How This Association Stays on Top of Event Tech Trends

A recent summit hosted by the National Marine Manufacturers Association convened a variety of vendors to discuss virtual reality, beacons, and apps.

By Mitra Sorrells August 30, 2016, 7:00 AM EDT

The Chicago Boat, RV & Strictly Sail Show is one of 19 consumer shows produced by the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Photo: Courtesy of the National Marine Manufacturers Association

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (N.M.M.A.) hosts 19 consumer boat shows and one trade show each year in cities around the United States. To help the association and individual show managers keep up with the latest technology and generate new ideas to improve the attendee and exhibitor experience, the group hosted an Ideas Summit from August 16 to 17 at Summit West in Chicago. Organizers said it was a new spin on their traditional yearly meeting.

“We used to spend a lot of time re-hashing the past—what we’ve done—versus focusing on the future and what could be done. And idea generation was a bit stagnant,” said Jennifer Thompson, N.M.M.A. vice president of consumer and trade events. “The idea for the summit was to lean on our partners and companies who’ve shown an interest in working with us to say, ‘What’s new? What’s out there? What more can you be doing with us? What aren’t we considering?’”

Participating vendors included AdStrategies, Experient, Foundry 45, Fern, Shepard, and more. Thompson said the event was a success, generating multiple ideas of how tools such as virtual reality, augmented reality, beacons, and apps can help exhibitors prove return on investment, and can make their shows more engaging for attendees. One example the group discussed is using virtual reality to help show guests experience the feeling of driving a boat in a warm, tropical environment.

Data capture is also a critical topic, said Thompson, and presenters explained how technology can facilitate that at a consumer show. “In a trade environment, everyone registers. In a consumer show, they don’t. So you are constantly faced with who’s here, how long are they staying, how can you prove to your exhibitors you’re getting the right people there when you can’t capture data on who they are effectively,” she said.

One idea that emerged at the summit was to create a single sign-on for attendees where they can order tickets, pay for parking, order food, and indicate what they hope to see and do at the show. “Collecting data as a whole versus in little silos, which I think is a game-changer for consumer shows,” Thompson said.

N.M.M.A. is conducting follow-up meetings with vendors, and Thompson said that the association hopes to test some new strategies at shows in the spring or fall of 2017.

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