Article first published in Conference News. Available to view here
Events are wonderful things. There’s a natural high of being in the moment, meeting interesting people and experiencing something fresh – perhaps for the first time.
While the endorphins are flowing, so too are the meetings, deal-making and networking. Anecdotal research indicates exhibitor and audience sentiment is most likely to peak during the event – and any fee earner will tell you it’s critical to get the most out of these moments as soon as possible. Why then aren’t we doing more with live event data to support this?
As event organisers, we are often so focused on making sure everything runs smoothly, we simply don’t make time for actioning the insights until days or even weeks pass by. Data is confined to a backstage role when it should be front and centre.
Isobel Peck leads a team at Informa Connect where they are trying to change this. “Real-time data gives our teams a lot more power,” she explains, “the ability to see during the event what kind of content our audiences are engaging with, what polls they are answering, what sessions they are attending – all of this means we can curate a better experience. If a particular speaker has a great deal of resonance, for example, we could ask them to sit on another panel or create more on-demand content – none of that was possible previously because of a time lag in getting the data.”
There are other benefits too. When it comes to in-event marketing Peck believes there is potential to do much more. “Behavioural data has the potential to allow us to segment our audience and use in-event notifications for upselling future events and crafting more compelling messaging. There are lots of opportunities for personalising the audience journey with real-time data – we’re only just beginning to scrape the surface really.”
Totem’s Rob Prevett agrees, drawing attention to how little corporates, in particular, make use of in-event data. “Only a minority of event organisers actually hand data over to their sales and marketing teams right away. Being able to see what content delegates have actually interacted with during an event and where their interests lie means the most appropriate person can reach out immediately. It’s all about striking while the iron is hot.”
It’s all part of what Prevett refers to as ‘data potency’ – the ability to get the right data into the hands of people who need it most, exactly when they need it. “As an industry, we’ve become much better at gathering data, but there’s still a difficulty actioning it. Being agile and thinking creatively with data means we can start to multiply outcomes for everyone involved.”
For Sarah Watson at Make-A-Wish, data can be used to support wish-granting teams who help seriously ill children and their families enjoy the magical moments created. By using real-time attendee data gathered via Totem’s event app, the organisation can trigger push notifications in order to direct families appropriately during the event, rather than relying on volunteers with clipboards.
“Data allows our wish granters to focus on the experience and not the administration behind a wish” she explains. “Historically everything had all been paper-based, but this removes the need for all that so everything behind the scenes just works.”
How is a data-driven approach transforming audience journeys?
For Watson having the ability to collate feedback and use it to adjust the event is critical. “Our recent magical group wish, for example, ran consecutively over four rotations so having the ability to gather rapid feedback as well as taking a look at the data allowed us to make improvements for families on future rotations,” she comments. “Getting this data quickly is so important for our teams to adjust what they are doing in line with what families are saying.”
Peck likens the transformation of events to digital disruption in retail. “We can now do with events what retailers did when they started to blend e-commerce with in-person experiences within their stores,” she says. At Informa, data capture starts way before the event on the platform and app but continues during the event and beyond it.”
“By the time our audiences get to the event we know so much about them we can make the experience a much better use of their time. We can use algorithms to suggest who to network with, we can send push notifications to direct them to relevant sessions, and if they miss a session that we know they were interested in, we can send them a link to it on-demand.”
And what of serendipitous connections? Informa is able to blend data-driven networking with spontaneous interaction via Totem’s Room Radar feature which allows them to scan the room within the app to see who else is there and reach out to them. Discussions and learning can then continue in virtual environments afterwards.
“It’s all about the extension of the event experience – it just feels like better value for money and that’s so important right now,” Peck adds.
Both Make-A-Wish and Informa Connect are also using QR codes to increase the amount of live interaction at their events, leaving a data trail showing what’s happening on the ground. For Informa, this takes place with gamification and live point scoring, often tied to sustainability incentives like the Million Mangroves project. In a similar vein, Make-A-Wish allows children to collect virtual badges after checking into each part of the experience on the app.
How can real-time data help provide more value for sponsors and partners?
Like most commercial eventing companies, Informa makes a lot of its revenue from sponsors. Using Totem’s Smart Event solution, coupled with a product called Alchemy that overlays demographic data, they are able to provide superior intelligence on sponsor leads.
Providing this data to sponsors in real time has a number of advantages. “It’s a much richer, dynamic picture,” Peck observes, “and it adds so much more business value to our clients. We can look at how their sponsorship is doing across the board, allowing us to benchmark performance, especially with their competitors. If traffic is low for example, we can do something to get things back on track. We can leverage in-event marketing to get people into the stand, but we can also encourage the sponsor to do other things like running a competition, hosting drinks or promoting content.”
But there are also entirely new opportunities to be seized. “If we can see that a topic is particularly hot right now, maybe we can spin up another event sooner rather than later,” explains Peck. “If a sponsor has a product that aligns with this area then this is a new commercial revenue stream for us and we can start having those conversations straight away.”
For Watson, data is also essential for demonstrating value to partners, but the need to provide it in real time is less acute. “Our partners and sponsors are very important to us. They want to make sure their money is well spent. Data plays its part when we are providing a picture of which demographics we are reaching, what wish experience surveys for children and families tell us about the impact of a wish, as well as how many children join our wish alumni activities such as being a member of STARboard.”
Peck, Watson and Prevett all agree that there’s much more to be done with data. As Prevett comments, “we have the technology and we have the data – what’s needed now is a little imagination.”
When it comes to real-time data, maybe event planners just need to take the plunge and live a little more in the moment.
To watch the full session and access the case studies please click here.