Event apps: are they worth it?

July, 21 2017

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With their range of activities, talks and seminars, events can be a minefield to navigate for visitors. Once maps and schedules were printed and carried around, as cumbersome but necessary evils. Now, many event organisers are now turning to custom-designed event apps which aid visitors and provide data for metrics.

It makes sense – more than 80% of internet users are expected to own a smartphone in 2017 – but how well does it work out?

If done right, event apps can be a blessing for organisers and visitors alike. If misjudged, they can waste a great deal of time and money, and can leave a sour taste in the mouth.


Apps that add value

Event apps can be expensive: one recent blog post suggests that a pre-built and customised event app could cost anything from $1,000 to $10,000, while a custom-built app could cost anything from $10,000 to $50,000. For that kind of money, the app has to offer some serious return on investment.

Think about what you want the app to achieve: if your answer is simply “well, our competitors have them” or “it seems like a cool thing to have”, then the expense and hassle of an app may best be avoided.

The goals of your app should be tied to your overall event objectives, and its functionality designed to help you achieve specific aims. It should also add value to the event for visitors – a design that serves your goals but doesn’t help the users is a bad design.

Here’s how a well-designed mobile app can offer value to different event objectives.

1. Creating a “green” event

If your focus is on ensuring a minimal impact on the environment, an app can add value by demonstrating your commitment to CSR.

You avoid chopping down acres and acres of rainforest to print schedules, maps and sales materials that delegates will bin after the event. You also ensure attendees have all the information they require at their fingertips.

Some event apps also include business card sharing functionality, and offer entire presentations as downloads, reducing paper wastage yet further.

2. Improving brand image and increasing loyalty

The best event apps are available and useful both before and after the event itself.

Allowing potential visitors and exhibitors access before the event gives them a chance to get to grips with your company, gaining a better understanding of who you are and what you do, as well as an advance insight into the event itself, helping them determine whether to attend.

On a practical level, it also helps them learn the app in advance, so they’re not frustrated by having to master it on arrival.

3. To facilitate networking opportunities

Networking is a key attraction of events, for exhibitors, visitors and sponsors alike. However – particularly with larger scale events – it can be hard to pin down the right people on the day.

Event apps can offer solutions such as ‘brain dating’, profile-based matchmaking, and push notifications that inform users of any opportunities they may be missing. For sponsors and exhibitors, an app could offer key insight such as the number of banner clicks, content downloads and even, using GPS, detailed analysis of footfall throughout the venue, leading to better targeting and stats for future sales.

4. Making a profit

If revenue is a key driver for hosting your event, an app can help. While there will be cost implications in its design and creation, it could well save you money in other ways. Savings on printed materials, no need for branded folders or bags to carry programmes and show guides, a reduction in man hours through automated appointment setting.

It could also mean fewer sales team hours required, thanks to the detailed analytics that can be used in pitches to potential sponsors and exhibitors for the next event. An app is a means of collecting visitor data: an asset that will appeal to sponsors, who could use your app for sign-ups, to run competitions or for other purposes in exchange for leads.

An event app can fulfil a number of key objectives – but as with any event investment, it is important to undertake a detailed cost-benefit analysis before making your final decision – and to understand how “success” will be measured should you go ahead.


Apps that devalue

An unsuccessful app can be a result of design, function or poor planning – here are the danger areas to look out for.

1. A lack of inspiration

If you’re expecting people to download an app, it needs to inspire them.

Static information they could find on your website is not inspiring.

Give them something exclusive that will amaze, delight, inform or assist them. Put yourself in the shoes of your sponsors, your exhibitors and your visitors in turn: what would you want to see in an app you’d consented to download?

2. Clunky design

Your app will be an extension of your brand: clunky, unresponsive and temperamental is not the overriding brand message you want to convey.

Ensure you’re working with professional, quality designers. Allow enough time before your event to test, test and test again, ensuring that content flows seamlessly, the app is easy to navigate, and any bugs are ironed out before you start to promote it.

3. Redundant functionality

Chatbots may be all the rage in event apps, but what are they actually doing?

Before you start adding all the bells and whistles you think will wow your attendees, stop and question their value to your attendees, before spending time and money that you may not need to spend.

Consider the potential pitfalls too. Are they stable enough to deal with the number of people at your event, and are they reliable enough to be of true value? You could even survey potential attendees to find out what functionality they would want, thereby enabling you to create an app you know will go down well.

4. Large files to download

As we mentioned earlier, a successful app should offer beneficial content before, during and after the event.

For this reason, the size of the file to download should be taken into consideration. Your app will be vying for space with numerous others on a user’s phone or tablet. If it’s too large, it may not be there for long – if it makes it to the device at all.

5. Misjudging your audience

The most important question to ask before beginning is “will my target audience actually want an app?”

Understanding the profile of those who are likely to exhibit, sponsor and attend will give you an idea of whether an app will work, and how it should be designed. Will one app work for all three groups, or will they need separate apps with different focus areas?

An event app can offer significant benefits to an event organiser… if done right.

While the concept may not be suitable for every event, for some, it can save time and money, build brand image, help attendees to feel more organised and more. Before you begin, though, start with the “why”. Know why you’re considering an app and what it could achieve. This helps you assess whether it’s really a good idea, and, if so, how to shape its design.

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