Transform or go bust

12th May, 2017

Based in New York City, Mary Ann Pierce is a digital event specialist who has been fusing the Internet and digital technology to events for over twenty years. The founder and CEO of MAP Digital tells HQ how “Digital Darwinism” is changing the meeting industry as the tipping point approaches. Interview Katie Lau

You delivered a keynote speech in a meeting conference called “Evolve or Die” in Belfast in March. How do you help associations survive the “Digital Darwinism”?

Mary Ann Pierce

The intention of my keynote was to create a map for event organisers of the specific challenges, advantages and opportunities of the digital transformation of the event industry. I built my presentation around three New Rules, which if followed, will help event organisers comprehend and thrive while experimenting to build the right digital strategy that will be relevant to their delegates and will help secure the success of their events. The New Rules are: Customer is at the centre; Integration is innovation (of event technology); and data is currency.

This is a simple, attainable but profound shift in mindset. At this stage in the digital transformation of events, no one is smarter that you and your team if you embrace the New Rules. You must be open to observing, taking a chance, allocating budget, disrupting yourselves, building a purposeful think-tank of delegates, sponsors, exhibitors, technology providers and venues; and then experimenting, documenting and analysing the your results. Refine and do it again. It is a process, and like Rome is not built in a day.

Do these innovations only revolve around technology?

No. Technology is only a catalyst for innovation. The thrill of working in technology is that the customer determines how good or meaningful it is for them by their usage; and the verdict is usually instantaneous.

So my advice to event organisers is to look at your delegates’ lives. We live in a mobile, hyper-connected and customer-driven society. Through our smart phones and other Internet devices, we are connected to thousands of people every day via Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Social media has created the Global Village, and content fuels the digital campfires of Global Village. And events have plenty of underutilised content. However, event content needs to be digitised in order to be shared. A new challenge for event organisers will be to extend your delegate’s live event experience to their Global Village network by deploying robust Internet onsite and making content digital so that your delegates can become Brand Ambassadors by extending their experience and your thought leadership to their wider network via social media to the Global Village,a new horizon where relevance, growth and opportunity can be generated for your brand.

You said we are at the tipping point of massive change driven by society’s embrace of technology. How will it affect the event industry?

One of the digital waves that will be cresting upon us soon is the Internet of Things (IoT): people to people, people to things and things to things, and it reaches beyond beacon technology for tracking delegates’ movement. Next is Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing. One can imagine the intelligence and opportunity that will be realised when an event’s content is analysed by a super computer. This is the Third New Rule: data is currency.

What kind of associations or events are more in need of digital innovation and why?

All. Events should be designed to reflect on how we live in a mobile, hyper-connected and customer-driven society. If you are still measuring success by the number of delegates attending general sessions or visiting exhibition floors, not digitising content nor encouraging delegates’ participation, and the worst omission, not collecting and analysing data – you will see diminished returns in the very near future. I would encourage everyone to look at how retail has been disrupted by online shopping and social media.

Do you segment your offerings between senior and younger delegates as the former are supposedly not as tech savvy?

Currently, we do see a difference of tech usage between generations. However, we do not segment our offerings. It is MAP Digital’s best practice to offer the full stack functionally of our MetaMeetings platform for every event. It is our belief that the digital usage gap will narrow quickly because of personalisation.

For instance, we will soon be pushing to our delegates their ever-changing one-on-one meetings’ schedule onto our conference app. Also for certain delegates we will enable them to view content onsite via live webcasts based on their role. Many of our conferences are very crowded, and this enables our delegates selected by role to access the real-time information even if they cannot get to the session room.

What kind of innovations do you suggest for meeting design?

Delegates can shape their own event experience with software such as for scheduling onsite meetings, for using the power of Artificial Intelligence to match delegates and exhibitors. Also, we are following the rise of Massive Open Online Courses such as which was developed by Harvard and MIT on which much of their undergraduate courses can be taken for free. The “flipped” conference would have the delegate view the session Webcast at home, and go onsite to collaborate, create and do with others.

How ready do you think event venues are for the digital transformation?

I am very impressed by Conference Empire being created by in the US. Convene reimagines office space or underutilised corporate conference centres into an all-inclusive event venues. Convene offers in 100 mbps of wireless, projection, audio and constant food services at quite competitive prices.

To up the ante, I challenge the event venues to become Smart Venues. The real opportunity will be for Smart Venues to partner with event organisers and provide effortless presentations networks, webcasting, name badging, digital signage and give away a conference app that serves as a temporary passport to a city or destination.  This will harvest robust data that can be shared by the venue and the event organiser. It will also be a new source of revenue for the venue.

Any possible challenges facing meeting planners in the digital age?

Many of my conversations with planners are centred on their frustration in getting senior management to focus on digital and allocate funds. Smart businesses allocate a percentage of resources and budget to internal “living labs” or think-tanks that do new things. Either change your mindset or be left behind.

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