Event apps are everywhere. According to research by Event Manager’s Blog, 68% of the 350 app developers they spoke to say that demand in the event app space is higher than it was last year. If you haven’t got one already, chances are you’re thinking about developing an app yourself.
Well, not so fast. There’s no longer a first-mover advantage to events apps - they have matured. Attendees expect better than clunky UX and half-baked ideas. In 2019 and beyond, apps need great planning and real thought about how they’re going to be used, and the value they create - both for attendees and for you.
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Get it wrong and you’ve wasted money, annoyed your customers and damaged the brand. Here’s how to get it right.
Before you start
1. Start with why
Before you leap headfirst into AR functionality and camera filters, you need to take a step back. What do you want to achieve? Are you’re developing an app for the sake of it, or because “everyone else is” and you want to compete? Or are you developing an app with a clear purpose in mind?
Why is this important? Apps are expensive. If you want to prove ROI (or ROO), you need to establish your purpose and measure against it. Whether it’s brand awareness, engagement or data collection - establishing the why is a crucial first step to app success.
2. Write a brief
A good brief helps you and your team to get clarity on what you want the app to do and what you want to achieve, and it’s crucial to guide any third parties you might want to work with. As a general rule, the more comprehensive the brief, the better.
Good app developers will be able to pick apart your brief, add creative ideas, and find the must-haves, nice-to-haves and maybes within it. But they need a solid foundation to go on.
An effective event app brief should take into account:-
- A bit about your business - Its culture, its history and its leaders.
- Your objectives - What you want the app to achieve.
- Your audience - Rich personas and statistics/insights from previous events and marketing campaigns where relevant.
- Technical requirements - Nothing too detailed, but enough to know what they’re working with.
- Examples - Event apps you like. Those you don’t.
- Budget and completion timelines - What are you prepared to spend? There’s a big difference between a £2k app and a £20k one.
Once you have a solid plan in place, it’s time to reach out to developers. You don’t necessarily need every function you can fit on your app, but there are some key things to consider when it comes to the nuts and bolts.
3. UX is everything
Think of your app like your ideal event. You want people to seamlessly glide through the check-in desk with minimal fuss, have light and space, room to network, great food, all laid before them naturally. Apps should aim for the same lack of friction. Your users should intuitively understand how the app works and how to get the information they need, and naturally move around the app with no issues. Great UX is often invisible - it just works.
If you’re working with a third party, ask to see some of their other projects before you start. Play with those other apps. With the ubiquity of social media, we are all UX-savvy whether we realise it or not. Instagram and Twitter just work. The scrolling, the menus, the notifications. Do you get a similar feel with their apps? If not, keep looking.
4. Check-in and checkout
If it’s good enough for airlines, it’s good enough for you. The first event headache is queueing for registration. Apps can bypass a lot of the administrative burden and allow attendees to skip queues - the perfect start to their event experience.
5. Messaging and connecting
Your attendees use apps regularly, they know what to expect. The best event apps mirror in some way the functionality that people have in their other apps. So...messaging and connecting. If people can update a profile and connect with people a la Facebook, you’ve got a natural way to network. Even better if they can message them in groups or directly. Networking is such a crucial part of events, apps can make it that much easier for people.
6. Real-time info
In large events, things move fast - agendas can change on a dime, speakers change stages, and things beyond your control will alter your plans. The app should be the go-to place for people to find out what’s going on and they shouldn’t have to keep checking it every few minutes on the off-chance that they’ve missed something important. Something else to think about here is push messaging - allowing you to send updates to people’s phones even with the app closed.
We’ve all been there, watching some poor member of the ground staff running to and fro across a huge auditorium with a microphone, trying to get to people with questions. Adding Q&A functionality - where the audience can ask speakers questions via the app - can make that whole process slicker and quicker.
8. Accessibility and wayfinding
You want everyone to enjoy your event, but people with disabilities can struggle with huge event spaces. Disabilities aren’t just physical, they can be cognitive, sensory or speech-related. Attendees could be wheelchair-bound, yes, but what about those with trembling or dexterity issues, PTSD, hearing or vision issues?
There are multiple ways apps can help people with all manner of disabilities plan and manage their days. A great app developer will be attuned to the needs of all attendees, not simply the enabled.
9. Interactive floor plans
Some events can be vast and confusing, spanning multiple rooms or halls or even multiple buildings, in certain cases. One massive aid to all attendees is interactive floor plans, offering people clear signposts as to where everything is and how to get there.
10. A touch of magic
Apps are hugely flexible and have the ability to merge the digital and physical worlds. So take the opportunity to be creative - playful, even. Gamification is good: designing something with Augmented Reality (AR) can generate excitement and engagement and could add an extra layer to your event. The interactive nature of AR allows visitors to explore content and experience another level of understanding of a product or service. At the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, for example, Ford used AR to allow visitors a look under the hood of three different vehicles. Internet safety company Smoothwall, meanwhile, used AR to stop visitors at the BETT Trade Show and ask them to search for a dedicated hashtag to see their pictures online, creating a buzz outside the event too. Look beyond the functional and get people talking. AR functionality could be set up easily and is not necessarily commonplace in event apps as yet, so it could be the key differentiator you’re looking for. Overall, however, make sure the app is a unique destination that users actively enjoy spending time in.
When fully utilised, and if the budget allows it, event chatbots could become the key to continued attendee engagement. Not only can chatbots be used to generate smart responses to queries but they can also be used to capture game-changing data before, during and after the event. Chatbots can be utilised by event managers to answer questions about the event during the pre-show buildup and direct attention towards registration. At the event itself, meanwhile, the onsite digital assistant can help with relevant questions that will improve the overall event experience, and afterwards they can be used to capture incredibly valuable and actionable insight.
The ability to read and track individual smart devices can prove invaluable to live event companies looking to truly leverage the potential of an event app. Sensors can pick up attendee movement and log that information, graphically depicting it through a heat map that will tell planners far more than just numbers and traffic flow. A heat map can give insight into how long someone stays in one area and can be analysed on an hourly basis to track traffic at different times of the day, helping planners know what areas are more valuable at given times. This information can feed into improvements not just during the event, but for future events. You should also take the time post-show to examine the general usage statistics of the app. At what time was it being accessed? Where was it being accessed from? Who was using it and for what purpose? If you’re able to answer these questions and use them to improve your app after every event, you’ll have an incredibly powerful tool in your hands.
Remember, however, that whilst functionality is a key component of any app design, event apps are more effective when just as much effort is put into the planning and goal setting stages and this is what should always come first.
A proper plan means understanding how attendees use event apps (for session information or engagement-related features) and playing to your strengths and their expectations. It also means being innovative without being ‘showy’ - apps are there to make our lives easier, after all. Putting that plan together to form core functionality that leads to a better event and actionable insight is what it’s all about.
Put those pieces together and you’ll emerge on the other side with an app that doesn’t just make your event app more user-friendly, but that acts as a natural extension of the event itself.
If you’re considering apps for your next event, or for any consultation on event design and planning, get in touch with Rapiergroup today.