by Steven Hacker | October 01, 2016

The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming to a conference or trade show near you soon. Make it yours and you’ll seize the strategic high ground and stay ahead of competitors! You will offer attendees, exhibitors and sponsors new and breathtaking opportunities and experiences likely to cement them to your event for a long time to come! You will, in short, feature compelling experiences such as hands-on demonstrations, augmented and virtual reality and opportunities for self-discovery that are just as important as high-grade content.

What is IoT? Think about linking all sorts of devices to the internet in ways that allow the gathering of data and information, resulting in the devices making automated, but informed, decisions. Sensors embedded in the devices capture and then process data according to algorithms that yield useful outcomes.

Imagine a refrigerator of the future that could be programmed to tell you when the milk has gone bad or when you are running low on eggs. Not only might you receive a warning signal but the refrigerator might also note items that need to be replenished to your automated shopping list. And if programmed accordingly, this refrigerator might actually place the order with a local grocery store.

In fact, this is no longer science fiction. In January, Samsung showcased its next-gen refrigerator, one of several planned home appliances, at the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show. Called the “Family Hub,” the refrigerator can also play music, comes equipped with a 21.5-inch touchscreen that also serves as a television and can, of course, connect to the internet just like your tablet. Talk about added home convenience!

So how is all this relevant to the events and exhibition industry? Because these types of innovations are being used to promote products, organizations, events and more. Chances are, you’ve never heard of ISL (isl.co), an eight-year old digital agency that comes up with unique experiences—notably for mobile apps and connected devices—and innovative global campaigns and has worked with 21 Fortune 500 companies including Disney, the Gates Foundation, Facebook, Volkswagen and Hilton Hotels.

Given its verve and creativity, it should be no surprise that ISL is packed with super-smart and inventive Millennials like DJ Saul, its chief marketing officer and managing director. I recently met Saul at the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) Leadership Conference in Cleveland, where ISL handily won the event’s “Innovation Battlefield” competition, which pitted five providers of innovative technology solutions against each other.

A representative of each company presented descriptions of their products and services to a large audience of exhibition and conference-industry professionals, who then voted on a favorite. All five were worthy of consideration (see the sidebar for details and contact information), but ISL won by a landslide.

Although ISL is a digital agency at its core, staff members often find themselves executing experiential marketing campaigns, stunts and installations, and therefore have built up a hardware team of industrial designers and electrical and mechanical engineers. As the broader event industry is often pining for new, creative, cutting-edge solutions and executions, ISL has found ample opportunity to play in the space—and has established a track record of success in many industries.

Creative Ideas That Can Work for Your Group. Some of the recent campaigns ISL has orchestrated can stimulate you and your staff to think about how similar projects might inject excitement into your next events, whether you partner with ISL or not.

My favorite, because it is such a simple and yet compelling idea, is the SELFIE Mirror. Your attendee stands in front of a full-length, two-way mirror that houses a hidden webcam, two vertical rows of LED lights embedded behind the mirror and a Mac Mini that powers facial recognition software. Like a photo booth on steroids, the SELFIE Mirror takes the attendee’s photo and then uploads it to the individual’s social media with your group’s (or sponsor’s) logo. It’s a hip use of event-centric social media and can be viewed on the work tab on their website.

To check out how this idea can be adapted to fit different products, events or associations, check out the similar, yet unique, concepts ISL created for the NFL’s Washington Redskins and the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets (also on the website). Both linked participation in photo booths to opportunities for fans to grab team-emblazoned swag.

Promotional products (aka swag) have been a mainstay of the exhibition experience almost from the start of the modern show. And when ISL linked that concept to the Twitter social network during the National Retail Federation’s 2014 trade show, the “Twitter Locker” created quite the frenzy. Here’s what it entailed: ISL built a structure containing 18 small lockers that were wired in such a way that when a visitor approached the exhibitor’s booth (in this case, QlikTech) and tweeted the correct hashtag, one of the lockers popped open, allowing that person to claim a prize. Needless to say, the exhibiting company enjoyed enormous visitor traffic.

Here’s a final example of a concept that ISL has built, as much for stimulating the development of future applications as for its practical applicability. It is a perfect example of the IFTTT (If This, Then That) technology space. (If you haven’t already connected to ifttt.com, do yourself a favor. You’ll be able to automate hundreds of different outcomes such as uploading your smartphone photos automatically to Dropbox or getting an email alert if there’s bad weather forecast for tomorrow.) Called Dorothy, this connected device was created for those awkward situations in which you’d desperately like to escape. You can slip the device into your shoe and, when in need, tap your heels together three times, which will trigger a call to your phone from a fake contact. Voila—you’re required to leave unexpectedly. Dorothy can also send an SMS to designated contacts with a custom message that broadcasts your current location.

The great thing about a company like ISL is: If you can imagine it, chances are good they can create it. Possibilities are limited only by your imagination and your budget. So what might a campaign designed and constructed by ISL cost? A simple prototype or installation can range greatly, from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands pending its execution. It may not be a venture every organization can take advantage of, but it’s worth knowing that technology in this area is moving forward in ways that are both fun and surprising and destined to enliven the events industry.