Intelligent Events

Intelligent Events

How high-tech measurement strategies, wearables and personalization are transforming the event marketing landscape

In this, the Internet of Things era of smartphones, smart homes, smart cars and smart everything, event marketing has gotten smarter, too. Savvy event marketers of all stripes, from automotive to retail, banking to beverage, are incorporating virtual reality, biometrics, wearables and more into engagements. The result: events that are more personal, measurable and relevant than ever before.

Look no further than Acura’s Mood Roads activation at the Sundance Film Festival for a taste of what’s to come in the event space when intelligence drives the experience. Park City’s Festival Village presented by Acura introduced consumers to Mood Roads, the story of Acura’s NSX supercar that translated the power and control of the NSX into a 90-second engagement that leveraged brain wave technology to create a personalized experience for each attendee based on emotional, cognitive and physical cues.

Participants entered a spherical motion simulator equipped with a performance driver’s seat and 30 biometric sensors that measured 24 integration points, such as th`eir brainwaves, heartbeat and facial expressions. Once buckled in, they experienced a customized journey in real time as landscape, color, music and speed all changed based on their mood as interpreted by the sensors. In addition, as opposed to the traditional setup, users looked directly at a high-definition, immersive, almost 360-degree Mood Roads screen without the cumbersome goggles required in other virtual reality activations (Agencies: George P. Johnson; Mullen LA; Spinifex).

No two driving experiences were exactly the same. “Instead of us controlling the experience, the user actually controlled the experience from a sound, feeling and visual perspective,” says Jennifer Fini, manager-new media strategy and activation at Acura. “It is a first-of-its-kind integration of these different technologies in this way.”

We tapped measurement experts, technology providers and innovative event leads for insights into the next generation of event management, engagement and measurement.

Introducing our special report on Intelligent Events.

–Sandra O’Loughlin


The collective goal of the event marketing industry is to build experiences that create emotional connections, but measuring those interactions has historically been a challenge—until now. As the synergistic worlds of biometrics and wearable technology advance, event marketers are finding that accurately quantifying emotion is no longer a distant dream, but an attainable reality.

Biometrics, the emerging field of technology that encompasses the measurement and statistical analysis of physical and behavioral characteristics, was initially popularized by wearables like the Fitbit wristband, which offers data on personal health and wellness by measuring basic functions like heart rate and blood pressure. But as the field matures, brands are leveraging a wide range of biometric data to gain insights on exactly how consumers feel about their experiences, their products and their organization as a whole.

By tracking attendees’ emotions, these brands are creating smarter, more personalized events, and as a result, forging more meaningful (and more plentiful) connections with their attendees. From headsets that measure brainwaves, to glasses that track eye movement, wearables and the biometric data they measure are beginning to impact events in a big way. Here’s a look at what’s out there, what’s being tracked and what’s to come.

Attendees at Infiniti's Driven By Emotion experience wore armbands that detected their gestures, movements and muscle cell electrical activity by connecting to sensors located on cars.


Easily the most popular style of wearables, wrist and armbands are an efficient, more cost-effective option than many of the other wearables on the market. Infiniti leveraged armbands over the fall during its biometric-based activation at Pebble Beach Automotive Week. The data collected from the devices offered insights on how consumers felt about three of the brand’s newest vehicles based on their heart rate, pupil dilation and body temperature.

“We definitely want to keep moving forward with biometrics. We’re always trying to push how we get people to engage with the vehicles and how we create that emotional connection. It’s kind of our first foray into that and we gained a lot from the output of it, and saw that people enjoyed it. It’s about how we keep growing these types of experiences.”

Pepsi has also entered the wearables space with events like its Bioreactive Concert at South by Southwest. The brand equipped music fans with wristbands created by Lightwave, an “emotion tech company,” which measured their body temperature and audio and motion levels. As the dj spun tunes, the brand could see attendees’ reactions to each song in real time and adjust the playlist accordingly. Bonus: the more energy the crowd showed, the more surprise and delight moments they unlocked.

One to watch out for: Sentio’s Feel wristband uses proprietary algorithms to recognize and track the wearer’s emotions throughout the day. It hasn’t hit the market just yet, but its implications in event marketing are clear, and at under $200 a pop, it won’t break the bank.


Wearable optical devices are still in their infancy for the most part, but a number of promising products are already on the scene. Tobii Pro’s lightweight eye-tracking glasses offer a user-centric design that promotes natural viewing behavior. The device tracks exactly what the wearer is looking at in real time, a tool that could easily be applied to events to determine what elements of an experience attendees are most intrigued by.

One to watch out for: Still in its early stages, Viewpointsystem’s VPS 16 eye hyper-tracking glasses also track what the wearer is looking at. The device additionally captures the wearer’s reaction to what’s being viewed by tracking the behavior of their pupils, thanks to the device’s camera positions and the company’s unique recording technology. But don’t get too excited just yet—new to the market, these babies are selling for $16,500 each, meaning event marketers may need to find another option until prices drop.


Sure, users might look like something out of a science fiction film, but headsets are the most sophisticated wearables on the market. Neuroheadsets like Emotiv’s EPOC+ and Insight devices leverage electroencephalography (EEG), the recording of electrical activity along the scalp. By tracking brain and muscle signals, the device is able to decipher the wearer’s facial expressions and, in turn, their emotional state. The devices were recently used at the Adobe MAX conference at the Your Brain on Max exhibit, which gave the creative professionals in attendance a detailed look at what their brain experienced as they sketched. Prices range from $299 to $799.

Neurosky’s MindWave Mobile headset also relies on EEG technology to interpret the wearer’s emotions in real time via brainwave signals. The device even comes with an app bundle that allows the user to control the flow of four “brain-powered” movies with their thoughts. The downside: the device doesn’t have a rechargeable battery, meaning brands leveraging it at events may have time constraints to consider.

One to watch out for: Currently billed as educational tools, BrainCo’s line of wearable headsets are designed to improve focus and enhance productivity. Want to ensure attendees are getting the most out of your conference sessions? This one might be for you.


Smart clothing is becoming a hot topic in the world of wearables and biometrics, but with current products generally catering to fitness buffs, event marketers may have to give it some time before the tech will be applicable in events. We’re excited to see what’s in store for Microsoft’s mood shirt (no word yet on the launch date), which reads the wearer’s emotions then stimulates their nervous system to either cheer them up or calm them down.

—Kait Shea


Over the last few years, marketers have been inundated with data. They’ve collected reams of it, sat down after an event and decided how and what they would do with it, what changes they would make next time, who they would target better. But once that annual event rolled around, so much had changed in terms of preferences and strategy that that data was, well, not as useful anymore. And so, the cycle continued.

Thanks to the rise (and reduction in cost) of digital and presence-based technologies and APIs, marketers are able to collect and analyze real-time data to drive how they engage attendees and approach events, rather than use the data to respond. That idea—that marketers can create fluid, nimble events that can react in real-time based on immediate feedback from attendees, is what makes an event “intelligent” today. On the b-to-c side of the coin, real-time data is giving what might be one-off event experiences longevity by making physical connections with consumers—tapping into their emotions… even their heartbeats. And for b-to-b marketers, the opportunities are just as plentiful.

Three more insights on how intelligent data is transforming marketing strategy:

Cisco gauges attendee sentiment via beacons, but the brand looks to biometrics as the next frontier in measurement.

1. Biometrics Will Help Marketers Measure State of Mind

Cisco at its large-scale Global Sales Experience (GSX) deploys beacons throughout the event footprint, including in demo and engagement zones and outside of session rooms. The beacons shoot push notifications for feedback on what attendees experienced and whether they felt it was useful. While these opt-in polling moments provide steady insights, they can’t yet measure, in the moment, the respondent’s state of mind.

For Dannette Veale, head of digital practice at Cisco, the next step toward intelligent measurement is about capturing that “unbiased” sentiment, which is where biometrics comes into play. Biometrics, from measuring pulse rates to eyes rates, can lead to deeper insights about trust and feelings, driving how content is delivered—driving the entire structure of the event itself.

"What as marketers we can’t do fluidly today in the moment is assess ‘Do I have your attention or not,’ and that’s something that with biometrics and those kinds of solutions, we’re going to be able to collect in real-time and I believe it’s going to dramatically change how we then deliver some of our event experiences."

2. Feelings-Based Data Will Improve Engagement, and R&D

Cars are known for evoking emotions, so when Infiniti built a launch experience surrounding its “sleek, sexy” Q60 coupe for an activation at Pebble Beach Automotive Week, it turned to biometrics to visually show attendees how the car, and other Infiniti models, made them feel. Wearable wristbands pulled data into an algorithm that transformed emotions and measurements into digital artwork displayed on LED screens. On top of the engaging physical experience attendees had with the vehicle and artwork, Infiniti sees these feelings-based measurements having a direct impact on how future vehicles are designed.

Infiniti sees feelings-based measurements having a direct impact on how future vehicles are designed.

“When it came to reading the data from [the event] we had the Q60, the QX30 and the Q80 and it was interesting to see the reactions between the three of them because two of them are very design-oriented and one of them is a little bit sportier so you could see the difference between what people were feeling about them,” says Allyson Witherspoon, director of marketing communications and media at Infiniti. “What we wanted to do was have people’s response feed into the design team so that that would be a way for them to be inspired by how people felt. It would inspire kind of the next generation of design.”

3. Personalization Will Spread Across the Entire Marketing Mix

Like any other company, IBM has leveraged a consistent set of measurements tied to revenue, and how many leads it can progress to close, including how many leads can be net-new because of an event, and whether that’s tied directly to the brand or to business partner sponsors. But the company, through its Watson API technology, is pushing what it calls the “cognitive” event, an analytical strategy that allows it (and any companies who leverage Watson) to go deeper, driving personalization before, during and after the event—personalization year-round.

At IBM's Tony Awards Watch Party, the brand served attendees a menu developed by “Chef” Watson, which used the brand’s cognitive cooking capability to whip up recipes.

Watson’s algorithms can generate recommendations for event attendees, including sessions, activities and who they should meet, based on their interest areas, and what technologies they’re using. The next step toward a “cognitive” or “intelligent” event, is measuring whether that personalization has made an impact, and whether it drove a different response or attendee behavior, like if that person followed-through and downloaded a trial code, or signed up for more meetings than they otherwise would have had Watson not recommended that activity.

“Especially if you’re in the marketing discipline, you know that other stuff is happening, there are campaigns and other engagements, but what we’ve always focused on is the event piece,” says Colleen Bisconti, vp-global events and conferences at IBM (and a keynote speaker at this year’s Experiential Marketing Summit). “Now these are so closely connected again because of the way we’re enabling dashboards and marketing intelligence with cognitive. Now all of the sudden, even if I’m an event marketer, I now have a line of sight into every white paper that person has downloaded, how many events they’ve gone to, not just mine, but maybe events that happened across the rest of the company, or demos they’ve watched, and all of the sudden, I have this total picture of the customer that benefits the company as a whole.”

–Rachel Kirkpatrick


Personalization is a key component of any intelligent event. Just as people expect personal service when they step into a store, order online or denote their preferences on Amazon and Pandora, they also are seeking a personal touch at conferences and other events. They look for recommendations on sessions to attend and exhibit booths to visit. They want content that meets their business needs and networking events that lead to meaningful connections. After all, people don’t have the bandwidth to attend an infinite number of events, so the ones they do attend must provide the best ROI for their time.

While it would be great to provide attendees with a personal concierge to answer questions and shepherd them through the schedule, exhibit floor and cocktail hours, that just isn’t practical. Event apps, on the other hand, are proving to be nearly as effective at personalizing events, especially one as complex as South by Southwest. Last year, SXSW featured 13 days of industry conferences, a four-day trade show, eight exhibitions, a six-night music festival showcasing more than 2,200 bands and a nine-day film festival with more than 460 screenings. Its 586 trade show exhibit spaces attracted 70,000 people over a four-day period. So an app like SXSW Go, which began five years ago mainly as a replacement for the conference’s printed guide, has evolved since then into an important tool to help attendees navigate everything from check-in and networking to customized recommendations for sessions to attend.

How does SXSW Go do it? One way is through iBeacon technology, which the app has deployed since 2015 to deliver functionality and content based on the user’s location. For instance, through an opt-in program attendees in a particular venue or room can determine who else in the room might be relevant to their interests and message them through the app. Last year, the app took the technology even further, combining location data with other signals such as past behavior, previous sessions attended and other preferences to drive personalized recommendations. Combined with other signals including GPS and the Bluetooth beacons, the app distilled SXSW’s more than 6,000 sessions into the ones most likely to appeal to that user.

The design of the app invites exploration with a Discover tab and other tabs for SXSW Recommends, My Favorites, Locations, Networking, Exhibitors, Schedule and News. Users can tag personal areas of interest or intent, such as machine learning or experience user design. SXSW Go was created by Eventbase, Vancouver, which also develops apps for large events for IBM, Amazon, Cisco and others such as Comic-Con and Sapphire Now.

Networking is another important area for event personalization. Take QuickBooks Connect, for example, the conference hosted by Intuit, the finance and software brand. Last year, as part of a strategy to communicate its evolution from a desktop product into an online platform, Intuit created personalized experiences to get the message across to four target attendee groups—accountants, small business owners, developers and the self-employed. The result was more effective networking environments for attendees and higher ROI on business goals for Intuit.

At QuickBooks Connect, Intuit created personalized experiences to cater to four target demos.

The three-day event kicked off with a pre-conference activity just for developers, including a 36- to 48-hour hackathon. There also was a day just for accountants. Everyone united on Small Business Days to reinforce what each of those segments have in common. VIP days for influencers, industry analysts and investor relations also took place.

During the conference itself, Intuit placed a huge focus on facilitating connections between attendees. New this year: a match-making app.

“It’s really hard for people coming to a conference by themselves to go to a party alone or attend some of these activities, so this year we ‘up-leveled’ Connections and had somebody leading that area.”

O’Brien describes the event as four conferences in one. “We provide individual tracks and activities so attendees feel very personalized, activities that recognize the attendees’ whole self, not just our product. But then we have these uniting moments where we bring all of those small business owners and accountants and developers together for general sessions,” she says. All of which adds up to a pretty big pay-off when it comes to personalization. 

–Sandra O’Loughlin

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