Oliver Richardson


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Technology is at the heart of immersive experiences

Oliver Richardson from DB Systems discusses the use of technology in immersive experiences, including how it should feature at the beginning of the campaign conversation.

We often get asked for help by both clients and agencies looking to create immersive experiences on their exhibition stands. However, it’s not unusual for the stand design to already have been finalised, and for the space that’s been allocated for such an experience to already be pre-imagined.

It doesn’t always matter – we’re used to working in a whole range of different environments and responding to different challenges in terms of how to make the audio-visual elements of a stand really impressive. But, recently, our team worked on an event at ICE – one of the world’s leading gambling shows, taking place each year at Excel in London – and what a breath of fresh air it was.

One of the exhibitors, betting technology company Kambi approached us to help them design an environment which would transport their visitors from the show floor into a premium sanctuary of calm, an oasis of refuge from the show floor, where the change in environment would make their message more impactful.

Because the audio and visual elements of the stand took precedence in Kambi’s vision of how the stand space would immerse visitors in the experience, they involved us from the outset instead of designing the stand first and then approaching us to determine which AV elements might be required – and what a difference that can make.

Suddenly, instead of having to compromise on technology or screen size, or work around impracticalities in the stand design, or fit a 60-inch screen where an 80-inch would have been more effective but the aperture was already fabricated – we were able to help create a stand from scratch that would be the most effective it could be at creating an environment, in leveraging the power of sound and video, in creating something truly powerful and impactful – and ultimately, truly immersive.

When you talk about immersive experiences, you’re actually talking about technology. You’re talking about altering senses, seeming to surround, being completely involved in something – audio and visual technologies offer brilliant opportunities to do just that. So if the word immersive features in your next project make sure you start with a conversation about what you’re trying to create and how technology will help achieve it most effectively and work up from there rather than dropping the technology over the design as a finishing touch.

Trends in event technology for 2016

Oliver Richardson from DB Systems takes a look at what we can expect from event technology in the year ahead.

It’s that time of year again when we’re compelled to take a helicopter-view of the year ahead and question what’s in store. Here’s an overview of the event technology landscape, from our resident tech geeks at DB Systems HQ:

Integrating existing technologies

The consensus in our office is that 2016 will be less about brand new stuff and more about improving the integration of existing technologies so that they work more effectively alongside each other to create a whole, immersive experience.

Existing technologies such as transparent touch screens, virtual reality, augmented reality, object recognition and motion activated screens will all be utilised in much more impactful, meaningful ways this year, and the combination of these technologies and more, will be where the real magic happens.

Big data

Increasingly sophisticated data capture and data analytics will mean brands will be able to more easily customise their messaging in the live environment to reflect and anticipate a visitor’s perceived needs – our software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, brandWallet facilitates this using RFID for example.

Traditional marketing has been customising, tailoring and personalising messages for years – live events and experiences finally have the technology to catch up.

Interactive screens

Large-scale screens and particularly interactive screens, will grow in popularity – and in resolution. We’ve been doing some really cool interactive work using infra-red bars which can turn any surface or screen into a touchscreen, which means there’s no size limit, and the bars enables multiple-users to interact with the content simultaneously.

In addition, increasingly flexible screens mean we expect to see a rise in more unusual shaped displays – for example wrapping around objects, curving, going around corners – flat is so 20th century!

Virtual reality

Virtual Reality is an incredible tool for enabling users to be immersed in an environment that would otherwise be difficult, prohibitively expensive or physically impossible to create – such as the internal works of the body, a large scale manufacturing/production process or the cavernous interior of a private jet.

The world has already seen the potential of VR hence the backing by major corps, but this year we expect to see it explode in a myriad of different directions and be used in some extremely innovative ways. We’re working on something really ground-breaking in this space ourselves which we hope to be able to share in a few months.

Kinect technology

Kinect, the motion control technology used by gaming brands such as Xbox, has released a new SDK (software developer kit) which will enable us to create some pretty cool interactive 3D virtual environments and can also be used for augmented reality applications, and also object recognition – this could potentially disrupt the world of ultra-expensive object recognition touch tables – opening it up to a wider audience, so we’ll likely see more object recognition technology being used in the live environment this year.

Transparent screens

Finally, a really exciting development for us is the new breed of transparent screens which will enable entire exhibition stands or experiential pop-ups to truly embody interactive, animated, responsive content.

We’ve been creating content for, and installing, transparent touchscreens for clients for years but the next generation of screen is thinner and self-lit. As this market develops and the price drops, we expect brands to really embrace the opportunity to transform their stands, opening up new sight lines and creating a fully digital stand experience.

Technology as a facilitator

Oliver Richardson from DB Systems says it’s common for brands and agencies to make the mistake of letting technology lead the event, rather than have it complement the activity.

As leaders in event technology, we often get approached by brands or agencies looking to use a particular piece of technology at their next event. Often they’ve seen something in the news about how it’s the next big thing, and they want to position themselves ahead of the game and demonstrate their superior tech-savviness by making use of it in a live environment.

Sometimes there is something about the technology which lends itself to their own product or service, but more often than not they make the mistake of leading with a technology itself rather than thinking about what they want to achieve and how best to do this.

Recently, we were approached by a brand looking to 3D print a miniature version of their product as give-aways at an event. It seemed like an innovative and unusual idea but on further discussion it became apparent that it didn’t really offer any value – in fact, worse, it detracted from the value of their product in every way; 3D printers are still relatively new and novel, particularly for consumers. While they can achieve some impressive results, they are not particularly fast and the quality of output while impressive is, without a doubt, sub-standard to what can be achieved by manufacturing. So they would have been making their customers wait, and then give them something sub-standard to the actual product itself. It was a total lose-lose situation.

We talked to them about ways in which they might involve their visitors on the stand in creating something, rather than being passive recipients of a creation. We discovered that they worked closely with a charity in the community and were planning to promote their work with the charity at the event too.

We looked at 3D print technologies and suggested that, rather than using a 3D printer which works with complex computer-aided-design programmes, they use a 3D printer pen which emits a sticky plastic substance that can be used to craft 3D models quickly and easily without any real design skills needed – it “prints” as you go, so there’s no wait time either.

We discussed the possibility of a design your own ‘X’ type of competition, but it would have been a little complex for the average consumer to create something meaningful in a short amount of time. Instead we suggested connecting into the charity they were promoting by using the 3D printer pens to encourage people to donate money to a charity they work with.

They make a donation, sign their name with the 3D pen and the signature is added to a “tree” of signatures, with a digital display showing the total live amount donated. We integrated that with a twitter feed and photobooth so that we could talk about the donations made and encourage people to visit the stand to add their name to the donation tree.

The end proposal was very different to the original idea they came to us with and it reminded me of the importance of making sure there is value and purpose to the solutions we provide. That purpose can be simply to attract people to your stand. Many of the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headsets we’ve provided have been solely for this purpose, but it is without doubt a stronger proposition if it connects in some way to your brand and brand values. For example, the virtual reality headsets we provided attendees at a pharma show let them experience a journey around a beating heart and showed them details of how a particular medication worked, rather than just being an off the shelf VR game.

Event technology is at the heart of our business, but when talking with customers we put it aside to get to the bottom of what their aims and objectives are, and then explore the best ways to achieve this. Technology should be a facilitator in the process, it can add novelty and interest, and slickness and sophistication, but to be really effective it shouldn’t be the “thing” itself.

Is 2015 the year of the cashless event?

2015 was tipped to be the year of the cashless event in the UK (admittedly, mainly by the PR machine of the suppliers producing the RFID solutions which make it possible).  Last year, several of the big US festivals, including Coachella and Lollapalooza, introduced cashless payments using the RFID entry wristbands, which have been a mainstay of festivals now for some time. This year in the UK, Download was one of the first to try it, with mixed results. They made it compulsory but the system buckled under the weight of users and party-goers were frustrated to be unable to buy anything, with no contingencies in place to revert to cash. Inevitably, they took to Twitter to share their pain and negative tweets ricocheted across the networks.

Undoubtedly this is a step backward, but probably only a small one. With digital payments overtaking cash transactions and the rapid advancement of the internet of things, where everything from bread makers to automotive systems are connecting into networks, it seems pretty likely that cashless payments will soon become de rigueur at events – albeit with some modifications and developments to minimise some of the challenges of such a change.

We provided connectivity earlier this year to enable cashless payment at the Drifters Festival, a VIP music festival on Osea island in the Essex Estuary. It partnered with Cake, a relatively new payment app, which enabled visitors to easily pay with their mobiles and was a real success – we were very impressed with the operation of this innovative payment solution and suspect we will be seeing more of them on the event scene in time to come.

These sorts of technologies aren’t necessarily significant just for the high-footfall events like festivals and sporting events, they also present opportunities for brands that are creating pop-up experiences or activations, and for brands that exhibit at consumer events and need a way to process payments quickly and seamlessly, such as pop-up restaurants, temporary retail units and product launches where the brand wants to add an easy instant purchase option – it will be really interesting to watch this space and see what develops.

Personalising content in the live environment

Know thy customer.  It’s engraved in some stone-age monolith somewhere as the most basic maxim of marketing.  How can you possibly market a product if you don’t know who your customer is or what they want.

In today’s marketing ecosystem, there isn’t a marketing manager worth their salt who doesn’t understand their customers, the differentiations that separate them and the different marketing messages that will be required to resonate with each group.  And marketing segmentation and targeting is getting even more sophisticated – retailers don’t just know roughly which demographic their customers fit they now know exact purchasing habits, loyalties, weak spots, number of pets even personal hygiene problems as a result of retail loyalty cards.  Likewise, email marketing campaigns operate intelligently and pro-actively, capturing data on what we clicked on and using it for future targeting.

In the live environment however, where brands are seeking to attract customers from each of their segments, all of this sophisticated targeting goes out the window and they can only rely on their broader appeal, their multiple attributes to engage and entice.

This has less impact on consumer brands which are looking to develop an emotional connection through a relatively static set of values – or who focus their campaign on a specific product line and demographic target.  But for B2B brands who, in our experience, often use the live environment to interact with their customers across a range of product lines or sub-brands – particularly at exhibitions – it means generic catch-all marketing messages which just don’t resonate and draw people in.

A personalised content solution

In response to these frustrations, we built brandWallet which uses an RFID tag incorporating demographic information.  This can be used to tailor the information a visitor sees to fit their profile at information screens as they tap around an exhibit- so for example the language displayed would automatically be in their mother-tongue, the products shown would be those selected to be most relevant to their profile, the information might reflect whether they will require detailed scientific data on a product or a high-level marketing perspective.   It’s a very clever and unobtrusive system which is going down a storm with agencies.

The customer gets immediately to areas of interest, and they can easily email themselves brochures and information, by adding it to their “digital rucksack”.  Meanwhile the brand collects detailed information on which customer looked at which products, for how long, what they looked at next and so forth which gives invaluable marketing and R&D insight and also enables them to benchmark against other events and measure ROI.   It basically equips the brand with the intelligent targeting they do in direct mail and email campaigns, but in real-time for live events.  This is transformative as it enables the brands to play to their best hand of cards every time. Essentially, brandWallet makes live marketing more intelligent – instead of showcasing a wide range of products in which the few that the customer might be interested in is diluted, it enables the brand to pre-identify that a customer with x and y attributes should be shown x and y products, which makes the customer feel valued and understood and open to learning more. With the overwhelming amount of buzz and information at live events, getting to the heart of what your customer wants to learn about quickly and matching their needs with solutions couldn’t be more important.

If you think brandWallet could boost your clients or your own live marketing, get in touch with us on 0845 226 3083

Social plus live = marketing heaven

We’re always saying it – live events and social media are natural bedfellows.  For networking events this is because the opportunity to actually physically meet people you may have been conversing with or exchanging glib one-liners is somehow rather life-affirming.  But it also cuts the other way – using social to amplify a live event beyond the attending audience makes for powerful marketing indeed.

The problem is that so many brands remain utterly uninspired about how they actually achieve this.  Exhibitions are the biggest offenders, with scores of exhibitors flocking to twitter to announce they’re on stand x and come and see them.   Some really up the ante by adding that they have coffee.  Or cake.  Or giveaways.  As if that wasn’t lame enough, you’ll often see the same bland and meaningless message repeated several times throughout the day which starts to sound a bit desperate.

These brands are really missing a trick because not only are they not inspiring the existing audience at the event to connect with them, but there’s also zero chance that their message is going beyond the walls of the event.  If you want your message to be shared not just at the event but to your broader community who are “watching from home”, you need to add some showbiz and get creative – and it doesn’t have to be expensive, just a bit imaginative.

For example, we recently worked with a leading supplier of wellness and prescription brand petfoods , through their stand design agency, Worth Events.  Not a particularly sexy product and certainly not one for which you can offer your human audience a tasty free sample!  Instead, we set up a photobooth for them and they armed themselves with a hundred or so comedy props – from silly wigs, glasses, different animal ears and noses and a whole range of superhero themed paraphernalia.  They encouraged visitors to tap into their silly side, don an outfit and have their photo taken which was then added to a super-powers themed twitter wall displayed on their stand.  Visitors enjoyed the light-hearted humour and of course also shared their photos on twitter, whilst the show twitter-stream practically became a “sponsored by” opportunity as photo after photo, tagged to the show, emerged.  A daily prize for the silliest photo encouraged those who had seen the activity but not yet partaken to get involved, creating a real draw to the stand whilst also boosting their number of twitter followers and making their brand visible to a broader community beyond the event.

I wanted to share this with you because it’s such a simple example of how you can turn what seems like a non-opportunity into something really quite powerful.  Having a bit of fun like this creates attraction and engagement on the stand itself, but also allows you to push out beyond the show and it really isn’t expensive to do.  Our client used a superhero theme for the photos and this theme linked into other elements of their marketing.  It was silly, it was fun, it was memorable and the funny thing about memorable things – is people remember them!

How to give your content more impact at events

As digital content specialists for events, we’re often asked what can be done with data-heavy content to make it more engaging and interesting for visitors at events.

Events and exhibitions are an assault on all the senses. They’re noisy, busy, colourful, lively environments in which text or data heavy content simply isn’t going to get attention.  It might be ground-breaking.  It might be revolutionary.  It might transform healthcare but unless it stands out in some way, unless it looks interesting and piques curiosity, your visitors will simply overlook it entirely.  So, here’s our top tips for giving your content more impact at events:

Bring content to life

All too often we install video walls and plasma screens which clients load up with detailed data which is utterly uninviting.  Save the paragraphs of texts and endless graphs that demonstrate your products’ brilliance for later.  Pick out the key elements of your research, or product data/benefits and look for a novel way to tell its story, to bring it to life in a way which will entice visitors to know more.  For example, as a frontispiece use a quote, a single graph, something a little cryptic or a question – something that is short and can therefore be big, gets right to the heart of the matter and will get people interested.  Or think about creating a short animation to introduce the key benefits of your solution. Animations are a great way to summarise complicated information succinctly and pictorially and we can make them really cost-effectively these days.

Get interactive

Ideally, your frontispiece will be interactive as that’s what will pull your visitors in.  If your question or graph or visual sets up the initial interest, the interactivity enables the visitor to be in control of discovering more.  Increasingly, we’ve been using gesture and motion control technology to make our interactive content solutions even snazzier.  For example, we’ve used leap motion control to enable visitors to control a 3D beating heart.  By moving their hands mid-air they could zoom in on a particular section, rotate the heart to change perspective and play animations which showed the movement of blood through the heart’s chambers.  Seeing visitors, “conducting” the movement of a giant 3D hologram heart, draws in further visitors interested to know more and get involved, and transforms your stand from  being research-heavy and data-centric to being entertaining and lively.

Engage your audience

Interactive content gets visitors delving deeper into your products at their own pace, but it’s still a relatively passive approach.  Draw the visitor deeper into your content by getting them directly engaged with the product.  For example, instead of just displaying the graphical results of a piece of research for a pharma client, we asked visitors, via a 3m by 2m video wall, what they thought the results would look like.  A graph appeared on the wall which they could then adjust – using gesture control technology and moving their arm up and down until it represented their expected results.  This got them thinking about your solution rather than just passively receiving information about it – and it looks interesting to passersby to see someone interacting with and controlling data.  The screen then juxtaposed the real results alongside their guesswork and gave them a score in terms of accuracy.  You could even create a bit of competition here and introduce a leaderboard.

Super-size me

There’s a presumption that you can’t have interactive and large-screen at the same time.  Not true.  Just because you want to make your content interactive, doesn’t mean you have to compromise on screen size – in fact, it’s vital you don’t if you want to retain impact.  Recently, we’ve been using large-scale video walls or LEDs alongside a bank of 6 ipads which each control a portion of the screen – we call this our socketing system.  When not in use, the screen shows one large-scale image or presentation, but each ipad can be used to control a particular portion of the screen so sales teams can use their ipad to fling content onto a portion of the screen to demonstrate to visitors, with multiple demos happening simultaneously.  You don’t have to use ipads for this – you could have one large screen which is multi-touch, so can be used by several different users simultaneously to provide the content they’re looking for.  Visitors are more in the driving seat with this approach but the whole screen does have to be reachable which limits its size, particularly the height – although we can get around this by installing the screen as a touchtable, so it’s all accessible.

Less is more and big is better

Size really does matter when it comes to screens at events.  The average householder has a 40inch screen at home in their living room, so are pretty much immunised against seeing small screens – in a busy environment it just doesn’t grab their attention.  The screen size obviously needs to be compatible with the stand size, but a large scale image definitely has more impact than a small one.  That said, just because a screen is large, doesn’t mean it should be filled corner to corner with information.  On big screens, keep wording succinct, use imagery over words and video over imagery and think of clever ways to make a quick impact, before the visitors eyes have moved to the next shiny thing.

Post event blues

With Christmas well and truly over, the only remaining task – which continues to hang over our heads even now in mid January – is to get the kids to write their thank you cards.  It struck me yesterday after trying to excite my 6 year old daughter with the prospect of some glitter and fancy pens for the job that writing thankyous after the whirl and excitement and frenzy of Christmas and birthdays is a bit like following up post event and responding to leads and following up introductions.  Post event, and post Christmas, the glitz and glamour and excitement has all worn off.  The job is done.  Follow-up feels nothing short of tedious.  The threat that if you don’t get your thankyous off you might never get another present from Granny is pretty weak – everyone knows granny loves giving presents.

No harm done then if you neglect your thankyous, but half-hearted follow up to an event remains by all accounts incredibly common and is such a dreadful shame and waste.  Scribbled notes, half-remembered conversations, lightpen data that’s been downloaded but not incorporated into your CRM, follow-up notes that you’ve inherited from someone else and don’t make a jot of sense.  There’s no end of reasons why follow-up might not be as slick as it ought to be, but surely there’s no excuse for it anymore?   From registration-led offerings which enable you to scan badges, to the bespoke RFID systems we offer, there’s no shortage of solutions to help streamline this process.  I reckon if my daughter could take a photo of the label of each present as she opened it, on an ipad, and have it automatically create a thank you email tailored to that person and present to be sent out at the touch of a button, she’d bite my hand off!    With the pressure to prove Return on Investment greater than ever, it really surprises me that many of our clients are still using the 6- year olds approach of hoping they can remember which present was from who or digging paper from the bin to find the label.  Maybe 2015 will be the year all that changes?

Creating lasting impressions with technology

Last month I touched on the importance of attracting and engaging visitors at a live event or experience, and the use of technology as both an attractor – piquing visitors interest – and as an engager – for example providing ways to contribute to or share an experience.  I wanted to delve a little deeper into this as it’s a topic that really fascinates me.

We’re really seeing brands raise their game in terms of the experience they want to deliver to their visitors and potential customers – they’re looking to use the live environment to full effect, to really make an impression on all the senses, and using technology to do so.  For example, the Aerospace clients we work with don’t just want to show a video of their newest product in action – they could do that on the web or through a newsletter – they want to dazzle with a showcase that not only provides a learning journey but is memorable and impactful.

For one Aerospace client, we installed a transparent touchscreen (minority report style) infront of a life-size engine which enabled visitors to interact and “virtually” strip down the engine to understand its component parts. We combined this with a “rumbling floor”, jet-engine sound effects and superimposed video content so that when they started the engine, they really started the engine!  Likewise, our Pharmacy clients are looking for something more inspirational than simply displaying some pills and bottles and handing out brochures containing their product range.  One pharma client asked us to create a 3D virtual-reality walk-through of a human heart.  We used Oculus Rift’s virtual headsets and added noise-cancelling headphone and the sounds of a heart beating in time with the animation to make it truly immersive.  We also used our paperless literature solution, which really streamlines and declutters a demonstration area and enables visitors to simply swipe an RFID tag against specific demo-points to be emailed a copy of the relevant material. It’s incredible what a difference it makes to the look of a product demo area or exhibition stand when you remove the space for displaying and storing brochures, it really opens things up.

Technology is a real enabler in these instances.  There’s simply no other way to create these kind of experiences, but it’s important that the technology adds value and makes sense of a product or demonstration rather than being “flash” for the sake of it.  Next month, I’ll start the year with some predictions for technology trends relevant to the events industry in 2015.

Capturing data without a goldfish

The ubiquitous goldfish bowl for business cards remains a staple ingredient of many events, from conferences and meetings to exhibitions and brand experiences.  Despite being accompanied by an incentive to win a bottle of champagne or an ipad, I am always surprised that anyone would add their card to the bowl knowing that they will be automatically subscribed to generalised marketing messages.  Increasingly, we protect ourselves from unwanted marketing messages by being cautious about what we exchange our details for and, more often than not, the “maybe” of a raffle isn’t going to cut it.  Marketing tactics have evolved from “push” to “pull” in recent years and I think there are lots more interesting and meaningful ways in a live environment to hook interest.

Increasingly, our clients are asking us to help them develop ways not only of attracting event visitors to them in the first place, but involving and engaging them to the point they willingly and happily share their contact details and get a memorable experience to boot which makes any post-event follow-up much easier.

For example, Oculus Rift, the innovative virtual reality headset recently purchased by Facebook, is a great way to get visitors truly engaged in an experience.  We’ve used standard games or rides as a stand-attractor – watching somebody’s reactions piques curiosity – but we’ve also created custom content that reflects a brands products or services – for example a 3D journey inside a huge beating heart combined with sound-cancelling headphones for a pharma company.  We’ve also created virtual planes to walk around and custom built games that use the brand’s characters and themes.  We can combine games with gesture-control technology so the wearer controls the game using their movements and we add a giant leaderboard screen which makes sharing contact details a given.  We’ve also created multi-user games on large-scale touch-tables to create a real buzz too – adding a leaderboard fulfils that very basic human need to perform well at something, and is also a good conversation starter.

Live opinion polls are also a really useful way of getting engagement started.  A large touchscreen shows a poll question and invites visitors to answer in order to see the collated results of the poll – we can make the results flash up quickly, to attract interest but the visitor has to answer the question to see it properly.  They can then email this to themselves, or browse through a digital collection of the brands’ white papers, educational materials and brochures , seamlessly emailing themselves any they are interested in, using our digital literature solution, ecoXpress.  More recently we have seen a huge rise in interest in our Brand Wallet solution, which uses RFID wristbands which store specific demographic data about each visitor and are then used throughout a brands stand or product launch area to trigger functionality or content that is specific to that person’s likely interests. Being able to welcome someone to your stand and immediately and automatically tailor your content to their needs – and automatically record which presentations they viewed, whether they emailed any information to themselves, how long they spent in a particular area etc oozes slickness and sophistication that a goldfish bowl just can’t quite match!