Badge of Success

August 21, 2016

Charles Olentine

Charlie Olentine, CEO of Consult NC Inc, has over 25 years experience in B2B publishing and from 2004 to 2016 managed the Top 50 show - International Production & Processing Expo. colentine@consult-nc.com

"Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters - all connected to the next-generation Internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing." David Petraeus

The convention/trade show badge is one of the basics for any event. Although the concept is simple (identifying the participant), its role is growing increasingly complex. So what is the function of the badge? Consider that it entails the following:

·         General first impression of the event. Does it look professionally designed? Does it generate excitement? Is it consistent with the general look/theme of the show?

·         Identification of the participant. Does it clearly identify the name and affiliation of the participant?

·         Eligibility for sessions and activities. Trade show have the ability to charge for educational sessions and activities. Does the badge show these eligibilities clearly for security?

·         Access to demographics. Whether it is an RFID chip or a bar code, the badge enables an exhibitor to easily gather demographic information of the participant.

·         Multi-functional printable areas for sponsorships, receipts, additional information on the show.

For years, registration providers have traditionally used Zebra badge printing technology. The printers are compact, relatively easy to use and the fast but require preprinted badge stock for each type of registration unless one uses expensive badge holders denoting specific types of registration categories. Zebra technology is old and dated. An analogy to Henry Ford’s quote “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black" can be tied to the ribbon technology of Zebra printers.

Technology has sped up the obsolescence of the Zebra for event registration. The incorporation of RFID chips has been a great option for those wanting cutting edge in demographic tracking but the cost of using the technology is still high.

Over the past several years, we have seen more and more usage of registration technology incorporating color laser printers that can print on the fly directly from a registration data base using graphics to help identify the various components of registration. The International Production & Processing Expo was one of the first adopters of color laser badge technology. The reasons the show went with color technology were as follows:

1.      It gives a lot of flexibility in badge design and printing.

2.      One does not have to pre-print any badge stock, saving costs in production and also excess badge stock inventory.

3.      It eliminated the need to use badge holders.

4.       Zebra printers can be a pain if the temps do not take their time in pulling the badges. Being on a continuous roll alignment, problems can arise if the temp pulls too hard or tears of the badge incorrectly.

On the downside, color laser printers are much bigger; and printing of the badges is a bit slower than with Zebras but we found it was not a problem.

The show addressed several issues with the badges. The badge stock was designed such that it folded in half. The badge stock itself was sturdy enough that by using a lanyard, a badge holder was not needed. All information for the registrant was printed on a blank card sheet. On one half of the printout was the badge itself and on the other folded half were logos of sponsors and a receipt for the registration.

Needless to say, this area can be used for an event schedule, a ticket or whatever. Color bars at the top of the badge bars differentiated the types of registration (exhibitors, attendees, students, staff, vendors). This eliminated the textual differentiation of exhibitor vs attendee, but one can always add that on the badge.

By using color bars rather than textual differentiation one eliminates the problem of exhibitors complaining that all they see are exhibitors’ badges. We used the color bars also to place text such as Director, Speaker, VIP, Student. Some shows can now actually take a picture of the registrant on-site and have it printed dynamically at badge pick-up.

Color badges tie in registration information dynamically. By eliminating pre-printed badge stock, one can make last minute changes in the badges such as modifications of text or logos. With the color badges, one can use specialized codes or logos for specific functions. At the IPPE we provided each security guard a laminated cheat sheet with pictures of the different types of badges.

It is truly amazing how technology has altered our approaches to every aspect of trade show management and the not-so-simple badge has now become a more useful tool for both organizers and exhibitors.

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