By Wayne Morris, GM EMEA, Guidebook

It may be 2014 and the developed world is going mobile crazy, but some industries are still clutching stubbornly onto the quaint delights of good, old-fashioned print. The well-worn mantra that “there’s nothing quite like holding a book in your hands”, or the “visceral act of physically turning a page” is both a nostalgic and, in some cases, a practical viewpoint. But sometimes, the shortcomings of print are woefully exposed by the ruthless efficiency of digital media. A prime example of this can be seen at events all over the world, where event organisers manfully persevere with print to convey crucial communications — and are, as a result, often betrayed by its lack of agility in responding to unforeseen but predictable change. The approach commonly manifests itself in the countless printed Events Guides that document incomplete, inaccurate or outdated event information. And, with a cruel domino-like effect, the static limitations of paper cascade into many other key aspects of event management.

For the beleaguered event planner, the arrival of the Guide at least authenticates the Disney fairytale: “Someday your prints will come.” They will. Normally about a month before you actually need them, and the same day your keynote speaker pulls out. It’s far from a fairytale ending.

In the real world of 2014, print’s charming — but surely mobile is the smartest approach?

Paper? Scissors. Stone-age

The paper-based Event Guide is at odds with almost every strategic objective an event planner faces; it’s expensive, it’s inflexible, it undermines attendee engagement and, from a sustainability point of view, it puts a carbon foot right into organisers’ environmental responsibilities. Worse still, from a delegate perspective, it’s often heavy, unhelpful and out of date.

So perhaps it’s time to cut it? With ROI their most important metric, event organisers that persevere with familiar but outdated methods are flagrantly hemorrhaging the value and opportunity that disruptive technologies can provide. It starts with the printed guide — but it goes far beyond a simple brochure.

Scrap paper

Surprisingly, when it comes to event organisers’ use of mobile technologies, it seems the jury is still out. A recent survey of event planning and management executives reveals that 63% of global events still don’t leverage a mobile application. But with global smartphone penetration continuing to rise, and predicted to exceed 1.2 billion users in 2014, the pressure on the event management sector to exploit the medium is intensifying. Undeniably, whether managing consumer expos, corporate/B2B events and meetings or Freshers’ Fayres in higher education, the benefits of optimising attendees’ communication channel of choice are significant.

Mobile applications can deliver ROI to all event stakeholder groups; event organisers, exhibitors/sponsors and attendees. For organisers, the reduction in print costs alone should provide sufficient incentive — and for companies that host numerous events, the annual savings a mobile platform can generate are potentially significant. That the approach also ticks a box for companies’ sustainability obligations is a welcome ethical by-product.

In addition, digital tools bring an agility that print can never provide; in the dynamic event environment, mobile gives organisers the opportunity to respond to changes and make schedule amendments in real-time. Too often, brochures are out of date long before the courier has delivered 2000 of them to the warehouse. The real-time accuracy of digital content has obvious knock-on benefits for attendees, who themselves are under pressure to ensure they maximise their time at the event; delegates can navigate events and plan their days effectively and, with the additional connectivity that digital communications provide, they can also engage and interact with fellow attendees.

In fact, engagement is a critical objective for all modern events. Mobile technologies not only present a platform for networking, matchmaking and lead retrieval, they also allow traditionally passive attendees to evolve into active event participants; social channels, crowdsourcing and interactive polls are among many collaborative activities that can be built into mobile applications. These can only enhance the attendee experience and build long-term brand loyalty. From a commercial perspective, such connectivity supports exhibitors’ primary objective — lead generation.

Mobile applications have a utility and value right across the event life-cycle — enabling attendees to be wise before, during and after the event. This intelligence begins from the moment an individual signs up for an event, and keeps them informed throughout the whole experience. Mobile provides users with real-time information on delegates, speakers and exhibitors - and presents a channel for promotion, education and interaction at every stage.

The powerful combination of mobile tools to support registration, itinerary management, appointment booking and interactive communications means that organisers are able to capture real-time data to monitor activity, evaluate trends and measure ROI. This data can help inform product development and strengthen a brand’s value proposition. Moreover, organisers can use real-world data to enhance commercial negotiations with potential exhibitors and sponsor for future events; with stats to support optimal stand location, likely footfall and delegate analytics. Getting customers to re-sign for the following year is a perennial challenge. Real-world data can help both you — and them — prove ROI.

From prints to pauper

The benefits of mobile are therefore clear — so why is it that only 37% of the market are optimising the opportunity? Perhaps popular misconceptions over the cost and speed of implementation are holding the market back. But those fears are unfounded. The most effective white-label platforms allow event organisers to create a mobile guidebook within two hours. They deploy easy-to-use content management systems that allow anyone in an organisation, irrespective of their IT prowess, to upload content using simple drag-and-drop methodology and APIs into their own pre-existing event data, such as schedules. They’re quick, intuitive and accessible — and, crucially, they’re affordable. The smartest platforms offer modular pricing, ranging from free to enterprise, meaning that every business from an SME to a large multinational can benefit from their undoubted economies of scale.

Conversely, perhaps it’s just age-old apathy for change - or a perception that this is something that can be built in-house within an already overburdened IT infrastructure - that prevents some organisations from progressing — and often leads to them being over-taken by more visionary businesses.

In the competitive global events market, organisers will continue to face significant challenges as the pressure on margins — as well as the battle to attract attendees — intensifies. The most proactive organisations are those that have realised that it’s no longer enough to compete on the caliber of a speakers’ programme or the prestige of a location, it’s time to compete on innovation.

Mobile technology is a disruptive innovation that is helping event organisers drive operational productivity and efficiency, enhance the attendee experience and measure ROI. Progressive organisers across all sectors are moving away from restrictive paper-based methodology, and are leveraging mobile to transform events and increase engagement. For those that aren’t, the journey from prints to pauper may be slow but inevitable — but, in 2014, it doesn’t need to be that way.

Disruptive mobile technology is offering businesses the chance to revolutionise processes and positively redesign customer experience — simply, easily and effectively. The winners will be those that embrace the opportunity, and partner with organisations that can help them deliver the fairytale ending.