The Magic of Mobile-First Thinking

June 12, 2018

By Dax Callner


Mobile devices are ubiquitous at every public event, including B2B conferences, where attendees navigate the event using their phones while working and keeping in touch with their families — and maybe even playing a game or checking their social feeds.

It goes without saying: our devices are fully integrated into our lives.

Mobile app developers have expertly crafted experiences that enhance our physical lives by taking advantage of this ubiquity, combined with handy features like persistent triangulation and GPS. Our phones and the software on them know where we are all the time. Scary? Maybe!

But in the event world, developing the mobile experience is often an afterthought. Event marketers are in the business of creating physical experiences, so we don't often keep the mobile device experience top of mind. Yes, we develop apps for events and maybe create a VR experience or two, but these are always tangential to the main event — the onsite experience.

But what if we flipped our thinking and planned an event with the mobile device experience in mind first, and then developed the physical experience from that foundation? Could be pretty wild.

GES Events and QuickMobile did just that with a thought experiment that produced fascinating new strategies. For example, imagine if:

  • All event content is created for consumption on a mobile phone, and then used in the live event
  • Attendees' devices help them get around the event using the quickest possible routes, even helping to avoid crowds
  • Event networking is powered by LinkedIn and Tinder-style functionality
  • The entire event is gamified through a Pokémon Go style AR game
  • Session recommendations are delivered based on attendee interests and behaviors (powered by AI)

If you'd like to take a crack at mobile-first thinking, or at least elevate your event's focus on the device experience, here are a few tips:

  • Spend some time analyzing your favorite apps and what makes them great. What service do they provide that enhances your life? How do they customize services based on your preferences and behaviors? How have they changed your real-life experiences? These lessons can help guide the development of the mobile-first event.
  • Get into the real needs of your attendees or target audiences. What are their "value drivers"? Meaning — what do they most need and want as relevant to your event. For example, if it's a B2B conference, attendees may most value tangible ideas they can take back to their businesses, or professional skills they can use to propel their careers forward. If it's a consumer activation, value might be about quality time with family. Once you've identified these insights, consider how the mobile and physical experiences can deliver on audience needs.
  • Build out a robust mobile experience before considering what might happen at the physical event. Then, use your mobile experience ideas to inform event planning. You'll be surprised at how it will impact event thinking.
  • Consider how you will use resulting data from digital and physical behavior tracking to continue to enhance the event. For example, if you are tracking attendee movements through their devices, it may help with future space planning. If you are tracking content consumption, it might change what types of content you provide in the future. This may sound like big-brother stuff but this is what the Amazons and Googles of the world are doing today as they create and evolve user experiences.

It's all about thinking like a digital developer and creating intuitive experiences that seamlessly merge the digital and the physical. I'm not suggesting a whole-scale revolution in terms of changing event planning. Rather, I'm offering a different way to think about events in recognition of our always-present devices. Event marketers want to offer high-value, high-impact experiences — device-centered thinking is one important strategy to achieve that goal.


Dax Callner is the chief strategy officer at GES Events. You can reach him here.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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