By Hannah LeDuc

Business trade shows are excellent opportunities to get products out and connect with other companies, consumers and customers. But they can be static, even boring, events. Interactive technology is a way to get trade-show vendors and customers alike engaged.

Co-founders Bill Finn and Tim Grove first imagined an all-event mobile application while at a trade show where traffic was not meeting expectations. Together, they created BoothTag, a full trade show and event app that delivers traffic and drives sales. This app allows trade show exhibitors to engage passersby through a game environment for business.

BoothTag, located in Milwaukee, serves trade shows nationally. The app can be used throughout an entire trade show event or individually by a company at an exhibit if the event hosts do not provide BoothTag options.

It produces qualified sales leads, pulling out good leads from the not-so-good, Finn said.

“The point of a trade show is to garner sales,” Finn said. “The new app gives users measurable activity, where before a fishbowl of business cards was your measurement.”

Each booth has 2D barcodes linking to websites, product descriptions or event promotions that attendees can scan with tablets or smartphones through the BoothTag app for iOS and Android. Participating attendees can accumulate points by scanning the barcodes at booths and transferring them into rewards and promotions using the game mechanics.

Finn said that the app creates energy as people become more willing to engage with the game mechanics at the event. The attendees have more control in approaching the booths and the barcode scanning provides a conversation starter, Finn said.

“The excitement is fueled by the game and channeled into other areas,” Finn said.

During the event, exhibitors using the app can push notifications through to attendees as opportunities for participants to score more points and drive traffic.

The BoothTag barcodes can be produced for every product an exhibitor has or on the spot at the trade show. Although companies can make independent barcodes, the BoothTag 2D barcodes allow exhibitors to continue generating traffic with the gaming mechanics.

Often attendees avoid getting too close to booths to evade desperate salesmen. Attendees can also choose how much personal information to share within the app for their profile. The app encourages the attendees to participate at the event and the level of trust with privacy helps participation at the event as well, said Finn.

“Participation is the juice, if you don’t have that you don’t have anything,” Finn said.

 A substantial 40 percent of attendees use the app overall, according to Finn. However, Finn noted that at one event paper “passports” were available and not one was taken. This emphasizes the growing use of smartphone and tablet technology use among the business crowd and the need to change approaches in reaching them.

The data gathered can show what people were doing or patterns of the attendees so companies can form their next trade show strategy to generate more traffic and good sales leads.

“It’s all about the data. That’s what every marketer is looking for,” said Finn.

Participants can recommend to one another, similar to social media. Finn said the app helps events grow into a more community based atmosphere.

Finn said his BoothTag adventure is always exciting. There is just one challenge: “There are 1,000 decisions to make, my job is to find the right one.”

BoothTag will attend the Early Stage Symposium ( Nov. 13-14 at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison. The company will have a chance to share its business plan in front of a panel of potential investors.

If it is successful in attracting investors, BoothTag will invest in its sales and marketing. There would also be continued app development, especially as BoothTag plans to enter international trade show markets in the future.

“We need to keep up with the tradeshow industry network,” said Finn.

LeDuc is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.