Finding Tradeshow ROI with Location-Based Apps

Location-based apps are gradually becoming part of the social psyche. As the world’s sharelust continues to intensify, location-based apps afford a unique way to know what people do – beyond what they just say they do. For regional marketers, location-based apps can help unlock neighborhoods and shopping centers. For tradeshow exhibitors, they stand to help unlock greater return on investment.

Going beyond the booth
My annual pilgrimage to CES is usually focused on feeding my insatiable desire to drool over the latest tech toys. A close second objective is to witness the spectacle of tradeshow booth design and interactive media. But this year, I was keen to explore the increasing use of location-based apps to extend the reach of a company’s presence on the tradeshow floor.

I’m a recent convert to FourSquare. I’ve been using Facebook Places since its launch, but have found it pretty uninspiring. FourSquare leverages our instinctive competitive spirit to foster a really intriguing and compelling experience. Their leadership in the space was evidenced by how many companies at CES leveraged the platform. In many respects, it’s earned top-tier prominence next to Twitter and Facebook. All of this makes FourSquare the perfect acquisition target for Facebook, but that’s the topic of another post. (Here’s a good post on five FourSquare wannabes.)

Tradeshows, like most mass gatherings of humanity these days, find a majority of attendees walking with noses pressed to smartphone glass. At CES, I was one of a billion people oscillating between my email, my phone, my HootSuite account and my camera. This umbilical relationship to our mobile devices lays the groundwork for location-based apps to find a conditioned and receptive audience at tradeshows. Now, instead of being limited to how many passersby your employees can grab out of the aisles, or how loud you play your music, or how attractive your booth babes are, you can draw people from across the show floor via tools like FourSquare.

Be a destination, not a detour
There are typically two type of tradeshow attendees: the cartographers who pre-plan who and what they’ll see. Armed with the event directory and list of exhibitors, they’ll map their travels up and down each aisle. Then you have the moths. You know, the stunned insects who drift aimlessly from shiny thing to shiny thing? Location-based apps let you reach both of these attendee types. And more than simply broadcasting your booth presence, you can draw them directly to you – through GPS positioning and by baiting them with special offers.

The availability of special offers is what really makes FourSquare (currently) wholly dominant over Facebook Places. It’s also what distinguishes tradeshow exhibitors who merely use location-based apps from those who use location-based apps well. The timeless tradition of tossing tchotchkes and pandering for raffle entries won’t, and shouldn’t, end any time soon. Location-based apps let you increase the draw of these items. It gives you a digital bullhorn that may very well turn your booth from a “happened-by” to a “must-see.”

Add location-based outreach to your bag of tradeshow tricks
Leveraging location-based apps stands to create a big competitive boost for those companies whose budgets relegate them to the fringe of the floor – helping them get more exposure out of less space. Not everybody can afford the 200 x 200 megalopolis that Samsung or Microsoft can. But everyone can afford to leverage a FourSquare Special. Suddenly the Davids have a little more ammunition against the Goliaths.

Among the myriad appeals of location-based apps is that they’re free to use and free to set up. As the user base increases, the logic of adding FourSquare or Facebook to your tradeshow marketing mix becomes a no-brainer. Let’s not forget…this isn’t just about drawing people to your booth and letting the relationship end there. You’ve started a conversation with them. As with any social technology, that conversation is now visible to his or her entire social graph. Instead of one visitor dropping one business card in your raffle fishbowl or scanning one badge at your info desk, they just potentially opened the virtual door to hundreds of their friends. The impact of and investment in your booth presence stand to deliver infinitely more value than ever before.

A tour through the social side of CES
So what does location-based technology look like at a tradeshow? I chronicled some of it below, including a look at how two companies – Intel and Sony – did it well.

Hit the tradeshow floor and you can immediately see who is in it to win it. A good listing should definitely include the booth number. The "Special" tags indicate those booths that are running a promo. They're like honey to FourSquare busy bees.
Stopped by Intel to check out their Special.
Really good and appropriate Special, in my opinion. Not only does it encourage you to investigate their booth, but it incents further sharing with a giveaway. Perfect use of the medium.
Inspired by the Special challenge, I set off to find my "favorite part". When Corey stopped me to show me Intel's 2nd Gen Chips (which are entirely amazing, by the way), turns out Corey "didn't really know about the FourSquare thing." Hint: tell your entire booth staff about your social promos.
Found my "favorite part". Motion-based gaming featuring a Portal 2 demo. Picture taken, tweeted and hashtagged. Mission accomplished, Intel.
Just like training your booth staff on the promo is important, a sign is also critical. Until people are more conditioned to check in, they need reminders. A sign at your info desk (or in multiple locations if you have a large booth) is key. Particularly when you have multi-part instructions like Intel's Special. Kudos to Intel.
Next off, it was time to see what Sony's Special was.
FourSquare is all about the badges. A little bonus for using more people check-in, you can unlock the "Swarm Badge". Makes the booth seem even more enticing. (I just noticed...Felix L was the Mayor of the Sony AND Intel booths. Wonder if he unlocked the "Scam Badge.")
Sony had a slightly different tactic on their Special. I like the payoff, but it only encouraged early attendance. Kind of anticlimatic for those coming later in the day. Notice they tie back to their Facebook page (rather than their corporate site) for more details. Nice move.
Definitely a Swarm at the impressive Sony booth.
It's always funny when FourSquare loses its mind every once in a while. Here it thought I was in Virginia (I don't think I want to visit "the hills have eyes" on I95.) My personal favorite was when it told me I was in the Grand Canyon.
You always find the goofy locations at a tradeshow. People were staking out doors between halls. Personally, I wanted to be the Mayor of Door #6. Alas, it wasn't to be.
Discovered the "Secret Hallway Plug." (Isn't there one at every show?) Notice the Special Nearby flag in the right corner. FourSquare does a great job of guiding people to you by luring them with Specials. They can only unlock the specials when they're at your booth, though.
After a day of racking up points at CES, I got the "Overshare Badge" smackdown. Kind of a funny little feature of FourSquare. But as location-based apps continue to proliferate, events like CES undoubtedly hope there are a lot more of them awarded.

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