Technology is the future. Our news apps are full of stories about AI, AR, IoT, smart cities, machine learning: exciting, powerful stuff that will change the way we plan, design, build and run events.
But technology isn’t everything. As event marketers and brand managers, it’s not the reason we do what we do, and it’s not our goal. Innovation isn’t always what we need most. Instead, we humans seek out novelty, information and connection with others because to do so is rewarding.
Experience is what events are about; not the latest technology. Ongoing global shifts suggest that audience hunger for experience is more important than ever before.
The dark side
Digital technology is everywhere and innovation has accelerated exponentially. Portable computing and smartphone technology were key consumer advances over the last two decades. AI is next. Today, we’re starting to see the longer-term consequences of our reliance on this technology – for better and worse.
Many of us have reached innovation fatigue. There’s so much innovation going on that we’re tired of it all, and getting harder to impress. In the event world, this means that brands are having to work harder to provide the ‘wow’ factor with digital technology. Visitors that can experience VR in their own homes are unlikely to pay much attention when offered the same technology at an event. Five years ago, having an iPad on your exhibition stand could draw interest. Today, not using tablet technology is unusual.
Boredom isn’t the critical danger posed by consumer technology, however. Addiction is; something users are waking up to in increasing numbers. The same neurochemical processes that make us seek out new technology hook us on using it. The result: 40% of young adults and 21% of older people can’t put their phones down while sitting on the loo. The addictive nature of social media and its constant presence makes it a powerful tool for ‘information warfare’. We only need to look at the 2016 elections in the US, and the Brexit referendum in the UK, to see how effective social media use can distort the democratic process.
Security is another burgeoning issue. Our social media profiles announce details of our identities, whereabouts and interests – all keys to the security questions that secure our accounts, and the other applications we’ve used Facebook or Twitter or Google to log into.
Event visitors are increasingly bored of, and concerned by, digital technology. A backlash was inevitable – something brands should bear in mind when planning their next event.
Interestingly, some of the most prolific examples of anti-tech sentiment have come from above.
Today, tech companies are confronted by increasingly strict legislation.
GDPR is the first piece of citizen-first legislation that puts control of information back in the hands of individuals. The USA is beginning to follow suit: the state of California has extended similar rights to view, request deletion and prevent the sale of its citizens’ data. If the home state of Silicon Valley thinks tech companies are going too far, the backlash is definitely real.
This newfound anti-tech awareness goes beyond government, however. With innovation fatigue on the rise and the novelty of new tech wearing off, people are turning back to alternative technologies that feel more authentic, appealing to their sense of nostalgia. Experience is key.
Vinyl records are outselling digital downloads, and their sales continue to climb, seeing 10% growth in the last year (while CD sales declined 6%, suggesting that merely being a physical copy is not enough). Snail mail has become an art form, with intricate ‘mail art’ passing back and forth between enthusiasts. Meanwhile, Google of all people are sending out physical mailers: actual pieces of paper promoting the power of online advertising and brand building.
The more ubiquitous tech becomes, the more special a real, physical artifact or experience becomes – which is great news for open-minded event marketers and brand managers engaged in event planning.
Consumers and technology
Backlash or no backlash, we’re not saying that technological innovation is set to stop. It’s too ingrained in our lives. Social media has extended our horizons, email is quicker than post, and smart cities are more efficient places to run, power, and explore thanks to digital technology.
But as the tech-weary, vinyl-buying, authenticity-seeking millennial audience becomes a bigger presence in the workplace (they’ll make up half the employed people in the US by 2020), events organisers must acknowledge that innovation overload does exist, and that tech isn’t its own reward.
Tech has a place as a tool to create and share human moments. And these are the bedrock of successful events.
Experience is everything. Now, where did I put my phone?
Which brands are using technology for the better at events? Find out here.
The rise of technology is something we cannot ignore, but to what lengths should we be pushing for more tools and technology delivered at our events? How do we push it to the next level and ensure that we are not losing that human touch with our audiences? Rob Brazier, Director and author of this article will be discussing ‘Event Tech 3.0’ at C&IT's Agency Forum. In this discussion, he will talk about: Using tools to add value to events without losing human touch; fresh technology ideas such as facial recognition; chatbots; live streaming; and disruptive technology such as AI, VR, AR.