaviours and preferences of your audiences. Tracking, measuring, analysing, segmenting and targeting are all so much easier when digital technology is integral to your processes.

For example, millennials communicate with text, while generation z communicate with images, according to these digital insights for events organisers. This knowledge gives you the power to change the way you communicate to meets the specific needs of your audience.

Marketing budget planning

Of course, making the most of digital transformation requires the right level of investment. Research by Kleiner Perkins found a big gap between where businesses focus their marketing budgets and where potential customers actually spend their time. People spend less time on traditional legacy media and more on mobile is increasing, the amount that companies spend on mobile media advertising still lags behind.

More advice on digital marketing for events:

Integrating digital into the event itself

Some great examples (including low cost ideas) of to enhance visitor experience using digital technology:

Webinars and live streaming

If you are planning to live stream your event or running webinars, there are a number of things I would recommend, including checking and thoroughly testing all the tech equipment and processes beforehand, ensuring you have adequate bandwidth and asking people to register so you can track analytics before, during and after the event. There’s a good checklist here.

In terms of technology for live streaming events, Streamgo is a good place to start.

Mobile optimisation – Argos campaign

Quite simply, if your online channels don’t deliver a fantastic customer experience, you’ll lose sales. By building connected experiences, irrespective of device, Argos was the first retailer to pass £1bn sales annually through mobile. Who will be the first events company?

Blending online and offline experiences – Gucci Immersive Retail Experience

Gucci Immersive Retail Experience from Beach 14 on Vimeo.

Way back in 2011, Gucci introduced interactive in-store displays that enabled customers to rewind, pause and browse through content using hand gestures. It has since become known for innovative multichannel marketing campaigns. Being a pioneer pays off. Gucci has been named number one fashion brand in Gartner’s L2 Digital IQ Index Rankings for two years running, and has seen 115% year-on-year growth as a result, ranking number one in the top ten luxury brands with an earned media value of $61,798,514.


Digital allows us to track and collect data to enable accurate and profitable decision-making like never before. Examples include AI startup Hoxton Analytics which analyses footfall, and Decibel Insight whose digital intelligence platform helps measure, benchmark, and improve customer experiences.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

VR and AR are beginning to make an appearance at events, but there is still a big opportunity to innovate in this area and set your event apart.

For the uninitiated, VR is a totally simulated environment, created by taking many shots from different angles and stitching them together to create a 360 view or using CGI to create a fully immersive experience. Whereas AR enhances reality by overlaying virtual elements into the real world, like a Snapchat filter.

VR and AR on mobile – L’Oreal Paris campaign

Almost everyone has the capacity to access some degree of AR or VR on their smartphone now. We’re all familiar with Snapchat filters for fun. But they can work for business and events too. L’Oréal Paris was the first beauty brand to run a Snapchat lens ad to promote its Infallible Silkissime eyeliner back in 2016. The brand’s sponsored lens allowed Snapchat app users to add eyeliner, mascara, foundation, blusher and lip colour to their selfies.

Imagine how a similar Snapchat filter could work at a bridal show or (since I used to run a chain of opticians retailers) at a designer spectacles buyers conference, with users capturing and posting unique branded selfies tagged into your event across all their social channels!

Snapchat marketing

Another campaign involved L’Oreal’s celebrity make-up artist wearing Snapchat Spectacles to live stream a totally unique behind-the-scenes perspective to online audiences. At $150 the spectacles are within reach of most event budgets, and they can capture a whole day’s worth of footage.

Here are a few other advantages of bringing VR and AR into your events:

  1. Enhance learning – VR has been shown to improve memory and learning recall, so immersing visitors in a VR experience is a great way to ensure they don’t forget your event and what they learned. Staff training programmes can also benefit immensely from this tech.
  2. Promote your event – Using a virtual venue walk-through created from previous event footage is a great way to show potential visitors what they can expect if they come to your next event. Go backstage, talk to speakers and look round the VIP area.
  3. Product demos – Immersing your audience into a VR experience of your brand or products will increase sales. And research shows that AR increases value perception by up to 33%.
  4. Creating a ‘WOW’ factor – When Volvo released the XC90, they invited buyers to a VR presentation, viewing a driving simulation through Google Cardboard mobile VR devices. The campaign helped make the XC90 one of Volvo’s best-selling models. If you have Google cardboard, you can download the app and see the simulation for free here.

Big budget innovation: the audience “wow factor” – Coachella

The famous US music festival has been a key player using AR and VR innovation at events. Not content with bringing deceased rapper Tupac back to life in hologram form for a full show back in 2012, Coachella continues to push boundaries with new technologies.

Attendees have also been sent Google Cardboard headsets with their tickets. The Coachella VR app then allowed them to watch interviews, go on 3D virtual tours and view panoramic photos from previous events – all before the festival, so they could familiarise themselves with the site to get the most out of the event when they got there.

And in 2017, the ticket boxes were brought to life through AR:

The “dream selfie” – Virtuacast Augmented Reality Experience

Want your photo taken with an NBA star? Using new Virtuacast technology, visitors to this event were able to do just that. Virtuacast created the illusion of lifesize basketball star holograms so visitors could get a photo with them, and then share instantly on social media.

Charity events

Immersive VR can help donors fully experience the impact their donations are having. Charity : Water raised $2.4m from one charity gala dinner, after taking donors on a VR journey through a week in the life of a 13-year-old girl, Selam, and her family who were able to access clean water for the first time. Later, one donor increased his donation from $60k to $400k after watching the film.

AdWeek explores some other great examples of VR inspiring donations here.

Incorporating AR into talks

Enabling your speakers to bring AR into their talks gives a totally unique and mesmerising experience for delegates. A great example of this can be seen in this speech by Bill Chang from Singtel, here:

The possibilities that AR and VR offer are exciting and endless – it’s certainly something we’ll see a lot more of in future.

If this is something you want to explore, these Event Marketer dos and don’ts give some good solid advice on how to get started with VR/AR:

  • Understand the technology
  • Find the right technology partner
  • Don’t use tech for tech’s sake
  • Utilise events to launch AR apps
  • And start simple

In conclusion…

It’s easy to get lost in all the fancy stuff. But whether online or offline, your focus should always come back to people. Digital transformation should be about connecting people more deeply, improving and enhancing real life experiences, not getting in their way.

While I agree with this Akkroo blogger, who says:

The exhibitor-attendee interaction is still the most important part of trade shows and events – and this is where the biggest opportunity for digital transformation lies. It’s time to stop chasing the latest technology trends, and re-focus on the things that matter to those at the heart of the industry: the exhibitors and the attendees.”

…I still think there’s lots of fun to be had with new technologies – and if you’re looking for the wow factor, some of the new technologies I’ve mentioned will totally fit the bill.

I hope this blog post has inspired you to explore how digital could transform your events. Of course, we’ve only really touched the surface here.

If you’d like to learn more, come see me talk on this subject at The Conference and Hospitality Show 2019.


And look out for my upcoming CHS blog post on ‘Digital transformation in the retail industry’.



Recommended further reading:

Digital transformation in the events industry – 4 best examples (Event Manager blog)


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