Although custom mobile apps are cool and cutting-edge, they are not widely used at special events—yet. Here we present six success stories of event apps, along with some cautionary notes on avoiding being sucked away by apps' 'bright, shiny object' appeal … Last week, we looked at some challenges event planners have in developing mobile apps for their events. Indeed, according to a recent online poll from Special Events, only 20 percent of respondents have created or commissioned a custom mobile app for an event. Of the remaining 80 percent, 60 percent say they want to do it someday, while the remaining 20 percent say they don't see a need to do it or they have not had such a request from as client.

Some of the hurdles in creating apps for special events include the cost of developing an app for a specific event and confusion over how to handle the process.

But our poll shows that 20 percent of respondents have indeed created apps for their events. Here, we share their success stories.

Sequence Creates the 'Wall of Heroes' App

To help Enterprise Community Partners celebrate its 30th anniversary in November, New York-based Sequence honored the nonprofit's 30 "heroes"—30 individuals and corporations largely responsible for helping the agency create affordable housing—with a digital interactive gallery at the cocktail party. Guests used a custom iPad application to learn more about each hero.

Sequence managing director Adam Sloyer explains:

"The gallery was a custom wall approximately 10 feet by 20 feet, with 10 iPad screens integrated across the middle. Three walls meant up to 30 guests were able to experience the gallery at one time.

"We designed the application from scratch, and the idea was that each of the 30 heroes would have a profile that included a brief description and integrated media, either photos or video. It was important that guests were allowed to browse the heroes at their own pace and learn about the ones that had the most positive impact on Enterprise."

The Sequence team used a native app rather than a web-based app.

"A native app is one that is installed directly onto a smart phone or tablet and can work--in most cases--with no Internet connectivity," Sloyer explains. "A web app works via web browser but requires either a cell signal or WiFi to function. The benefit of the native app is that it's working independently from the web, so it's usually faster and you're not at the mercy of cell or Internet connection. The downside to a native app is that they are not compatible across devices. So if you want your attendees to use a native app and some users might be on iPhones and some might using Androids, you need to create two native apps. Web-based apps can be used across platforms. In our case guests were using our iPads, so going the route of native was an easy decision.

"From the time we began designing the app to completion it took around six weeks, and we used our in-house designer and programmer. As far as feedback, there were really no regrets. In fact, the galleries were so well received that Enterprise decided to keep them and use them in a few of their offices. We weren't officially tracking app usage but I'd guess it was around 75 percent."

Photo by Natural Expressions

Pico Takes an App on the Road for VW

To celebrate nearly 30 years of the iconic VW Santana sedan in China and to publicize the introduction of its new model, international event agency Pico TBA Consulting Group and Shanghai Volkswagen created a 45-day, 12,500-mile "test drive" from Germany to China.

The event team created a "digital guidebook" app for the drive; Darren Lim--general manager of Pico TBA Consulting Group--shares details:

Special Events What made you decide to create the app for your event?
Darren Lim We wanted to create an experiential journey for the participants of the Santana car tour. The application serves as a customized digital roadbook for the 45 days of tour. We feel that a digital application is really apt for this legendary tour as participants spend a lot of time on the road, accessing information from an iPad application offers a much more interactive experience than the usual paper form road book.

SE What were your goals for the app--what did you want it to do?
DL Our goals were to engage the participants with this digital application which encompasses many functions, i.e., information on the cities and route, driving distance, traffic signage, program itinerary, PR materials, travel assistance kit, photo gallery, notification update, and sharing and blogging. We have also produced the application on two languages, to cater for the needs of participants on the tour.

SE What program/process did you use for your app?
DL The processes involved a few stages, including research of content. We produced city guides articles in both English and Chinese for about 40 cities where the tour passed by, designing of all the interface pages with the consideration of enhancing the user experience. This was followed by programming and testing.

SE From start of developing the app to the event, how long did the process take?
DL The process took about 4 weeks, from content collation, design, programming, testing to launch.

SE Did your app do everything you wanted it to do?
DL  It did most of the things we wanted to do. In our initial proposal, we proposed more functions like GPS tracking, live updates, more integration with social media. Some of these were not realized due to time constraints and also practical reasons, i.e., GPS requires data roaming, which may not be available during the tour all the time.

SE If you had it all to do over again, would you do something differently?
DL The team is happy and satisfied with the application we have produced. If we could have more time and less rush, we would want to include more functions than mentioned above to enhance the experience even more.

The team [always] has in mind the aim to enhance the participants’ experience during this whole event. An application like the Santana Legend tour app is definitely the most appropriate digital tool to achieve this.

DPEM Gives San Francisco Cocktail Week an Appy Hour

For San Francisco Cocktail week last September, DPEM dreamed up a mobile app to provide information and access to the seven days of events. DPEM marketing manager Lindsay Sutherland shares details:

Special Events What made you decide to create the app for your event?
Lindsay Sutherland We were excited about creating another way that our guests/consumers could have a better experience with the product they purchased, and creating a comprehensive, easy to access location for all information was key. Another benefit was that it had the chance of attracting more potential customers through word-of-mouth. A plus!

SE What were your goals for the app--what did you want it to do?
LS Our goal was to easily provide information, and perhaps entice people to engage with our product further. It was not to be cumbersome.

SE What program/process did you use for your app?
LS We had a third party produce the app for us, so all design and architecture was handled by them.

SE From start of developing the app to the event, how long did the process take?
LS About a week. In order to cut costs, our third party partner used a template for event-based apps that they have used in the past.

SE Did your app do everything you wanted it to do?
LS Yes, it did, considered the quick execution that was required, and for next to no cost. With an unlimited budget and timeline, more could have been done.

SE Can you tell what percentage of your event’s attendees actually used the app? Did they like it?
LS We had good, positive feedback. Overall, a fairly low percentage of our attendees used the app because it was driven though a specific third party.

SE If you had it all to do over again, would you do something differently?
LS Building a more comprehensive app for upcoming years will be a conversation worth having. However depending on the size of the event, it might be foolish to devote too much time/energy/budget on an app--or the information and interaction won't be critical to user experience or attendee growth.

Event apps can tend to be the shiny objects that sound good in meetings, but end up sucking a lot of time and energy and budget without producing results if not executed well.

MCI Group Develops an App that is Just What the Doctors Ordered

For the 27th annual meeting of the European Association of Cardiothoracic Anesthesiologists, held in Amsterdam in May, the team at MCI put the entire conference in delegates' hands with a versatile, information app. MCI's Hugh Torpey explains how:

Special Events What made you decide to create the app for your event?
Hugh Torpey We wanted to enhance the delegates’ experience. Most people have smartphones or some sort of device and an app is a fantastic method of delivering information to them. When you combine that with the sustainability advantages, it’s a no-brainer.

SE What were your goals for the app--what did you want it to do?
HT Because we were giving it to the delegates for free, we wanted an information-driven app. Essentially, we wanted to create an interactive scientific program.

SE From start of developing the app to the event, how long did the process take?
HT A few months, which was longer than I originally thought. It’s a case of listening to your developer on what’s possible within the budget and then match that to your goals.

SE Did your app do everything you wanted it to do?
HT Yes. As I said, it wasn’t flashy, but it did everything we wanted it to. Delegates were able to store the scientific program in their phone and rearrange it to their preferences; that’s a win.

SE Was there something that you wanted the app to do that just didn't work out?
HT We wanted to have it sponsored but with no app history and the length of development meant that it wasn’t an option. In technical terms, the matching of the wireframe with the constantly updating scientific program was a real challenge, but we and the delegates were extremely happy overall.

SE Can you tell what percentage of your attendees actually used the app? Did they like it?
HT We had a 30 percent take-up rate. They loved it, and we’ll certainly be developing an upgrading version for their next meeting.

SE If you had it all to do over again, would you do something differently?
HT I would set key deliverable dates where content would be uploaded. If your scientific program is finalized two weeks before, that’s when you should give the developer the information--not before. Limit that information to what they need to build the application, nothing more.

SE Is there something else we should have asked you?
HT Nothing! Although everyone should be aware of the stringent Apple approval process.

Broadstreet Keeps Attendees at the Conference—not the Casinos—with an Interactive App

How do you keep dealers at a Vegas conference from visiting dealers at the casinos? Broadstreet helps Konica Minolta do just that. Comments from Broadstreet's Matthew Flachsenhaar:

Special Events What made you decide to create the app for your event?
Matthew Flachsenhaar We created the app for a few reasons. We had a large audience of attendees and a large amount of real estate to work with. With employees and vendors moving between general sessions, workshops and the exhibit hall, maps and personal agendas were necessary to keep everyone on track. Also, this event was held in Vegas, which has no shortage of attention-grabbers. An interactive QR Code quest kept attendees visiting and re-visiting the exhibit hall (and off the casino floor) hoping to win prizes at the end of the week.

SE What program/process did you use for your app?
MF We worked with an app vendor that hadn’t been used before in our industry. The company specialized in digital magazines and trade show apps, but was able to apply the same set of skills and talents for the purposes of our apps. Our team on their end was young, quick and cheap--which normally doesn’t mean reliable, but the landscape of digital apps is a different ballgame.

SE From start of developing the app to the event, how long did the process take?
MF Ideation is often the longest phase. Once everyone agrees on what the app should do, production and deployment is around four weeks.

SE Did your app do everything you wanted it to do?
MF Yes, our app served the exact purposes we built it for.

SE Was there something that you wanted the app to do that just didn't work out?
MF Sure. Building apps is a lot like being a kid playing in a big sandbox. At first the possibilities seem limitless, but then you realize the sand box has walls and the sand can’t turn into water. But you’re still in a pretty cool sandbox! Schedules, budgets and technology constraints can often hinder some of the best ideas in digital app execution.

SE Can you tell what percentage of your attendees actually used the app? Did they like it?
MF We did not install tracking software in the app to track when, where and for how long attendees used the app. However, based on the number of attendees that attended the meeting and the number of downloads we had, we know 90% of attendees downloaded it to their devices.

SE If you had it all to do over again, would you do something differently?
MF While the experience was fascinating, we would like to not have to design to RIM and Blackberry standards again! That held back our app from harnessing the full power of iOS and Android.

SE What surprised you most about the process?
MF What surprised us the most was some of the features the attendees used the most – sometimes the ones you talk with the client about spending the most time on are not the ones that engage the user the most.

BKA Takes Charge with a Custom iPad App for MasterCard

To help position MasterCard at the forefront of technology, Barkley Kalpak Agency brings iPads to the sales leadership meeting. BKA's Angela Stassi shares details:

Special Events What made you decide to create the app for your event?
Angela Stassi One of the major objectives of the Sales Leadership Meeting was to inform and align the team around how MasterCard is at the forefront of innovation and technology within their industry. What better way to have the team adopt that way of thinking, and to act on it, than by having them experience the benefits of technology first-hand?

SE What were your goals for the app--what did you want it to do?
AS In general, the goals were to make the meeting experience more streamlined, more dynamic, more relevant to the overall message and more inspiring. Since these executives were very familiar with the construct of a sales meeting it was the perfect scenario in which to inject the use of technology to simplify and elevate the user experience while making the event much more interactive.

SE What program/process did you use for your app?
AS Custom app for iPad.

SE From start of developing the app to the event, how long did the process take?
AS The process took approximately six months. This included time to determine the function/role the app would play throughout the meeting and to collect all necessary content to build the application.

SE Did your app do everything you wanted it to do?
AS It did a lot! Each of the 420 attendees received their own personal iPad to use over the course of the three-day meeting. The app provided the following functions:

  • Meeting Agenda: An interactive meeting agenda where attendees could see the schedule of events. Aparticular bonus was being able to update information in real time as inevitable changes happened onsite.
  • Attendee Profiles: Attendees were able to view photos, names and information on their colleagues in attendance. Since this group gathers from all parts of the world once a year, it’s helpful to put names to faces and provides a chance for people to map out networking/collaboration opportunities.
  • Speaker Bios: Included a database of presenters including name, title, region in which they work and a brief bio.
  • Event Details: Including venue map, dress codes for each of the sessions and evening events, contact info for the meeting and “in case of emergency help” section.
  • Ask a Question: One of the most valuable tools throughout the meeting, the Ask a Question portion of the app was open throughout the meeting for attendees to ask questions pertaining to any presentation. These questions were then pushed to the presenter, who was holding a moderator iPad and who could answer the questions as they were going along. For any questions that went unanswered during the presentation, there was a designated person who also had a moderator iPad and was able to answer each of the questions soon after.
  • Polling Section: This acted as an audience response system. Attendees could answer any questions put forth by the presenter. This app was a favorite as it increased the level of engagement as well.
  • Additional Information: White papers, breakout presentations and videos were uploaded and pushed to each of the iPads so attendees had immediate and direct access throughout the meeting.
  • Feedback: Attendees were able to provide feedback in real-time.
  • Teambuilding Activity: Coming off of a wildly successful teambuilding activity throughout Venice, Italy, at the year prior’s meeting, BKA infused technology into the MasterCard Priceless Pursuit scavenger hunt throughout London. Utilizing iPad technology, QR codes, and apps including Hailo, Hopstop, London interactive Maps, and personal MiFi, attendees went on an Amazing Race-styled excursion throughout the city which supported their Priceless Cities marketing campaign. The first teams to get back won their very own iPad.

SE Was there something that you wanted the app to do that just didn't work out?
AS It all worked very well and our team did some troubleshooting onsite to make sure that was the case. The only missed opportunity was allowing attendees to take notes as part of the app, but we plan to do that in the future.

SE Can you tell what percentage of your attendees actually used the app? Did they like it?
AS One hundred percent of the attendees used the app--the polling and ask a question sections proved that. The post-meeting survey showed that 97 percent of attendees rated iPads as “valuable”; 58 percent rated them as "highly valuable.”

SE If you had it all to do over again, would you do something differently?
AS Luckily, we are doing it over again. Due to the overwhelming positive feedback, we will be bringing the app back to next year’s Sales Leadership Meeting, but this time it will have even more functions including a note-taking section and video-on-demand function.