The past few years have brought a sea change in data capabilities across the meetings industry. Robust event apps, plus badge scanners, iBeacons, and other tracking tools now share the technological landscape with software programs for registration, speaker management, and other event elements. Planning and marketing departments have more data coming in than ever before—and most of it now reports what attendees actually do at an event rather than what they say, providing far better detail and clarity.
That said, data is only as good as its ability to be understood and applied. To get value out of this new firehose of attendee information, conference organizers either have to aggregate and leverage the data themselves, or partner with an outside expert.
Meeting technology companies are increasingly focused on building analytical features that simplify how data gathered from many sources can be queried, filtered, and segmented; viewed in different formats; and then acted upon through linked systems such as marketing automation software. (Read “Aggregate, Filter, Analyze, Repeat.”) “With big data, this year was the inflection point in the meetings and events business,” says Richard Maranville, executive vice president and chief digital officer for Freeman. “We’ve realized that we’re sitting on a goldmine of data, and that those who know how to do things with it can create better events and better value for everyone, and generate more revenue from that.”
Know What You Want to Know
For any meeting department, the most critical element to making data analytics useful is crafting the objectives that the data will help meet. Do you want to target your marketing efforts? Create more value for attendees? Find your most engaged attendees? Drive insights for the sales team? Increase attendance of a specific attendee type? Deliver more value to exhibitors or sponsors? Improve specific areas operationally? Objectives come first, Maranville says. “You cannot do it the other way around, where you say, ‘Let’s see as much data as possible, and ideas will come to us.’”
Scott Schenker, vice president strategic events for enterprise software firm ServiceNow and a speaker on using data to drive ROI and profitability, adds this: “A lot of folks get trapped focusing on the data rather than on insights. Properly phrased questions provide clarity very quickly so you can figure out which data to pay the most attention to.”
• Case Study: Translating Meeting Data to Action
Koley Corte, who until recently was senior vice president digital, the Americas, Reed Exhibitions, offers some detail. “You have to understand the outcomes you want, and then which data pieces are most relevant. But keep it simple: If you think you can learn from the data how you could improve on four things that represent 80 percent of your biggest event drivers, that’s where you focus.”
For all events, there’s one universal objective: Enhance the attendee experience by providing value before, during, and after the gathering. “In the past, we had no way to see who the most engaged attendees were except through surveys, which weren’t good for accuracy,” Maranville says. “Now we have ways to see who is most engaged through both their clicks and physical movements—and once you know that, you can choose specific actions to reinforce that engagement, and different actions to raise engagement among other attendee segments. That is the closed loop you want to create with data systems.”
Corte notes planners can drive engagement by helping them connect with preferred topics or groups. “Amazon does that for its customers, and we can too,” she says. Taking this a step further, “People want to know how they compare to others,” Schenker says. “It’s human nature—if someone matches a lot of what I do at the event, what can I learn about them and from them? Based on the attendee’s journey and demographic, we say, ‘Here are others who are moving along the same path as you. Here are the sessions they’re attending, exhibitors they’re visiting, and content they’re consuming. And here is how you can connect with them.’”
Closing the Loop
One example of an association closing the loop between data and action comes from Vivastream, an event data analytics company. The association learned from its aggregated data that associate members were more engaged at the annual conference than full members. “That was an ‘aha’ moment for them,” says Vivastream CEO Nick Fugaro. That events team is now developing a separate track for associates focused on the topics they were most engaged around, with the goal of converting associates to full members as well as increasing referrals from them to draw more associate members.
Perhaps the most value an organization can provide attendees from data is a complete picture of their event journey. “An activity report helps people understand how they used their time and reminds them of everything they were exposed to,” Fugaro says. “They’ll also show it to the boss to justify their attendance, and it can help them educate their coworkers, too.” Vivastream saw a 300 percent increase in attendees opening post-event thank-you emails when clients included personalized activity reports.
Furthermore, the data provides insights to push out additional relevant content. “When they get a message that says, ‘Based on your event journey, here are five pieces of content you’ll find useful,’ they’re going to keep engaging with you,” Schenker says, noting that not all the content should be free; webinars, trend reports, and other products developed from data analysis can drive revenue year-round.
There’s also a potential revenue stream among an event’s exhibitor base, which is always hungry for attendee data. “I want partners to know as much as possible about the people who come to their booth, because I make money if they make money,” Schenker says. “But if they want the complete picture of attendee behaviors, not only from the show but also from the website in the months leading up to the show, we offer a ‘plus’ package with more about those who came to their booth.”