The data game: Capturing and leveraging event data to improve ROI
By Lawrence Coburn

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Events and data have always had a bit of a murky, complicated relationship. Despite the best efforts of event organizers and exhibitors, it has traditionally been no easy task to extract data from a live event setting.

Pre-event registration systems do a pretty good job of capturing structured data about attendees and exhibitors, but once the event starts, a shroud of mystery descends on the event venue. Are exhibitors getting value? Will attendees be back next year? What content, people and companies are resonating? Who got their money's worth?

Do your events process data to improve ROI?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

Let's break it down.

The twin pillars of data collection in the event space haven't changed much in 15 years: hardware-based lead-scanning devices and paper business cards, with the occasional use of paper-based surveys to evaluate content and speakers.

Let's think about this for a second. Even as a thirst for data and analytics sweeps through the rest of the marketing world, data from live events remains dependent on paper and hardware solutions that are more than a decade old. For all intents and purposes, the live event space remains a black box for data. There is a general sentiment that ROI exists, as attendees and exhibitors keep coming back, but nobody is really certain.

The fragments of data that manage to emerge from a live event — often in the form of business cards and .CSV files of post-event leads — hint at a market-driven world where buyers are connecting with sellers and attendees are drawn to the moth's flame of education, training and exposure to the latest and greatest.

But few would argue that vast amounts of data are being left on the table. Data that could be used to increase the return on investment for the event ecosystem's three principal stakeholders: attendees, sponsors and organizers. One thing the Internet teaches us is that when there are networks of people interacting, there is interesting data to be had.

LinkedIn analyzes your existing network to identify people who you might want to connect with, increasing the value of the network. Facebook learns from our updates and networks to better serve us targeted ads and offers. Klout assesses interactions on social media sites to identify influencers.

In short, virtually every community that enjoys user engagement is becoming a data-driven business. Why should the live event space be any different? Couldn't the interactions that take place between attendees and content, fellow attendees and exhibitors be used to deliver more ROI to organizers, attendees and sponsors?

The skeptics among us may ask "Why now?" Why should an industry that has survived and even thrived with only a trickle of data from the live event be forced to make data-driven decisions?

The short answer is the world has changed. Most event attendees now carry powerful, sensor-laden computers in their pockets. Event organizers have an obligation to reassess their operations for this new reality and entice attendees to put these new tools to work.

In the next piece, we'll look at how smartphones and sensors have the potential to help event organizers go "Moneyball" on their events by leveraging data to set quantitative benchmarks for their shows' key performance indicators (KPIs), with a particular focus on evaluating content and speakers.

The third and final piece in this series will discuss how data can be extracted from events to help match attendees to exhibitors and vice versa.

Lawrence Coburn is the CEO and co-founder of DoubleDutch, a mobile conference application in the events industry designed to thrill event attendees, surface leads and unlock insight into your event.