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In Conversation with Santosh Panda: On Expanding Marketing with Event Technology

Curiosity had me wondering about what is really trending in the world of event technology. Is it really needed? Or does technology simply drive up the cost of executing an event? What can we expect in the years to come? I discovered answers to these and more, in a conversation with Santosh Panda, Founder & CEO at Explara.

Businesses are pushing their marketing strategies towards brand experiences. The more immersive, the better. Given the power live experiences can have and the opportunity for one-to-one interaction with prospects and customers, events are understood to be one of the most effective channels of marketing.

The question that needs answering, and a challenging one at that, is do marketers really need to adopt event technology? Or can they simply continue conducting events in the traditional way, without all the hassles of sophisticated technology that seems to take up a significant part of their budget?

The search for these answers led me to Santosh Panda, Founder and CEO at Explara – a ticketing and event management platform.

Pioneering events technology since 2008

First, the creation of a category

Santosh started his journey in events in 2008 in India. A person with an entrepreneurial mindset, he was quick to spot that this industry was highly unorganised and technologically-handicapped. “There were no large players in the market at the time”, says Santosh. “No one was really thinking about innovation, much less disruption. There was a visible opportunity there and also a lot of challenges.”

It was only after the Internet boomed around 2012-13, with social media gaining greater prominence, and events becoming more mainstream, that marketing folks began to appreciate the need for technology in the space. “We continued to spend the first 2-3 years at Explara on creating a category. The application of end-to-end technology in events management needed awareness, education and promotion. We spent a lot of time testing the market, developing proof of concept and creating examples of applications with measurable, high ROI.”

Thinking long-term, always

The entire technology stack that Explara now has in its portfolio may only be about 18 months old, but it is quite evident that Santosh has always been highly motivated in creating solutions that result in greater operational efficiency.

“Even now, in countries like the U.S., where you would expect greater marketing spends and more sophisticated technology, the events industry is just about beginning to get structured. It is fair to say that events technology, even events for that matter, hasn’t received the treatment and focus it deserves. And this is where the opportunity lies – we stand at the very beginning of a massive explosion of technology to come”.

Santosh is clear about what he wants to focus on – improving profitability, increasing productivity and lowering the operational costs. I wonder whether the reason why the adoption of event technology is still in its growth stage is because it drives up the cost of an event. “On the contrary”, Santosh explains, “Manual processes and systems are always costlier. Think of the number of people you’d need to hire. Think of the probabilities of human-error. Think of the chaos mismanagement can cause. You might be replicating things that automation or technology can completely eliminate. You may end up overspending in the long-term if you decided to rely 100% on human effort. Technology is an enabler. Not a cost-centre”.

Guess what, the future is much closer

Convinced that events do need an intelligent use of technology to gain a higher ROI, I’m curious to know what the next 2-3 years in the industry might witness. “It’ll be the application of the same revolutionary technologies you expect to see in other fields – from IoT devices to the blockchain, from AI simplifying big data to VR and AR – all of these will find applications in event technology.”

Does this mean there is going to be greater competition between event planners and agencies? Santosh doesn’t think so. “It’s just going to get a lot more creative. And considering that creativity is very much still the domain of human imagination, we can expect more businesses to come to the same table to collaborate, especially when it comes to large-scale or large-format events.”

And finally, some extremely useful advice for event practitioners…

Santosh has been in the events industry for over a decade now. Here’s what he has to say to those who design and run events. “The trick is to survive, thrive and excel. Events are not something to be run in a silo. They need to be a part of an integrated marketing strategy so that businesses can achieve a visible ROI. Remember, adopting new technologies should drive an important function – to simplify operations.”

…and for entrepreneurs

As someone who is striving to be an entrepreneur, I am tempted to ask Santosh a slightly off-beat question about what attitude entrepreneurs need to inculcate. Turns out, his advice is mighty relevant for all those in business, entrepreneurs or not. “Keep growing your game, as long as you are making sense to your customers. Don’t get carried away with fads. Don’t get distracted. Don’t give into unnecessary pressure. Keep refining your game. Practice, sharpen, and execute. It works!”

Inspired by the interesting conversation we had with Santosh Panda, Podium continues to share best practices in the events industry in both India and abroad and bring narratives from practitioners who demonstrate measurable, applicable and good insight. If you’d like to know more about this or have a conversation with Santosh Panda, please write to us at sg@c4e.in

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