Industry experts from HP, Intel and Freeman discuss the rise of data across the event industry
The impact of data on the event industry—and the impact of the event industry on data—has become a white-hot topic.
A growing emphasis by CMOs on data-driven marketing has emanated throughout their marketing channels and the teams that run them, and the result is a clear and present portrait of a marketing mix becoming more and more tied to and impacted by data.
In fact, a new Freeman Data Benchmark Study of more than 650 leading marketing executives found two-thirds of corporate marketers plan to increase dedicated spending on data and analytics in 2019, 89 percent say they use data to make strategic decisions, 98 percent use data to secure budgets and more than 70 percent leverage data to impact wider marketing and business goals.
The event industry is moving quickly to better harness the power of data. Live experiences have long been incredible sources of real-time, relevant data about customers, their behavior, and what-when-why-how they buy—information used not just by event departments but by many marketing channels across the enterprise. Now event marketers and trade show managers are focused on taking their use of data to the next level, with better data strategies, upgraded tools and bigger plans to generate and use data in 2019.
To get a temperature check on the action, EM sister brand Chief Marketer assembled a roundtable discussion with HP, Intel and Freeman. The goal? Get some perspective on the rise of data, discuss how brands are looking at data differently and discuss where the data conversation is headed in 2019 and beyond.
CHIEF MARKETER: Let’s talk about the rise of data and how it continues to shape what you do. How big is data getting for event marketers, and why?
KEN HOLSINGER: It’s obviously huge. We are looking at an influx of information that’s increasing exponentially month over month. The real pressure of all of this information is, ultimately, how we make better decisions. And probably the biggest challenge that we are facing is helping our customers understand not how to choke down the volume of data they have, but what data points are appropriate to their strategy.
BRUNGARDT: Data has always been important. The challenge for marketers today is how to best collect it , make it usable—and use it. A lot of times people collect data at events and it ends up in the bottom of the file drawer. But if you have infrastructure in place to collect and use it, data is powerful in the sense that it helps you not only evaluate the event you’ve done, but also identify what you’re doing well or gaps that you may have—so you know what to focus on next time around.
CHIEF MARKETER: Victor, how big a topic of discussion is data when you’re meeting with your counterparts in other groups?
VICTOR TORREGROZA: It is the topic. We are living and working in a data-centric economy. That applies to us as consumers and it applies to us as individuals. On the event marketing side, when we are setting the strategy for a particular program, we look at several types of data. We look at data provided by the event, we look at data from our own research, and we tie all of that together to inform our strategy for the show. So it is the word, the topic of discussion—and it’s priceless. It’s irrefutable logic when it comes to informing our event strategy.
CHIEF MARKETER: Skip, why now is data hitting the mainstream?
SKIP COX: It’s not just something that’s happening in events; it’s been happening culturally within companies across the board and we’re just caught up in that, for the good. But we’ve traditionally been an industry that’s been devoid of data. We were living on registration data, lead data and survey data, but now we have so many other sources, so that’s not the case anymore.
And companies are demanding it. A study we did confirmed that: Two-thirds of companies said it is a big part of what they’re doing. So it really is the norm today, particularly at big companies. Now, with smaller companies, it’s a little bit of a different story. They have less access to that kind of data, less resources.
As Ken indicated, we are going to have to sort through to find the relevant data, because we have so many different data streams coming in, particularly companies that run their own events, because they have control of all that data. And it’s moving beyond event-centric data to other sources of data—from social, from digital marketing, from other aspects of marketing—which truly makes events probably the most integrated of all channels in how we use data.
“Data has become mainstream and it’s part of what marketers use when they evaluate programs—versus using it as a checkbox that a CFO or CMO wants to see.”
CHIEF MARKETER: How have the importance of data and the perception of data changed over the past five years in your work?
TORREGROZA: The data we get from CES is priceless. And what it does for us is confirm that, yes, the C-suite executives—the people we want to be working with—are at the show. So the data has helped to clarify that we are reaching the right people. As a result, we’re able to build a more meaningful, targeted and purposeful experience for them that’s going to save them time because it’s based on the data that we get. And when you make their experience much more targeted and smart, your target audience is going to love it. They’re going to appreciate it, and they’re going to share it.
COX: It has evolved tremendously over the last several years, particularly the past four or five. But now people are looking at it from the standpoint of, “How do we optimize the results?” It’s not just about getting good results so we can justify our budgets, but what do we need to do to improve?
Data is being used for event portfolio, selection, where you go and how much you spend in each of those shows; and it’s being used to maximize the experience itself. That’s the direction that we’re seeing it continue to head.
Victor, I always go back to what you did a few years ago for Intel at CES, when you were able to change some of what you were doing on the spot. If I recall, there were wearables you were demonstrating, and there was a basketball player there, and it was attracting a lot of attention, but it wasn’t generating as much value as the other areas within the exhibit. So you made changes overnight and focused your staff on what they needed to do to improve that value. And, boom, scores jumped way up. Not the following year or the next time around, but right at that event.
So that’s one of the beauties of data today, that it’s almost real time in some cases, and you can make those kinds of changes that optimize your investment immediately.
TORREGROZA: Yes, that was two years ago. We utilized the data to inform our team that the experience just wasn’t resonating. We simplified it, got it really crisp, and the scores the next day jumped exponentially.
HOLSINGER: We have a lot of new technology that has exploded onto the scene that is generating new data, including giving us more meaningful real-time insights than we could have generated before on surveys or registration data.
But marketers, as they build their story, are looking at a much broader swath of data and so many different sources of data. In the past, most of us were able to look at last year’s information to try to inform this year’s event. But now we’re moving from that rearview perspective to the front windshield, where we’re looking around to see what we can learn in real time.
Ultimately, the question we’re all trying to answer is, “How do we transform that into predictive tools, where we can actually say ‘Where are things going?’” We’re using predictive data to tell us things about our attendees and our relationships based on other trends, and we’re gathering a lot broader base of data to be able to do that.
CHIEF MARKETER: In a survey we conducted recently, brand-side marketers and trade show managers said they absolutely need data to secure their budgets and to get their event budgets approved. At what point in the budget process are you leaning on data to make sure that the people you’re getting approval from understand what you’re trying to accomplish?
TORREGROZA: I’d have to put data at the top of the list when it comes to event spend. It begins with having defined objectives and strategies for the event, and those objectives and strategies have to tie back to the corporate objectives. The metrics we’re looking for expand, but I’ll name a few. Brand perception. Demand creation. Social attitudes. Share of engagement and impressions. And we can’t go in there without hard data on those things. We can’t go in the door.
CHIEF MARKETER: Is data becoming more required when it comes time to talking about budgets?
BRUNGARDT: Required is a kind of a strong word. I’d rather say that data has become mainstream and it’s part of what marketers use when they evaluate programs—versus using it as a checkbox that a CFO or CMO wants to see. Anybody can put together some data they’ve collected, but if you don’t have a plan in place or a process of how you use that data, then to me it’s useless data. At HP, we’ve always had a measurement-type program in place through which we collect data at events and use that data to set the roadmap for where we’re going.
CHIEF MARKETER: Ken, how does data fit in as an element of the 2019 budget process?
HOLSINGER: Intel and some of the other tech companies are leading the way on this, but we are seeing the conversation among our clients rising to the point where we’re really trying to quickly leverage some toolsets. In the past, we could spend time one-on-one and we could dive into the data; now, we’re looking at building automated toolsets to accelerate this.
Even the smaller companies and those that have been less sophisticated are being required to come to the table with this information. And for many of them, it has come on so quickly that they’re caught a little bit flatfooted. And so wherever we can, we’re providing automation for that process so that they can gain insights and quickly put their data together.
CHIEF MARKETER: Victor, I know data from your events informs your strategy and your future activations and experiences, but how do Intel colleagues in other marketing roles use it?
TORREGROZA: The event data is so targeted—technology has made it so easy to get the data that you want from the people that you’re engaging with—so it doesn’t spill over into too many other events or programs. What informs us first is our corporate strategy, and then for CES or Mobile World Congress, it’s a very targeted and custom event strategy for those specific programs.
We can’t just rinse and repeat with our event activations; it’s all about building a custom experience that supports that particular event strategy for the target audience you’re trying to reach. So there’s not a big amount of spillover at corporate because everything is just so custom these days.
“We have to be careful to not overwhelm or oversaturate the surveys or analysis that are happening, so we can first inform the event strategy.”
CHIEF MARKETER: Ken, how much should other teams within the marketing organization be tapping into the intelligence generated at events?
HOLSINGER: We’re seeing a lot of companies where—because the events department has the face-to-face interaction and the immediate feedback, and they’re typically targeted around business cycles—the other marketing departments are trying to insert their questions and their analysis into the conversation. And they are, to a certain extent, reading opinion surveys coming out of events and using them to help inform their product decisions and other things.
We’re also starting to see research that traditionally would be in a completely separate area—the focus groups and things—being brought directly to the show floor because of the technologies and the real-time or near-real-time capability.
In some cases, those efforts are implemented well and there’s a good blend with the other information that the event marketers are gathering. I’ve also seen times where there are just too many cooks in the kitchen trying to discern too much. I certainly understand why brand marketers want access to that face-to-face experience; I just think we have to be careful to not overwhelm or oversaturate the surveys or analysis that are happening, so we can first inform the event strategy, and then address the other strategies.
CHIEF MARKETER: Skip, your thoughts on data from events being used across the entire marketing mix?
COX: There are probably not enough companies doing it. Whether it’s your own customer event or an industry event or tradeshow, there’s a wealth of opportunity to gain that information. But it’s more difficult than you may think because you have so much going on.
First of all, the time constraints on the attendee are very tough. At CES, attendees are probably spending around 20 hours on the show floor—but that’s just CES. The average for most shows is about nine hours.
But there’s information that can be gleaned indirectly, and that’s probably where the best opportunity lies. At a private event, where your company is in control of what’s going on, the reaction you get to your content, meaning indirectly, is going to provide insight that can help you in the long run, whether it’s for a particular product or just understanding the market.
What we’re finding is that in-depth analysis of the session data at those private events can be extremely helpful in understanding where peoples’ interests lie. That goes beyond simply asking how the speaker performed, and was the content interesting. Instead, you’re looking at it more from the standpoint of what it indicates in terms of interest in a particular area.
CHIEF MARKETER: That’s a great segue to the next question. As marketers, you have access to more data than you’ve ever had before. When you’re digging in, how do you know where to start, and what to prioritize?
COX: It starts with defining what you need to learn. Is it results? Is it insights about how you can improve? Is it insights about the industry? That will dictate the data sources you use. So, even though there are more and more data sources—and in some cases better data sources than we’ve had—I don’t think we need everything. It’s really more a matter of mapping the data sources to what you’re trying to learn and what you’re trying to measure.
A perfect example is attendee tracking data. There’s a wealth of potential in using that data beyond what’s happening today. We’re using it primarily just to understand activity—where people have been, how much time they’ve spent there, and so forth. But if that data is connected to other data sources, even something as simple as connecting it to registration data to see where attendees are spending their time by their profile, that tells us a lot about attendee behavior within the exhibit.
The potential for attendee tracking is way underutilized at this point, and I think that will change. And as people understand better how to use it and how to deploy it, there will be a tremendous change in how things are measured. And we haven’t even seen some data sources that are going to come on board at some point—things like facial recognition or measuring emotion, which is being used in certain environments, but not so much in the event space. I see those coming into play.
CHIEF MARKETER: At HP, are you collecting more data or better data now versus a few years ago?
BRUNGARDT: Better data, and it’s important to know how to collect that better data. Asking the right questions, being able to formulate a data plan, finding better ways to have conversations with attendees and using technology to help collect and analyze data. Again, I cannot stress how critical it is becoming to find better ways to collect data and stronger ways to ask questions that generate the strongest data back can change a program to meet the needs of your target audience.
CHIEF MARKETER: Victor, which data sources do you lean on more than the others for learning about your programs?
TORREGROZA: I rely on our internal global insights and analytics team a lot for information about the company, trends, shifts in trends and everything we should be aware of as marketers in the technology industry.
COX: Victor, one thing you do at Intel that is a huge best practice but one we don’t often see employed is that your global insights and analytics team provides alignment with what’s going on in the business overall. Probably one of the most important things they provide is the customer taxonomies that you’ve developed for Intel overall. You have different technologies depending on the market—whether the customers are developers or gamers, that type of thing.
And being consistent with what’s being measured across the board through insights and analytics—that is absolutely critical. Because they’re a trusted resource internally, the metrics that they’re bringing in automatically ties your program into the rest of marketing. It also gives you that added credibility. And when you come back to budget discussions, if you’re reaching the people who are important to Intel based on your customer taxonomies, that alone is a big plus. And if you’re achieving the KPIs that are most important to Intel overall, that justifies events’ existence.
BRUNGARDT: For us, as management is looking at new metrics and for new data points, you need to be able to adapt and change to that. For us, the evolving toolkit definitely makes our lives easier. If we didn’t have our data [tech stack] in place, I can’t imagine the amount of manpower we’re need to analyze that data. So having a process and a toolkit to use and knowing and being able to compare datapoints internally and externally is incredible.
CHIEF MARKETER: Here’s your chance to speak to marketers at companies that haven’t used data like you have—or have only tested the waters. What advice do you have?
HOLSINGER: One of the challenges we run into, particularly with smaller brands, is that they have attempted some sort of measurement in the past and been unsuccessful. Everybody talks about having struggled measuring ROI for their event. But the likelihood is you aren’t asking the right questions, you don’t have measurable outcomes, and you aren’t really breaking it down into very specific, measurable goals. Too many people get into this very high-level conversation instead of breaking it down into bite-size chunks that can be measured.
For example, marketers who are involved in the education component at a show can measure retention and brand impact in that particular environment; or customer perception, pre- and post-event. That means being really focused ahead of time about what questions you are going to answer. Many people make the mistake of just looking at the data afterwards and then trying to figure out what they learned.
“Data has helped to clarify that we are reaching the right people. As a result, we’re able to build a more meaningful, targeted and purposeful experience.”
CHIEF MARKETER: Earlier, Skip mentioned a few emerging technologies, including facial recognition, that could play a role in event data. What are some other emerging technologies in this space—and how useful will they be?
TORREGROZA: I’m excited about emerging technologies. We have leveraged artificial intelligence technology at events as part of the activation and experience—it can recognize emotions or when you get up and have social interaction.
COX: I mentioned before that attendee tracking is way underutilized. Not that many companies have invested in it yet, but we did a three-year experiment with it for a client with a major, 23,000-square-foot exhibit in a huge medical show, with multimillion-dollar products in the booth. They had RFID tracking throughout, so step one was just asking, what does the tracking data show, who’s going where, how much time are they spending there, and where is there more interest? So those results helped them with the basic layout design of the exhibit.
For year two, we added a component to give us more qualitative information. We interviewed attendees within the booth, but we also swiped their badges so that we had their registration information, which allowed us to connect back to their RFID data. So now we had behavioral data coupled with qualitative data. Things like overall value, staff and demo performance, purchase intent, and so on.
In year three, we looked to see if there was any correlation between behavior in the exhibit and purchases taking place three to six months after the show. Our objective was to see if exhibit behavior and impact could be used to determine the profile of visitors most likely to purchase in the future. We found some correlation, but it was less definitive. It wasn’t what we had hoped for, but it certainly proved that it did have some impact on moving people along that purchasing path.
So that’s a basic technology that’s readily available today that I think we’ll see more and more companies start to use.
Beyond that, there are the technologies with emotion and eye movement that you’re already seeing in other environments. They’re using that information to see what customers do and what they’re pay attention to, and with data, bringing to life the experience within the exhibit. There’s a lot of potential there. The key thing is making it cost effective—you don’t want to spend more on technology than you are spending on your exhibit or event. But as those technologies become more commonplace in other areas and come down in cost, you’ll see them eventually.
CHIEF MARKETER: Where do you see the future of data and measurement? What’s next, and how should marketers prepare?
HOLSINGER: For companies just getting into this, the starting point is just basic access and integration to their data. Many of them have data sources that they aren’t taking advantage of; they aren’t getting the information from those sources and bringing them together. Then, it’s a matter of translating that into actionable feedback, expanding and deepening their insights, and ultimately evolving to a data-driven culture where they can then begin to use data as a competitive benefit.
CHIEF MARKETER: Victor, as you look toward 2019, how will you collect and use data better than you are in 2018?
TORREGROZA: In this complex world, we all want unique experiences. So, whether it’s a sporting event, a music festival, or even a protest, everyone wants a unique experience and they want to be the first there. So, where I would love Intel to go is to be much more targeted. Ask fewer questions, be much more focused on that target audience, and reach them with smart, informed activation. But along with fewer questions, we can spend more time before, during and after the event—more time digesting the event and comprehending it, and more time putting it into practice.
CHIEF MARKETER: Skip, how will we be using data better or differently 12 months from now?
COX: Where we’ll be better than we have been is being focused on the key decisions that need to be made, and that are going to eventually drive better experiences and better results. In a year or two, we’ll be closer to making that a reality, where we’re looking at what metrics are important for what decisions. Right now, we’re at that formulation stage. But what’ll crystallize over the next couple of years is how that is going to be common across multiple types of companies or multiple types of events.
Whether we’ll be at a stage where we really know how to use all of the information available to us to make key decisions in a year or two years, I’m not quite sure. Obviously, data needs acceptance by the industry as a whole for that to occur. But when you have companies like Intel and HP leading the way already, I would expect people to follow that lead—especially when they see the value that comes out of it.