Getting Unhooked from Our Smartphones

Posted on July 27, 2017 by: Ryan Estis

How many times will you stop reading this blog post to check e-mail, text messages or social media?

The heaviest smartphone users click, tap or swipe on their phone 5,427 times a day, according to the research platform dscout. The rest of us still touch the addictive things 2,617 times a day on average. That level of connection is wreaking havoc on our ability to focus on tasks that require more concentration than it takes to post a status update.

Adam Alter, author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,” warns that many of us — youngsters, teenagers, adults — are addicted to modern digital products. Not figuratively, but literally addicted.

In a New York Times interview, he explains:

In the past, we thought of addiction as mostly related to chemical substances: heroin, cocaine, nicotine. Today, we have this phenomenon of behavioral addictions where, one tech industry leader told me, people are spending nearly three hours a day tethered to their cellphones. Where teenage boys sometimes spend weeks alone in their rooms playing video games. Where Snapchat will boast that its youthful users open their app more than 18 times a day.
Behavioral addictions are really widespread now. A 2011 study suggested that 41 percent of us have at least one. That number is sure to have risen with the adoption of newer more addictive social networking platforms, tablets and smartphones.

We increasingly struggle to look away from our screens.


Mine was. The frightening thing about the addiction was that I didn’t realize the impact it was having on me until I went into “detox.” During the first few days of my initial digital detox, I desperately wanted to check my phone. I felt low-grade anxiety and was completely out of my comfort zone. Ironically, eight days later when I got my phone back, I left it off for a few hours to fully absorb my transformation. In that moment I was much more aware of the impact technology was having on my ability to be fully present.

Yes, the internet has fundamentally transformed the way we connect and communicate. It’s launched a whole new economy where anyone with an idea and an internet connection can start a company and connect with a global marketplace full of opportunity.

For that very reason, we’re living in the golden age of entrepreneurship! However, letting technology intrude into nearly every waking moment isn’t healthy and the time to create a little more discipline around it is now.

On a recent road trip with Seth Mattison, we discussed how to be more intentional in our relationship with technology and how we know when it’s time to unplug. Case in point, notice the irony of our full immersion into tech while talking about the benefits of a digital detox in this video!

VIDEO: On the Road with Seth Mattison

The key is to get off of autopilot and become a bit more aware and intentional in managing our technology so it isn’t managing us. Give the digital detox a try this weekend and DM me on Monday to let me know how it went!

Ryan Estis helps companies and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance. Each live event blends original research with compelling stories that move participants to take action. Ryan has 20 years of business experience working with the world’s best brands to initiate change, inspire innovation and deliver growth. Learn more about Ryan Estis.

Source: Getting Unhooked from Our Smartphones

IAEE Awards Spotlight on Feathr: 2016 Outstanding Achievement in Innovation in Business Solutions Award Winner

By Mary Tucker, Sr. PR/Communications Manager

In 2016, Feathr presented its Event Marketing Cloud business solution for consideration in the IAEE Individual Awards Program. Feathr’s Event Marketing Cloud encompasses marketing strategies addressing: analytics and segmentation; retargeting automation; cross promotion; email mapping; lookalike audiences; referral marketing; and sponsored retargeting.

One innovative quality that stood out about Event Marketing Cloud is the way in which it gathers the various marketing tools available into a single, user-friendly source. Furthermore, the strong presence Feathr has created within the exhibitions and events industry in a relatively short amount of time is impressive. As such, Feathr garnered the IAEE Outstanding Achievement in Innovation in Business Solutions Award for Event Marketing Cloud in 2016.

Co-Founder & CEO of Feathr, Aleksander Levental, shares with IAEE how the idea for Feathr came about, how he and Co-Founder Aidan Augustin approach their marketing solution concepts, and where he sees the future of the exhibitions and events industry moving in terms of technology.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Awards presentation during the Networking Luncheon at Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition 2016 in Anaheim, CA. From left to right: Representing the IAEE Awards Committee, Randy Bauler, CEM; Aleksander Levental; and IAEE President and CEO David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA.

IAEE: As co-founders of Feathr, what inspired you and Aidan Augustin to create your digital marketing solution for the exhibitions and events industry?

ALEKSANDER: Aidan and I found ourselves in the event industry five years ago almost entirely by accident (which seems to be quite common in the industry). The dorm room startup that was Feathr morphed into a company that made mobile apps for events (think: DoubleDutch, Crowd Compass, Guidebook, etc.). And for two years while we tried to build that product and company, we started learning about how events run their business: how attendee acquisition and retention worked; the opportunities sponsors had to engage with attendees; and the sources of revenue that organizers have, etc. What we discovered was that there was an underlying problem causing these concerns inside our customers – and that underlying problem started to sound like an opportunity the more we looked into it.

Attendee acquisition, engagement with sponsors, matchmaking, content suggestion – effective execution of all of those activities – starts with storing and utilizing data. Data captured on the event website, marketing activity, registration process, surveys, mobile app, etc. That realization was the original inspiration for Feathr becoming a “digital marketing solution for the exhibitions and events industry.” But, really, digital marketing is just a piece of what we want to do. Ultimately, what we care about is helping organizers build high-growth, high-satisfaction and competitive events. Digital marketing was the first step.

IAEE: What are the marketing elements that you think all shows – big or small – absolutely cannot go without?

ALEKSANDER: Post-registration, pre-venue engagement. It is without a doubt the most important step of the marketing funnel and, unfortunately, the least developed one. As an industry, we talk about acquisition a lot: attendee acquisition, exhibitor acquisition, etc. While that is all well and good, customer acquisition at the expense of customer retention is ultimately a losing proposition. It’s critically important to take time and build tailored marketing activities designed to increase and maximize engagement with the show after someone has registered.

One of the primary drivers of this wave of tech and software revolution has been the understanding that recurring revenue and low churn can produce very valuable business very quickly. One of the main tools an organization has available to produce high retention, high NPS, satisfied customers, and reliable recurring revenue is personalized post-sale marketing and engagement. In the software world, this is referred to as “Customer Success.” If we spent all of our time and effort only focusing on new customer acquisition, the last two to three years for Feathr would have been much different. Unfortunately, we see our customers wanting to make that gamble all the time. We’re trying to coax ourselves, our customers, and the industry into focusing on post-registration marketing and engagement, so that we can get out of the cycle of having to dig out of an attendee acquisition hole every year.

IAEE: Feathr tailored its digital marketing tools specifically to the needs of event organizers. What feedback do you receive from organizers as being their biggest challenge?

ALEKSANDER: Time, resources, and the anxiety of choice. Across the entire spectrum of our customers – from the largest independent organizers to a small staff association – everyone we deal with is wearing multiple hats with many responsibilities. Combine that with organizational pressures to grow, launch new shows, create and sell new products, and incorporate new technology, and you end up with people (and companies) that are stretched too thin. Instead of investing time into foundational and long-term innovation, companies are forced to run 100 small experiments in parallel and make decisions without the clarity of thoughtful analysis

The most precious gift that an executive can give someone on their team isn’t budget, it’s room to focus.

IAEE: Given the rapid pace of technology, what advice would you offer those who may be intimidated by the task of staying current and/or investing in an effective solution for their needs?

ALEKSANDER: This is going to sound incredibly self-serving but it’s an idea that’s very near and dear to me: Make an organizational change in the philosophy of the business, and find people and partners that will help grow institutional knowledge and value within your organization. The answer isn’t any one specific piece of technology or service, it’s in embracing a process that’s built around growing, learning from mistakes and failures, and starting to be adaptive.

Resisting the urge to view this process as a series of unrelated decisions about software of technology is key. Even in our relatively short time in the industry, we’ve seen it so often. The entire organization gets stressed over the pressure to pick the correct ____ tool. There are months of research and deliberation that build up to what feels like a tremendously significant choice – then the company relaxes and waits for the next fire, only to find themselves in exactly the same position, with the same issues, now just looking to the next piece of software or technology to magically solve their problems.

 IAEE: Being on the cutting edge of technology is your business. What new digital trends do you foresee for the exhibitions and events industry in particular?

ALEKSANDER: Over the next five years? Connecting data to the experience of the event itself. Where you go, what you see, and who you talk to will be driven by the data and analysis that organizers create well before the people show up at the venue. In retail they refer to this as “clienteling,” we’re going to need a clever name for our industry.

Beyond that? Augmented Reality is going to change everything about the world, events won’t be any different.

IAEE is accepting nominations for the 2017 Outstanding Achievement in Business Solutions Award! Click here to learn more about the IAEE Individual Awards and submit your nominations today!

Say Hello To Your New Best Friend, The Official Services Contractor

First appeared in IAEE’s special quarterly insert of The Meeting Professional Magazine

By Michelle Bruno, MPC
Writer | Content Strategist | Blogger
Technology Journalist | Publisher

In an industry that can appear to be evolving slowly, a lot has changed. While the grid-style floor plans, pipe and drape, and PowerPoint presentations at some events could be candidates for #ThrowbackThursday, new technologies, competitors, and magnets for attendee attention surface daily. As organizers work toward addressing these new realities, they may have an unexpected ally. General services contractors are moving into a new role—that of official services contractor, strategist, collaborator, and investor.

Over the past decade, the lines of business and the strategic role of the general service contractor have expanded, so much so that the leaders in the category now refer to themselves as official services contractors. The initial focus on exhibitor-centric offerings has widened to encompass attendee services. Firms that were previously extensions of the event-operations team have morphed into experiential brand agencies. Strategists and creatives have begun working alongside logisticians.

Although the change has been fairly slow—“It’s a little like watching your kids grow up,” says Aaron Bludworth, CEO of exposition and corporate event service provider, Fern—a number of factors have precipitated the decade-long transition. The continuous barrage of event technology, evolving attendee preferences, competition from digital marketing channels, and desire of organizers to deliver compelling experiences despite limited staffs and budgets created new opportunities for contractors.

Services contractors are keenly aware of the changing requirements from customers and the fact that they are being called upon to provide a broader range of services. “We recognize that we’ve been in the business of providing logistics expertise for a very, very long time, but as we see the world changing and as we see digital and strategy and creative and the experiential part becoming a bigger reason for going to events, we’re pivoting in that direction as well,” says Richard Maranville, Chief Digital Officer of brand experience company, Freeman.

Of all the event–industry stakeholders, services contractors were the likeliest companies to step up. “It’s a natural fit,” Bludworth explains. “The big official services contractors, at least, touch more customers and have more resources that any of the other entities—more than buildings, more than bureaus and other types of specialty contractors,” he says.

Addressing solution overload

“The market is saturated with solution providers,” says Randy Pekowski, President and Chief Operating Officer of exhibition and event services provider, The Expo Group. His firm recently announced the launch of its strategic positioning services, which aim to help organizations navigate the increasingly crowded supplier marketplace. Through strategic mapping exercises, the company performs a deep dive into client objectives, delivers a list of unbiased, neutral recommendations, manages the execution, and measures the results.

In a solution-rich technology landscape, another challenge for event organizers is the tedious job of integrating solutions with one another. Freeman is focusing specifically on the problem. “Instead of taking sort of a one-off approach where you partner with a company, you announce a partnership, but it doesn’t really integrate anything, we’re doing some of the hard work of integrating the offerings, so that a client actually sees the value, and it’s not one plus one equals two. It’s one plus one equals three,” says Maranville.

Helping to energize audiences

Most organizers focus on the experiential as well as the transactional nature of face-to-face meetings. As attendees continue to up the ante on what they consider a worthwhile way to spend their time and budget, event producers are looking for ways to engage them. GES recently announced the acquisition of Poken, a visitor engagement and measurement platform. Fern acquired KiwiLive, a mobile audience engagement solution.

Organizers want contractors to create a certain “think, know, and, feel quality” and tie that into the design, says Richard Maples, Executive Vice President of Shepard Exposition Services. As a result, many official services contractors have increased their investments in audio-visual capabilities, production services, and agency-level creative resources. GES offers its agency event services and GES Marketworks, a strategic marketing consulting group. FreemanXP is a brand-experience agency under the Freeman umbrella and The Expo Group’s Level 5 is an in-house team that provides experiential audience engagement activations.

Lowering the risk of innovation

Not every organization has the budget to test drive new technology. Freeman was one of the first companies to lead with a kind of event-technology-as-a-service strategy. It established Freeman Digital Ventures, a fund to accelerate innovation through investments in sophisticated digital event technology providers. With Freeman as an intermediary, event organizers can circumvent the expense and resource allocation required to select, test, implement, and measure new technologies.

There are other ways for event organizers to access technology at lower price points and risk levels. Some solution providers offer freemium (free at a basic level) access or revenue-share models. Many association management firms invest in technology and allocate the costs and capabilities across their customer portfolios. One innovative contractor recently announced a pay-for-performance pricing model that provides funding for innovation in exchange for participation in the positive results.

Reducing event-data FOMO

All of the discussion around using data to market more effectively, create better experiences, and develop new revenue streams leaves some of the less capable organizers feeling disadvantaged. Official services contractors are helping them assuage this fear of missing out (FOMO) by crunching some of the numbers for them. Fern analyzes data trends from customer events, validates them using publicly available data sources, and provides organizers with a rich, more reliable data set from the event, Bludworth explains.

With its broad range of acquisitions in registration, housing, travel planning, exhibitor services, and attendee engagement, GES has access to a huge supply of event data, which it can deliver to event organizers. “If we can provide greater data about the ROI for exhibitors or insight into the attendee experience, we can help clients develop better go-to-market strategies, attendee engagement programs, and new environments,” explains Chuck Grouzard, Executive Vice President of Exhibition Sales at GES.

Relieving the pinch of a small staff

In many ways, the expanded service offerings from official services contractors are a reflection of the needs of organizers to do more with less, including fewer employees. “Especially with events that travel,” says Richard Maples, “Organizers don’t always have partners in every city. We’re with them as business consultants wherever they go and with whatever they’re doing. It’s also the reason why organizers don’t change official services contractors as often as they do other service providers. It’s a relationship with a large impact.”

While official services contractors can use their expertise and resources help fill in the gaps created by thin staffs, at least one firm has invested in a program that provides contract staff to organizers. Shepard’s “Sandbox Sherpas” offer pre-qualified meeting-industry professionals with specialty skills from show-floor management to marketing and show operations to exhibit sales. “We don’t recommend anyone who doesn’t share the Shepard values,” Maples explains.

Facilitating change management

In the past, services contractors were looked upon as logisticians. Today, they’re viewed as thought leaders. One of the reasons for the shift, says Maples, is that organizers are under pressure to change more quickly than they have in the past. “Ten years ago, we consulted at a surface level. Now we’re getting involved in the core business and working with all the event’s stakeholders. They see us as a way to deliver change at a much faster pace than they could if they were trying to take it on internally.”

The role of the exhibition and meeting planner has also changed in the past decade. Many are required to play a more strategic role in the business. “Planners aren’t just walking around with a checklist anymore. They have to perform more complex tasks, work with multiple vendors, and integrate different platforms and databases. They need partners with a broader range of services and expertise so they can work at a higher level,” says Marsha Flanagan, M.Ed., Vice President of Learning Experiences at the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE).

Driving down costs

Richard Maples from Shepard echoes what many services contractors say. When customers allow them to deliver more services, they can offer some economies of scale. “If organizers can align their general service contracting and exhibits portion with me and give me an opportunity to provide marketing, audio-visual, production and entertainment, now my revenue streams have doubled and I can give them a better package.  They might see an additional five to ten percent impact on the budget,” he says.

The digital transformation that is impacting all businesses is also finding its way into the business of services contracting. And it’s helping to lower the costs of producing events. For example, online portals that improve the communication and collaboration between organizers and services contractors and digital products—virtual tours of facilities, web-based floor plans, and all-in-one eLearning platforms, etc.—which result in more process efficiencies, help drive operating costs down.

The new customer view

The way that many organizers see services contractors has changed too. At IAEE’s most recent annual meeting, Expo! Expo!, GES, the official services contractor was integrated into almost every aspect of the show from the development of the trade show floor plan to the design of the general sessions, educational offerings, charity event and the Young Professionals initiative, explains Nicole Bowman, MBA, Vice President, Marketing and Communications at IAEE. “It’s not just about ordering services. These companies are helping organizers extend their brands and enhance their business strategies,” Flanagan adds.

The word “partnership” comes up in a lot of conversations about the new role of services contractors. “Certainly an organizer can benefit from the official services contractor’s vast knowledge and experience, drawing from other shows. However, it is also important for the contractor and the organizer to have a collaborative partnership and customization strategy geared for a show’s unique strategic objectives and characteristics,” says Scott Craighead, CEM, Vice President, Exhibitions and Events at IAEE.

While there are many general service contractors committed to providing exhibitor-focused logistics services, a few in the space have been slowly pulling away from a siloed business model. Instead, they have invested vertically (with more robust capabilities in every line of business) and horizontally (cutting across boundaries and revenue streams) in what they see as the future of a thriving industry just starting to get its digital and experiential mojo. For a full list of official services contractors, visit

About the Author

Michelle Bruno, MPC is a writer, blogger, and technology journalist based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She develops content and content strategies for event-industry technology companies at Bruno Group Signature Services ( She writes about event innovation at Fork in the Road blog ( and publishes Event Tech Brief (, a weekly newsletter and website on event technology. She is a former meeting planer and has received both the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) and Certified Exhibition Manager (CEM) designations. She holds a Master of Professional Communication (MPC) degree.

IAEE Awards Spotlight on InGo – Outstanding Achievement in Innovation in Business Solutions Award Winner

By Mary Tucker, Sr. PR/Communications Manager

InGo LLC garnered the 2015 IAEE Outstanding Achievement in Innovation in Business Solutions Award for its suite of client-customized web apps. The award recognizes achievement by IAEE members in the creation of new and innovative business solutions, such as InGo’s web apps that allow the event’s attendees to socially register, and spread the event across their social networks by utilizing its unique and socially smart search algorithm. It empowers attendees to send personalized invites to their network, increasing the event’s reach and impact resulting in remarkable engagement and growth while acquiring new quality attendees. Furthermore, event managers benefit from an enhanced attendee data profile, complete with social network URLs and network reach per contact. Here, InGo CEO Michael Barnett shares the company’s approach to understanding its customers, the industry and creating solutions that tie the two together.

InGo was formed in 2013 and has already achieved an impressive portfolio within the exhibitions and events industry. To what do you attribute the company’s success?

First, we make a conscious effort to think like a social media user, like an attendee, and not like a marketer. By putting ourselves into the experience of the attendee, we realize people on social media are not “consumers waiting to be marketed to.” They have passions and a voice, and they are talking – a lot.  This shift in perspective allows us to direct all our efforts to empowering them to share that passion and use that voice. This is the heart and soul of what we call “advocate marketing.”

Secondly, we dedicate ourselves to building an open platform where we can work with any organizer or registration provider in the world. This allows us to integrate on any event, in any industry, anywhere in the world.

What technological breakthroughs would you consider most beneficial to the exhibitions and events industry?

The rise and dominance of social media has changed the world, and the exhibitions and events industry is no exception. Never before has there been such a powerful intersection of knowledge about, and access to, the full community surrounding a brand. But more importantly – unlike TV, email, or even print, which are all unidirectional (brand speaking to passive consumer) – we now have a medium that is bidirectional and even multi-directional.  This is the key; on social media, everyone –  attendees, organizers and exhibitors –  all have a voice and they can all talk to and about each other.

Given the rapid changes in technology, what advice would you offer those who feel that the changes move too quickly or are intimidated by the idea of “trying to keep up”?

Many people fear innovation because they think it means “losing control” or “trying what we don’t do.” However, no company can survive without innovating, and that’s not the best way to think of it. Instead, we advise making innovation itself a core competency for your company. Set the parameters, identify the control, run the experiment and measure the results; all good old fashioned scientific method stuff; innovation but in a structured, disciplined way.

What predictions do you have for technology specific to the industry?

There is no doubt that social is here to stay and I agree with predictions that it will continue to grow. There has already been a lot of technology developed for the industry to utilize this massive opportunity but it has mostly focused on behavior analysis, tracking and retargeting. My prediction is that we’ll see even more innovation around unlocking the true potential of social media by enabling social media users to interact with brands and other users in organic ways.

What goals does InGo have for the coming year?

Our goals for 2016 are essentially “more of the same.” We are putting a special emphasis on developing our Global Advocate Alliance to increase our reach, and allow the mass market to benefit from the unparalleled power of advocate marketing.