Event marketing has been functioning the same way for 850 years. Is 2016 the year it changes course?

“The price-per-square-foot model measured by the number of attendees is very fuzzy math, and it’s the kind of math that doesn’t fly in the marketing world anymore,” says DoubleDutch CEO Lawrence Coburn.

The founder of the award-winning events app predicts that event marketing will fall into a data-driven model that will require meeting planners to not only engage their attendees, but have the ability to measure that engagement in order to make future event marketing decisions. (And if you’re thinking everyone has predictions for 2016, you’re right, but he’s one of the few you’ll want to listen to. DoubleDutch was named one of the fastest growing apps in the world by Corbin Ball, was recently named to Deloitte’s 500 fastest growing companies in North America, and it saw an 80 percent ARR growth in 2015.)

In Coburn’s words, event marketing is about to have its own “AdWords” moment: a revelation in which planners realize getting attendees in the building is only the first step.

“Prior to 2003, it was okay to buy a flashing banner ad on Yahoo and just know you were reaching people without really knowing about its [the ad] performance,” explains Coburn. “Events are still in that world. The technology exists for event organizers to instrument our events the same way we would a website. Advertising, marketing automation, CRM, email marketing, SEO: they all can benefit so much from the data events are generating. They won’t just sit on the sidelines anymore ignoring the wealth of data slipping through the cracks.”

Event Engagement

The buzzwords Coburn emphasized for 2016 were “Event Engagement” – a strategy that engages consumers and encourages them to participate in the provided content. In the event world, the event itself is the content, and the sessions, speakers, exhibitors, and attendees are the moving parts that make it up. The overall experience is what will drive engagement levels. But how is it measured?

In 2015, analytics focused on some of the visible data and behavior of event attendees, such as social media interaction. The next big thing, according to Coburn, is messaging.

“Messaging is going to become a core reason that attendees download event apps,” says Coburn. “In the early days, it was all about the agenda; the paper guide on the phone. Then it was the activity feed amplifying interesting conversations and complementing the content. And now we are going to see the same thing happen to event apps that is happening to just about every other kind of app: beautiful, rocket-fast, instant one-to-one or one-to-many messaging will become a core use case.

“A quick look around the tech landscape will show you that the messaging apps are dominating in many different segments: Slack, Hipchat, Snapchat, WeChat, KakaoTalk, Line, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp… events are ripe for messaging disruption, and messaging can help our world; no other feature has the potential to extend the shelf life of an event like messaging can.”

The Year-Round App

If you’re skeptical about attendees glued to their phones messaging, consider this: where DoubleDutch succeeds and where most event apps fail is its addictiveness—not because it has become a distraction, but because it’s become a networking resource specific to a niche that didn’t previously have a social network.

Industry leaders are all in one place when they come to an event, and if the event app allows them to connect and stay connected, they now have a digital phone book of the exact professional contacts they need to keep the conversation going. And where does the conversation keep going? In the app.

“Imagine going to IMEX and having these digital discussion rooms,” says Coburn. “There are channels for CVBs, for event tech, destinations, lodging and hospitality. They’re virtual rooms to gather and talk about those themes. It’s not about the three-day event. It’s about the people.”

DoubleDutch in 2016

What’s next for the forward-thinking event app? Frankly, lots of things. The creators are focusing on exhibitors to help generate more ROI, charted offerings, and lead scaling, and will continue investing on the exhibitor side of the events world in the next year.

Taking user feedback into account, they’re also aiming to make integration possible with marketing stacks such as Salesforce, so that customers can build functionality into the app experience.

DoubleDutch is a San Francisco-based tech company started in 2011 that provides mobile applications and performance analytics for events, conferences, and trade shows for more than 1,500 customers including SAP, UBM, and Urban Land Institute.