Meeting and tradeshows used to be known as a “black hole” of marketing data. Although ‘face-to-face marketing’ was known to be very effective, the lack of data collection and analytic tools meant the meeting planner and event marketers did not know why. Basic registration details, limited exhibitor connections and paper surveys were about the only data collected onsite about specific attendee interests. Registration systems lacked good interoperability with other systems. Robust analytic capabilities to provide useful detail did not exist.
This situation is rapidly changing as event data analytics is becoming central to an overall marketing effort. This article covers many of details every meeting planners should know about these changes.
What is data analytics and why is it importance to events?
Data analytics is the science of drawing insights from sources of raw information, usually through specialized computer programs. Data analytic techniques can reveal trends and metrics that would otherwise be lost. This information can then be used to optimize processes and to increase the overall efficiency of a business or system.
This is important for planners because attendee actions during a meeting or tradeshow can yield a goldmine of data about individual interests. The sessions attended, the exhibit booths visited, social media posts, information requests/downloads, mobile polling/survey responses all can be indicative.
These data can then be used to personalize the event experience and to provide better marketing information based on individual preferences and interests. On a collective basis, data analytics can be applied to current and future meetings to make the meetings more relevant and targeted and, therefore, more valuable.
In short, data analytics can improve the attendee experience and the event overall.
What has changed to make advanced data analytics possible for events?
There are four reasons why this has become a possibility for events:
- The explosion of data points at the event (see next question)
- The increased data analytics capabilities being built into many event software and event app products
- The emergence of API’s (application programming interfaces) which allow easy data sharing among event software products (i.e. registration, lead collection, mobile apps, event social media tools), with CRM systems (such as Salesforce) and sales automation tools (such as Marketo, HubSpot, and Eloqua).
- The emergence of affordable data analytic tools (such as Watson Analytics and Tableau), business intelligence tools (such as Cognos, SAP).
With much more data, and much better means of sharing and analyzing these data, very significant insight on attendee behavior and interests can be obtained.
What data points can be tracked?
There are many! Here are a few of them:
- Registration data including name, title, company, sessions of interest, registration survey responses
- Mobile polling and survey responses
- Other mobile app data: Every touch on an app can be trackable.
- Exhibitors visited: Wearable beacons technology (small radio transmitters worn on a badge or lanyard) can track exhibit booth dwell time (the booths each attendee visited and how long they visited).
- Sessions attended: This can be accomplished via beacons or other radio frequency identification technology.
- Social media sentiment analysis: tools that can measure social media activity and sentiments express around an event hashtag
- Audience engagement tools such as Educational Measures Array technology can provide very rich detail on specific presentations and knowledge transfer.
- Heatmaps of crowd flow through an exhibit hall and elsewhere (accomplished via beacon technology)
- Course notes and product information downloaded
What KPIs (key performance indicators) are crucial to track?
KPIs are the most important measures of event success. They can vary considerably based on the purpose of the meeting and from the standpoint of different event stakeholders. Here are some regularly used KPIs:
- Event attendance by attendee category (i.e. attendee, exhibitors, speakers)
- Gross revenue generated by category
- Cost to revenue ratio per attendee and by event
- Registration sales compared to previous events
- Cost per attendee acquisition
- Number of event no-shows
- Repeat attendees by category (attendees/exhibitors)
- Attendee satisfaction surveys (by event and by session)
- Satisfaction surveys by attendee category (attendees/exhibitors/sponsors/speakers)
- Social media engagement (hashtag mentions/reach, social sentiment analysis, Instagram postings, Twitter posts, Snapchat posts, etc.)
- Attendee engagement (measured in many ways including percentage of app downloads, percentage of survey responses, live response polling rate, sponsorship responses, response to speaker slides, level of interaction with meeting content, percentage of gamification uses)
- Event marketing analytics (email open rates, click through rates, email click to registration conversions, delivery rates, forward/shares, event landing page conversions)
- Exhibit effectiveness (attendance, booth visits, leads captured)
- Session attendance
- Press coverage
How does data visualization lead to understanding?
Humans are not very good at making sense from pages of numbers – we do not do well in seeing correlations and understanding the meaning of many thousands or even millions of data points generated at events.
This is where data analytic tools can be of great help. These systems are capable of sorting through millions of data bits (often times from multiple sources), seeing correlations, and then visualizing these data in charts and graphs.
In order for data to be useful, it must be understandable. Graphs and charts summarizing the data can be very helpful in making sense of the data.
How can the meeting planner and other stakeholders use data analytics to put meetings in a central marketing position?
Data analytics can be used to gain insight on attendee behavior which could not be obtained otherwise. This insight can be used to improve future events, to increase attendance, to market the event better, and to personalize the attendee experience. Here are some specific actions to consider:
- Make technology purchases on the basis of the technology provider’s ability to provide data analytics. These providers are the front line of event data management and the analytic capabilities of registration systems, mobile apps and other providers vary considerably.
- Look for strong application programming interfaces (APIs). Ask whether a specific product can share data easily among other software products. For example, can registration product XYZ exchange data bidirectionally with Salesforce or other CRM system? Ask the provider what other meetings technology companies and other technology providers do they routinely share data.
- Explore the capabilities of data analytics companies such as Watson Analytics (watsonanlyitcs.com) and Tableau (www.tableau.com). Watson Analytics provides a freemium service where spreadsheets of up to a significant size can be analyzed for free. Tableau provides a full-version trial with no credit card required. These tools are designed to analyze, organize, display and share data in a user-friendly manner.
From a marketing standpoint, data analytics puts events and tradeshow central to an overall marketing effort. Organizing the multiple data collection points at an event can give better insight to an attendees’ interests than nearly any other marketing tool. Nearly every step attendees take at an event can give insight if properly tracked. The use data analytics for events is transforming the onsite event from the black hole of event data management to an extremely valuable marketing resource. As event planners are often the key staff for event technology purchases, the awareness of the importance and the power of data analytics will be important to know as technology continues to transform this industry.
Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP, DES, MS is a speaker and independent third-party consultant focusing on meetings technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity He can be contacted at his extensive web site Corbin Ball & Co. - Meetings Technology Headquarters (www.corbinball.com) and followed at www.twitter.com/corbinball.