Poken’s CEO, Stéphane Doutriaux, Inverviewed about the benefits of using Poken
Host: Stéphane, can you describe what Poken is?
SD: Imagine walking around a trade show with a small device attached to your badge that allows you to collect all the marketing documents, the exhibitor details, and the digital business cards of the people or
things that you touch with it. On a daily basis, your receive an email with a full recap of what you’ve collected that day, timed and organized, so you can review, download, and share the content you’ve collected. No more heavy tote-bag full of stuff that ends up in the hotel room garbage can. A “poken” is a small device that looks and functions like a USB stick, but which records information simply when you touch it up to a “poken Tag”, a small sticker that contains the digital information an exhibitor wants to share. Along with the web-based software that makes it easy to configure it all, you have “Poken”.
Host: Talk about getting the most out of your trade show investment!
SD: Poken allows event organizers to “green” an event by helping exhibitors eliminate paper, replacing the traditional exchange of paper media (flyers, catalogs, business cards, slide presentations) with a simple digital solution that answers all of the exhibitors’ and visitors’ needs. Visitors are equipped with a poken that they can “touch” to smart tags (that use a patented extension of NFC technology), to collect exhibitors’ marketing material. They can also touch their poken USB device to another visitor’s poken to exchange digital business cards, and through a web interface, they can re-live their visit to the trade-show, conference, or corporate event.
Host: How is this received by the event industry? What are the benefits to the key stakeholders?
- Visitors love the “green” angle, and being in control and able to walk around freely, collecting what they are interested in, viewing the content at their leisure on their mobile device or in a rich web portal that integrates with any event website.
- Exhibitors rave about how Poken simplifies their planning and streamlines their costs: No more shipping cartons of brochures back and forth, no more deciding how many of which product brochure to bring, only to run out of the wrong one. Poken eases deadlines as marketing documents can be edited throughout the event. Lead Generation is at its finest as exhibitors log into their web portal to upload their marketing documents, and after the show view stats on who picked up their material at the event, and which of their sales staff these visitors met on their booth.
- Organizers love having a digital dashboard that provides them additional control, and additional insights into what is happening in their show. For the first time ever, organizers can see the flow of marketing material and business cards, allowing them to better measure the success of the show for individual exhibitors. Being able to provide richness and continuity to exhibitors’ lead management efforts is a recipe for building solid, long term commitment from exhibitors and sponsors.
Host: Does Poken offer any other advantages beyond lead generation?
SD: As a digital networking and lead generation solution, Poken also boost networking and drives engagement to unprecedented levels. The complete suite of Poken “Green Event” tools includes event mobile apps that work on all phones, and a web-based community portal creation tool that allows event organizers to easily deploy an event portal that contains rich and useful tools for visitors: Chat groups, Forums, an Activity Stream, and a tools that allows visitors to see who, from their LinkedIn network, will be attending an upcoming show, all help visitors make the most of their time at an event. These tools all fit in with Poken’s efforts to bring quality lead management, and boost an event’s effectiveness, “with a touch”.
Host: How did you ensure that what Poken developed was truly needed by the Event industry?
SD: Having an in-depth understanding of the event and trade-show business has been crucial element allowing us to create a service that fits the industry.
Multiple stakeholders are a common occurrence in every event, and an alignment of their objectives and needs is an imperative for any service to flourish. Here is how Poken has managed to align all the stakeholder’s needs:
1. Event Organizers have told us they increasingly need to help exhibitors justify the expense of attending a show. Our tools allow the event organizer to not only provide a more effective service to the exhibitors and show them that a true effort is being made to help them expose their wares, but we also provide the organizer with precise metrics as to the success of a show for each exhibitor. This information has proven useful for the organizer when signing up an exhibitor for the following year.
In addition, the organizers need to keep up with visitors’ expectations in terms of services, technology, and real-world experience, to keep attendance growing. The networking boost provided by Poken, both through its web portal tools and through the onsite device-based networking, has thrilled attendees and convinced them of the value of attending an event in person. Poken is the first lead generation tool that, through its discrete and fun nature, has helped broaden the networking from the traditional, formal, exhibitor-to-visitor interaction, to a more natural and effective cross-functional networking, exhibitor-to-exhibitor, visitor-to-visitor, boosting the number and the nature of connections as all attendees keep networking at lunches, dinners, and late into the evenings. Providing a fully social-media-compatible and informal networking device that unites all attendees has been key to making more quality connections happen.
2. Exhibitors are the lifeblood of the event as they provide a significant portion of the budget. Getting exhibitors on board is an imperative for any new platform to be adopted by the event industry. Poken has brought a new tool to the market that required changes to the exhibitors’ processes: Digital document management and reporting in lieu of traditional paper based activities. Through a simple social-media-style web tool design, and by creating a product that has straight-forward mental references that everyone understands (a USB stick can contain documents, simply touch the documents you want, and they’re saved in it), Poken has broken through the barrier of traditional exhibitor processes and seen many of them become taken by the simplicity, efficiency, and many benefits of digital document deployment.
Exhibitors’ core objectives are met in terms of providing them with a way of making themselves noticed, allowing visitors to collect their documents, and allowing for a simple means of post-event follow-up. The benefits of going digital spill over into facilitating exhibitors’ event preparation processes, allowing them to simply manage documents digitally through Poken’s Content Management System, rather than coordinating and paying for printing and shipping. The potential cost savings are transferred into the new services, covering the costs of deploying Poken in an event and allowing event organizers to generate new revenue streams through a margin sharing agreement with Poken.
3. Sponsors are always seeking new ways to be noticed in events, be it trade shows, conferences, or smaller meetings & corporate events. The use of Poken in an event drives visitors to log into a web or mobile portal to view and download what they’ve collected. We have built in many new sponsorship opportunities into these tools, be it standard web banners, sponsored documents (that appear in everyone’s timelines, much like documents pre-stuffed into a tote-bag), or the physical USB device branding.
The big-picture problem being solved by Poken is getting acceptance of a new, reliable, technology-driven lead generation platform that allows organizers and exhibitors alike to deliver better metrics about their trade show activities. Through answering a set of smaller individual stakeholder problems, we’ve managed to take a stab at the bigger challenges.
Host: This sounds great, but certainly others do this? What is unique or innovative about your product?
SD: As compared to “traditional bar code scanners” that some exhibitors rent at shows, the innovation that Poken delivers is in allowing every individual (visitor, exhibitor, speaker) to harness the power of lead gen, and extends its relevance beyond the booth, into the whole event and all event-related activities (dinners, and late-night bar conversations included). Building the “right tool”, one that people actually use (our event metrics speak for themselves: visitors collecting 40-100+ contacts, and 50 or more documents), and finding a cost-effective way to put it into the hands of everyone at a show has been the biggest challenge. Building in a win for each stakeholder has solved the issue. Poken is patented (USA, Europe, China, Taiwan, Japan) and is therefore a completely unique approach to answering the engagement and lead generation needs of events and trade shows.
Host: Tell me about one of your trade show customers – and exhibitor for example. What more do they see in Poken?
SD: One example of a large exhibitor client who has used Poken in 3 trade shows so far and continues to do so, is a company that exhibit regularly, with a large booth (100+sqm). They often fly in 50 to 100 of their sales people, who have meetings at and around the show. This client tell us that in the past, their event marketing team had so much trouble measuring the success of their trade show presence that their budgets were always in question: Sales people would have meetings, exchange business cards, but keep the clients’ cards in their pockets as they left the show. The marketing team would collect only a few cards, and have very few metrics to judge ROI. Poken changed that, providing a dashboard that is now vital to the event marketing team in that they have a full post-event view of the meetings held, the people that were met, and how many individual brochures were picked up, by whom. While the sales folks continue to operate in the way they feel most comfortable, requiring no change in their behavior, the marketing team has gained insights into what goes on, and how their investment pays off.
Host: We’ve spoken of your clients and the users that benefit from the novel services Poken has developed. What impact does your service have on meeting professionals in the meetings & events industry?
SD: Boosting networking, boosting lead generation, and being able to measure and publish the success.
Beyond being an effective replacement of age-old barcode lead-gen scanners, the Poken platform is a plug-and-play set of tools that provide many of the digital products needed to take an event into the digital age. By having built our expertise first around networking, our product development has been driven by a strong attention to engagement, and utility. As compared to other event technologies that have been “technology driven” instead of “use case driven”, we’ve continually built features that add to the core experience, people meeting people.
As of today, the Poken tool chest comprises mainly of four components:
- Small disposable handheld devices that lead to better networking and engagement (as “everyone is equipped”)
- A customizable, white-label-ready web portal used by events to drive engagement prior to, during, and after the show
- A set of mobile apps (for visitors, and for exhibitors) that answer any event-app need, and integrate the ability for a visitor to view what she has collected
- A Content Management System used by Exhibitors to upload, manage, and measure their event-related marketing and outreach activities
The impact that Poken aims to have on meeting professionals in the meetings / event industry is to help simplify tasks that are time-consuming, yet necessary, in terms of delivering a better service to their stakeholders.
As Poken is built along a web-based plug-and-play model, our tools cater to events small and big: From 200-person corporate events (sales meetings, channel partner meetings) to larger trade-shows (we’ve successfully catered to trade shows with 15’000 visitors and 1’500 equipped exhibitors). We are advancing in our product development so as to soon cater to even bigger events.
Host: Tell us more about the commercial development of service so far. How successful has it been?
SD: Our recent growth and the long-term, recurring customer engagements we’ve been winning attest to the fact that we’ve built a product suite that delivers value-for-money. Over the past 18 months our platform has been used by hundreds of events, in over 20 countries.
It’s only been since early 2012 that we’ve been able to cater to events with a complete proposition encompassing “touch marketing” (visitors touching tags on exhibitors’ booths to collect a document) as well as networking and lead generation. In the past 18 months, this proposition has been tested by increasingly large clients, first within a subset of their show, and then fully deployed.
Trade shows using Poken in a multi-year basis include Cartes (Paris), AMEX’s Supplier Tradeshow (Dallas, Philadelphia), UBM’s Tissue World (Barcelona), Smart City World Congress (Fira de Barcelona), Amerinet (St Louis), Afflink (Orlando), the National Veterans Small Business Conference & Expo, the American Association of Cosmetology Schools Trade Show, Pure Life Experiences (the leading high-end travel industry trade show), INDABA (Africa’s leading travel trade show), and many more.
Corporate clients use the Poken tool-chest to “green” their events and provide better networking & lead generation. To name a few: Deloitte (Amsterdam, Thailand, Greece, New York and more), HP (Las Vegas, Maryland, Minneapolis and Australia), Beyond Luxury Media (Morocco, Miami, and soon in South Africa), Novartis (Vienna, Montreux, Madrid, Berlin, Milan, and California).
Host: How do you serve customers in so many countries?
SD: While our product development and core managerial activities are driven out of Switzerland and our US office, we have established a presence in over 10 countries, to support event partners and clients locally. In the coming months we hope to grow these teams. Today our “ecosystem” comprises Poken North America (Spokane and Silicon Valley), Poken Latin America (Mexico City), Poken Africa (Johannesburg), Poken Middle East (Dubai), Poken France (Paris), Poken UK (London) and several others small offices. All of our local teams report high growth potential as our products and services answer a need that has no cultural or geographic boundaries.
Host: Tell me about the pricing for using all this. I need you to be as specific as possible.
SD: The cost of using our platform depends on the set of services selected for an event, but overall the breakdown is as follows:
- Standard mobile app budgets cover the cost of deploying our mobile app offering; generally from EUR3k to EUR20k depending on a clients’ needs and the size of the event.
- Standard lead-generation budgets that exhibitors are used to paying for bar-code scanners cover the cost of using our CMS and Tags for exhibitors, though we’ve been able to charge far more to clients for some aspects of our proposition: Trade shows typically charge exhibitors EUR250 to EUR650 for lead-gen packs, but we’ve had some single exhibitors pay up to EUR50’000.- for the use of our platform and the services we’ve delivered as part of an event. We work with a margin-sharing model with the organizers.
- The web portal portion of our offering, providing visitors with pre-event, in-event and post-event tools often draws on an organizer’s web & communications budgets. The cost can vary again depending on options but in general it is in the EUR1 to EUR4 per visitors.
- Finally, the poken devices which are provided to each attendee along with their badge (at registration) have a cost that depends on the size of the deal. The cost is in the range of that of a promotional give-away, which has allowed us to work with events of many sizes, including over 15’000 attendees, with the costs shared between sponsorships, lead generation packs, and organizer budgets. In the near future we will cater to shows of 30’000 to 50’000 attendees with a similar business model.
Pulling funds in from exhibitors’ fragmented printing and shipping budgets has proven to be an effective way to cover the costs of deploying Poken, and the “Green” angle has benefited obtaining the support of additional event sponsors.
Host: I’m interested in the ideation, the creative process that led you to develop this. What research did you carry out to determine that there is a need for this product?
SD: It has been mainly through our event expertise and ad-hoc event experience, developing, then refining a service over the course of the past 6 years, that we have been led to focus on a large opportunity, that of revolutionizing event networking and lead management.
Event industry reports from Forrester indicate that the top trends in event technology are to cater to the following challenges, which Poken addresses exceptionally well:
1. Providing one consistent lead management solution, allowing for continuity and analysis of exhibitor’s performance
2. Event to event metrics delivered to exhibitors, with the event organizer helping her clients set and achieve their goals
3. Catering to the green transformation in events
4. Continuing to bridge the gap between real-world and social media
5. Providing accurate marketing intelligence
We feel confident in the relevance of the proposition we’ve developed, and our recent commercial successes have come to solidify our drive and determination to become a highly relevant event technology provider.
Host: What do you see as being the next stages in the product or service development?
SD: The trend continues to be that technology providers increase the breadth of their proposition in line with event professional’s needs to be more efficient. As such, Poken’s proposition is set to continue expanding, delivering ancillary services that derive from the content that’s already being hosted today.
Being a networking product we’ve had to collaborate with registration providers to sync the visitor’s identity and details into our platform. It ensues that such services as registration and badging are a natural extension of what we do, and we have catered to this need for some clients.
While we’ve already ventured into Mobile Event apps, big opportunities lie ahead in developing that part of our proposition, aiming to improve the efficiency for visitors and exhibitors alike, such that their event ROI is increased.
On the experiential side, we’ve already built components into our tools that allow interactive displays to tap into some of the data & stats being generated – Our clients have used such displays to promote the Green aspect of their show (displaying the number of trees saved from digital document collecting) as well as promoting networking and engagement (showing the top networkers, or most popular booths).
Maintaining a solid proposition that builds additional value for our stakeholders, simplifying their processes and enhancing the overall experience, is our main focus. In some cases this will be achieved through partnerships and possible fusion of services, whereas in other cases we will use our internal capabilities and build additional features into our existing platform.
Host: Stéphane, thank you. This has been very instructive, and fascinating! Good luck!
SD: Thank you!