Despite the explosion of MarTech and SalesTech tools on the market today, the exhibition industry remains largely stuck in the Stone Age. Compare advancements in exhibitor technologies to those in marketing automation, being introduced at alarming rates.  Is this stark difference in innovation because event organizers already employ a successful formula and have no incentive to change?  More likely it is because exhibitors have a clear mission – drive sales revenue.

In today’s global, highly digital world, meeting face-to-face with prospects and customers is becoming harder and more expensive.  This reality is creating a major resurgence in tradeshows.  Smart exhibition organizers understand the more high quality leads their exhibitors capture during the event, the more likely they will return in following years.

An effective mobile lead capture system is paramount to driving sales revenue at tradeshows.  Light pens and barcode scanners have been the norm since I started attending events four decades ago! Back then they were innovative, but today scanning a badge to obtain limited contact details which takes days to receive, is beyond archaic.


The desire to deliver better ROI to exhibitors via lead capture drives Zuant’s product development.  Over the years our clients consistently report two challenges:

  1. Need to use a different lead capture system at each show, thus adding complexity and re-training for show workers at each show.
  2. Huge cost of renting multiple scanners – thousands of dollars for something pretty basic.

Solving these issues, we created a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ product, which accommodates all badge systems at shows around the world. This enables our clients to scan QR codes, other 2-D and 1D barcodes, and NFC cards.Zuant is the core system used to prequalify leads, present videos and literature, email prospects and ensure the data can be quality checked and integrated with downstream CRM and marketing automation systems. Not rocket science, but a major step forward.

As we discover more effective ways to capture leads we continue to evaluate and adopt newer and better ways of doing this.  Here are several innovative technologies on the horizon:

Although barcode badge scanning is the norm, from an exhibitors’ perspective, NFC (Near Field Communication) is one of today’s best products. Presumably due to cost, it seems restricted to IT and Telco shows such as Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress.  NFC will become more commonplace when Apple opens up the NFC scanning option with the iOS 11 release this Fall, allowing exhibitors to use both Apple and Android devices for NFC scanning.

iBeacon is another Apple developed technology first introduced in 2013. iBeacon is also available on other platforms like Android. Various vendors have since made iBeacon-compatible hardware transmitters – a class of Bluetooth low energy (BLE) devices that broadcast their identifier to nearby devices. The technology enables smartphones, tablets and other devices to function when close to an iBeacon.

By transmitting a universally unique identifier, iBeacons determine the device’s physical location, track customers, and trigger a location-based action such as check-in to a booth, update on social media or push notification.

Another application is distributing messages at a specific point of interest in a booth. iBeacon, unlike other location-based technologies, is only a 1-way transmitter to the receiving smartphone or tablet, and necessitates a specific app installed on the device to interact with the beacons. This ensures only the installed app (not the iBeacon transmitter) can track users, potentially against their will, as they passively walk around the transmitters.
So, great potential here, but needs scale to be offered to event organizers in the future.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) was the future once, but price and the intrusive nature of auto-tracking have been a worry. RFID uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to badges.  Tags contain electronically stored information. Passive tags collect energy from a nearby RFID reader’s interrogating radio waves. This makes it excellent for traffic flow monitoring around a show and can then be used by organizers to sell booth space based on high traffic locations.

One of our first Vegas shows for a large construction company featured RFID chips in badges that we leveraged by showing visitor traffic and dwell time in the booth as visitors looked at different products. By mapping back to the Registration database, we were able to telemarket visitors to the booth whom the sales guys had missed by normal lead retrieval. Great stuff, but requires major budget commitment.


What other innovations are out there?

Facial recognition from Zenus allows event planners to identify attendees by searching a database of faces in real-time. Currently, it is the only cloud-based service capable of facial recognition from live video in real-world conditions.

An API integrates into existing event management platforms, enhancing the attendee journey from registration to check-in. Attendees register before the event with one click using their social media profiles. Alternatively, they can upload a picture or take a selfie with their own device.

Another innovation is Hiver. A smartphone app enables users to maximize networking time. It uses advanced geo-location technology with powerful analytics to identify and remember each interaction so users connect with people and follow-up directly.

When exhibitors arrive at an event, they log into  LinkedIn via smartphone and join the event. Phones are left in purses or pockets and checked later for data interactions during the show, viewable in a simple timeline.

Hiver uses Bluetooth Smart, a highly secure technology based on social models about how humans behave.  Hiver helps networkers understand who they’ve engaged with where, and when, and directly connect over LinkedIn.

Clearly what was once a business card stapled to a piece of paper on a clipboard is jumping into exciting new directions for both exhibitors and visitors alike.  The bottomline on all of these innovations is they enhance the attendee experience, successfully capture leads and drive ROI.


About the Author: 
Peter Gillett is CEO of Zuant where he’s responsible for driving product development and client roll-outs of the company’s award-winning Mobile Lead Capture app across US corporations.  An entrepreneur and innovator, Peter created the world’s first web-based CRM system funded by Lucent Technologies in the 1990s. CRM, lead generation and follow-up are still the focus for Zuant and its network of NACCENT call centers around the globe.   Contact Peter via email at