Meeting Planners Using NFC Bracelets to Keep Things Interesting

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Radio-frequency identification (R.F.I.D.) and near-field communication (N.F.C.) technology is being used increasingly at events as a way to engage attendees according to BizBash.  Here’s an example of three recent events that used R.F.I.D. technology to integrate social media, provide additional content to guests, and help sponsors extend their reach.

Manhattan Cocktail Classic
Heralded as the first N.F.C.-powered digital tasting event, the fourth Manhattan Cocktail Classic’s opening-night gala was held May 11 at the New York Public Library. With more than 60 brands pouring nearly 40,000 cocktails throughout the night, Lesley Townsend Duval, the founder and director of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, had struggled over the years to find a way to help guests keep track of everything they’d tasted, experimenting with handing out printed recipe cards and selling $20 leather-bound, self-published books filled with recipes and photos.

In September 2011, Townsend Duval hired digital marketing agency ClearHart Digital to find a solution and up the festival’s innovation angle. “At an early meeting, we were talking about collateral materials and the problem that comes up with any tasting event: that there is no elegant way of keeping track of what you’re eating and drinking,” she says. ClearHart suggested hiring Tagstand, a company that provides custom Wi-Fi-enabled devices, bracelets, and services for events, to create silicone wristbands embedded with N.F.C. microchips that guests could tap at about 80 readers placed on the bars set up across the library’s four levels. The scanners in the cardboard boxes on the bars were each linked to a unique ID that tracked the specific cocktail recipes.

“We did this on a shoestring budget this year, because we didn’t want to attach a sponsor to it,” says Townsend Duval. “I wasn’t sure we would have the money to invest in it, but I finally gave the green light to ClearHart and Tagstand on April 10.” The Manhattan Cocktail Classic partnered with food and drink Web site and newsletter Tasting Table, which processed all of the data gathered from the readers over the weekend. Tasting Table sent each registrant a personalized email the following Monday with the cocktail recipes they had tracked. “The really cool part was that guests could then click to buy the products directly from the Web site of our retail partner, Astor Wines & Spirits,” says Townsend. “When I spoke with them back in February, Astor was in the process of building pre-populated shipping carts, so by next year people could be able to add all of the ingredients for a certain cocktail into their shopping cart with one click.”

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Beyond just keeping track of cocktails, the wristbands opened up the gala’s social connectivity. Guests had the option to also link the bracelets to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, in addition to their emails. Of the sold-out event’s 3,000 guests, 973 registered their bracelets online. Linking the bracelets to social media allowed guests to instantly upload photos from the gala’s photo booth and check in on Facebook. A wall at the gala was covered in signage printed with booze-inspired quotes by famous authors and equipped with specially marked readers. Guests could tap their wristband on the quotes, which would then auto-tweet the quote to their followers. There were 743 social media taps at the event and 7,006 recipe taps, with an average of eight taps per user. Organizers also worked with men’s fashion brand Bonobos, which dressed selected “tastemakers” in custom outfits and N.F.C.-enabled buttons. Guests could tap their wristbands on the buttons to “like” the outfit on Facebook, which also entered them to win an outfit. Overall, the opening-night gala created more than 133,740 social impressions.

In the week leading up to the event, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic held bracelet pick-up events at bars around the city, sponsored by Heineken. “We knew it would be difficult to get people to register their bracelets in the context of the gala,” says Townsend Duval. “So we came up with the idea of informal happy hours where people could pick up their bracelet and ClearHart Digital staffers would help register them on iPads.” (The process takes roughly two minutes.) Every guest who attended was entered to win tickets to Bowmore Whisky’s special sponsored performance of the immersive theatrical productionSleep No More. Guests were also offered an incentive to link their wristband to their Facebook and Twitter profiles: doing so automatically entered them for a chance to win a pair of round-trip tickets to London on Virgin Atlantic Airways. Around 500 accounts were set up during the four happy hour events, and Townsend Duval says that virtually all of those people linked them to their social media accounts. N.F.C. bracelets were also handed out at the gala for those who didn’t attend the happy hours.

Despite the limited budget, Townsend Duval declares the N.F.C.-enabled cocktail-tracking experiment a success. “Our fear was that a new technology might create crankiness, but the feedback was encouraging,” she says. She plans to use what she learned this year to develop a strategy for using the N.F.C. bracelets in 2013. “In a feedback survey, guests pointed out that it wasn’t always clear that the bracelets had properly tracked the cocktails, but in terms of the overall experience, everyone said it was so cool,” says Townsend Duval. “And with more dollars and time to invest next year, we could take it to another level.” Tagstand says that while they are working on a turnkey solution for having N.F.C. technology at events that will hopefully launch this fall and push the cost per bracelet down, prices are currently determined on a client-to-client basis and can range anywhere from $2 to $8 per person depending on if the project involves travel outside of the Bay Area and other factors.

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Lobster Roll Rumble 
On June 7, food and drink Web site Tasting Table held its third annual Lobster Roll Rumble at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Pavilion. The sold-out event saw 20 lobster-roll purveyors vying for the title of “fan favorite,” plus offerings from sponsors like Häagen-Dazs, Don Julio, San Pellegrino, and Stella Artois. This year, event organizers partnered with Tagstand to supply N.F.C.-enabled bracelets that allowed the roughly 1,000 guests to vote for their favorite sandwich with a tap of their wrists.

At the 2010 Rumble, voting was done via text message, but a loophole let non-ticket holders vote, too. “We used Poll Everywhere, which allowed voters to text a unique code for each station, but there was no way to limit the voting to people on-site because anyone could text the code in,” says Tasting Table’s director of communications, Kai Mathey, who serves as the Lobster Roll Rumble’s event director. So in 2011, Tasting Table reverted to old-fashioned paper votes and ballot boxes, a method that was fair, but required staffers to manually count votes.

At this year’s Rumble, guests were handed N.F.C. bracelets at the entrance, where staffers explained how to link them to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. To vote for their favorite lobster roll, guests just had to tap their wrist against a box placed on each station. The vote readers were programmed so that the first tap was the only vote that counted. “We gave Tasting Table a variety of options—for the first vote to be the one that counts, for the last vote to be the one that counts, or for every vote to count,” says Tagstand co-founder Omar Seyal. “They wanted the first vote to count, but we delivered all of the various results to Tasting Table so they could look at it from other ways, too.” Ninety percent of ticket holders cast a vote, and roughly 20 percent connected their bracelets to social media accounts. Voting results were displayed in real time on a large video screen, which was turned off an hour before the event ended in order to keep the final results a surprise. (The winner, Clam Shack, was revealed in an email announcement the following day.)

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In addition to the voting boxes, eight social media stations were placed throughout the venue. Attendees could tap their bracelets against signage to check in on Facebook or to tweet preset phrases at the various sponsored booths like “Cooling off with some Häagen-Dazs ice cream at the 2012 Tasting Table Lobster Roll Rumble.” Sponsor Don Julio, which created four specialty cocktails for the event, had a voting wall next to its bar that let guests tap to pick their favorite drink. Thirty percent of guests voted for a cocktail, with 56 people pushing their selection to a social platform. (The live results for the Don Julio mini competition also appeared on the video wall.) Overall, there were 350 social taps, and organizers estimate that roughly 33,000 people were reached via social media.

While the N.F.C. bracelet setup cost significantly more than the previous year’s paper ballot method, Tasting Table plans on using the technology again next year. “In the feedback survey, the response from guests in terms of the technology was overwhelmingly positive,” says Mathey. “And the restaurants loved the buzz created by the live-streaming results.” Given the short time frame to integrate the bracelets into the event (just three weeks), Mathey admits that organizers didn’t have the chance to optimize the functionality of the N.F.C. readers. “Social numbers weren’t as high as they could have been if we’d had time to integrate the bracelets into the event more,” says Mathey, who says she wants to incorporate even more innovative N.F.C. options for sponsors next year. “We also learned that more lead-up communication with ticket holders is needed—it’s important for them to be able to pick up and register the bracelets before the event, since on-site, people were just anxious to get inside.”

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As the 80,000 attendees at this year’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival celebrated on a Tennessee farm June 7 to 10, news of their daily activities was posting to Facebook, creating nearly 1.5 million social impressions. But the attendees weren’t pulling out their smartphones; instead they were swiping wristbands with R.F.I.D. technology at one of 20 check-in portals around the 700-acre venue.

“It was funny watching people walk up to these portals [and] swipe their wristband,” said Chad Issaq, executive vice president of partnerships for festival organizer Superfly Presents. “It would beep green twice and they would just jump up and down like a six-year-old. It was a social experiment. This was the convergence of social in the live and digital space and watching how it fused together. It was really interesting.”

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Of the 80,000 people who purchased wristbands (which served as the only form of ticket to the festival), 74,000 registered them online and about half of those people connected the wristbands to their Facebook accounts. Those people swiped their wristbands more than 200,000 times, generating check-ins on Facebook that allowed their online friends to see what they were doing at Bonnaroo. Issaq said on average each of those 200,000 check-ins received about seven “likes” or comments, leading to the calculation of 1.5 million social impressions.

Bonnaroo also used R.F.I.D. wristbands from Intellitix in 2011, but this was the first year of the Facebook integration. In the weeks leading up to the festival, organizers encouraged guests to register their wristband online, offering incentives such as V.I.P. upgrades and festival merchandise and the chance to win a Ford Escape from Ford Motor Company, which sponsored the social check-ins.

“We also drove home the message of registration as a way to personalize your wristband,” Issaq said. “We didn’t want to focus on ‘register’; it was ‘personalize.’” The registration allowed Superfly to stem counterfeits and also provided security for guests. “We pointed out that if you lose your wristband, we have proof it was associated to you.”

About 55,000 individuals opted in for a chance to win the car and another 10,000 agreed to receive future communications from Ford. In addition to that data, the auto company benefited from having its name associated with each Facebook check-in: the online posts included a graphic saying “Checked in by Ford Escape.”

“No other festival had really tapped into the technology of R.F.I.D. in such a broad social reach,” said Ginger Kasanic, Ford’s experiential marketing manager. “This intersection of cool technology and social conversation is the heart of the Escape persona and the perfect platform to connect the Escape to the Bonnaroo audience.”

The focus of Bonnaroo is music, with five stages hosting performances from acts including the Beach Boys, Radiohead, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Organizers placed two R.F.I.D. portals near each stage. Guests who swiped their wristbands got a check-in on their Facebook page indicating the name of the stage and the act that was performing. At the end of the day, the system made a second post to that guest’s Facebook: a recap of all of the acts the person had seen that day with a link to Spotify that provided the act’s Bonnaroo set list and a playlist of studio tracks of those songs.

“I think that was the most valuable piece—the content on the back end,” Issaq said. “That’s what people were most excited about.” Organizers plan to take what they learned this year to develop strategy for 2013. “I would want to communicate earlier,” he added. “We pulled this together in about four or five weeks. I would also want more incentives, more special offers, and at the physical event, more strategically placed portals.”