Four out of five exhibition attendees say free WiFi is an important aspect of their experience, more than any other on-premise digital service, according to a new survey by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR).
Surveying a total of 420 U.S.-based professionals who attend at least one B2B exhibition each year, CEIR looked to gain some insights into which digital offerings exhibition attendees ranked most important to their experience, and whether the results aligned with those from a similar survey of 194 exhibition organizers and 186 exhibitor representatives.
Free WiFi tops the list, with 81 percent of attendees surveyed reporting that it matters to them, followed by power-up stations to recharge mobile devices (71 percent) and the ability to download speaker presentations (64 percent). Those same three top the list of those offerings exhibition organizers believe are essential to their attendees, reflecting a good correlation between event producers and the professionals they aim to attract.
As you move down the list, however, a disconnect begins to materialize.
Sixty-percent of attendees value the ability to request product info via a scanning badge or providing an email address, but only 44 percent of exhibition organizers think attendees feel that way. Likewise, 55 percent of attendees say it's important to them that new product showcases or demo areas contain interactive screens or tablets with product information, a sentiment shared by only 34 percent of exhibition organizers.
Interestingly, a full 34 percent of attendees report that they'd like access to a room with multiple screens in which they could watch more than one session from a single location, but only 14 percent of organizers believe attendees consider such an offering to be important.
Under one-third of attendees (31 percent) believe that social media walls are critical to the experience, and hopefully all of them attend exhibitions put on by the 34 percent of organizers who agree.
When it comes to digital tools used to help attendees plan out their itineraries and remain on schedule, personal calendar tools—such as those found on smartphones or tablets—rank most popular, used by 40 percent of attendees. Exhibition organizer websites come next, with 35 percent, followed by mobile apps provided by the exhibition organizer (25 percent) and electronic directories or kiosks with a searchable touch screen at 24 percent.
Nearly a quarter of visitors (23 percent) rely on text messages to peers to help plan out which sessions they plan to attend.
Despite 78 percent of exhibition organizers saying they use social media channels to help attendees stay on schedule, only 12 percent of attendees say they relied on them to do so. Moreover, only 11 percent of attendees rely on text messages from organizers to help keep their schedules straight, even though 54 percent of exhibition organizers offer them.
So where do mobile apps fit into all of this?
Eighty-seven percent of organizers offer a mobile app for their exhibitions, with another seven percent saying they plan to do so in the future. Those apps are eventually downloaded by about two-in-five attendees (44 percent), but that figure ticks up to 58 percent when isolating just the "final purchasing decision-makers," according to CEIR.
Twenty-three percent of attendees choose not to download an event's official app, indicating that the remaining third of attendees either aren't aware of the app, don't know how to download it, or simply do not have a mobile device capable of doing so.
Among those who make the conscious decision not to download an exhibition's official app, 43 percent simply dislike downloading an app for one-time use. Just over a quarter (27 percent) prefer a printed program, while another 14 percent claim they don't trust downloading apps from unknown sources.
Dissecting the apps' features themselves, the three most important functions identified by attendees are the ability to register for sessions or special events, interactive map features, and the ability to search for exhibitors or products in a directory. Exhibition organizers should take this to heart, as only 46 percent say they offer the ability to register for sessions on the mobile apps they make available to attendees. With that being said, it's unclear if that figure stems from the fact that some exhibitions may not require individual session registrations.
One final component of the survey aimed to gauge attendees' comfort level with having their activities on the show floor tracked by the use of technology such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. In general, 50 percent of survey respondents say they were comfortable with such activity; 31 percent are neutral and 21 percent report feeling either uncomfortable or very uncomfortable about it.
As expected, millennials are the most comfortable with the use of technology to track their exhibition floor activity; just 15 percent expressed some level of discomfort with the idea. Contrast that with baby boomers, of whom only 39 percent felt comfortable being tracked.
Download the full survey here.