Since the “pivot” in 2020, the events industry has been acutely focused on how to define, plan and execute hybrid events—particularly in terms of the intersection and interaction between live and digital experiences. The shift to digital events has opened the door to a new, equally important industry imperative: how we leverage the new data channels that have emerged from digital events and integrate that data into our marketing and sales technology stacks.
In the past, it was easier to measure event performance because gathering event data was simpler. Attendees visit a booth and get scanned, they attend a sponsored session, they see a demo, they take a sales meeting—and each of those engagement activities is assigned a specific value. KPIs were also simpler: We exceeded prior year attendance numbers; we did 100 demos; 30% of attendees polled said the event was great. Today, CMOs are telling us these metrics are not good enough. They want to know what content is being consumed and by whom, so the engagement can be more relevant and personalized.
The good news is that digital events offer much richer, more comprehensive data to a broader audience. Now we can tell how much time people are engaging with content during the event, what content indexed well and what actions drove people back to that content post-event. If they registered for a session, did they attend? If they attended, how long did they stay? Did they download content? Did they engage with the right call to action or online offer? Beyond content consumption, we can understand who is consuming it—by region, company, industry and role.
So how do we take those rich digital event insights and use them to enhance in-person or overall event engagement? We start by removing the internal data silos that house information on audience behavior or customer journey. We stop looking at what happened in-person and in digital as discrete things. We start looking at experiences and engagement across multiple customer touch points.
By analyzing in-person and digital event data together, we can define the unique experiences each environment offers and then work to create a unified view of the attendee experience. This is particularly useful in optimizing the experience for customer accounts that have people attending events in both ways. We can look at behaviors across an account to see who is engaging live and who is doing it virtually. We take insights from behaviors during a live digital event and use them to drive in-person audiences to relevant and popular on-demand content.
Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always simple.
A big challenge is that customer data is captured by a multitude of marketing activities and fed into sales and marketing automation systems and there is no connective tissue across those systems. Often data is force-fed into a single platform like CRM, and it doesn’t work because behavioral and preference data doesn’t fit the logic of a sales focused management platform.
Further, data coming out of in-person and live events can be a hot mess, often across multiple spreadsheets. We need to retool how we collect, store, and analyze activities and behavior with the goal of standardizing data capture and reporting. We have to understand and take inventory of all of the data connection points and how they work together. Then we must derive insights that meet the needs of key stakeholders, including marketing, sales, account teams, executive leadership and sponsors.
It seems daunting, but harmonizing data and making it really useful is achievable. The first step is to schedule a meeting with each of those five stakeholders to understand the information and gain insights they want to learn so they could do their jobs better and can better evaluate and validate the event’s success. Once you know what each stakeholder group needs, you can assess your existing marketing and sales technology to determine if that data resides on an existing system or if you need new data and new mechanisms to capture and organize it. Then you must plan and plot out how you are going to analyze the data and deliver data insights to your stakeholders.
Once you have a blueprint that maps insights to systems and data, you’ll want to organize and integrate it to feed each marketing system in your tech stack in the most optimal way. Then you’ll need to develop analytics models to streamline data analysis across the various data sets to create insights. Since everyone one wants the insights now, you’ll want to develop customized visualization dashboards and the ability to pull specific queries in real time.
If you don’t have internal data scientists available to pull all of this together, consider bringing in a strategic partner that is an expert in data integration and can stitch it all together. The partner should be able to help you at every stage of the process, from stakeholder discussions to delivering custom insights. They can help pull data from your different internal and partner systems and map it all together to provide the story you need—and that allows you to do what you do best—strategize and plan better events with a more unified experience.
Event marketers are evolving into digital marketers, and that means we have to understand data and data science. We don’t need to be afraid of this. We don’t need to know how to write code or build algorithms, but we do need to be data savvy. We must learn data terminology and know the basics about the various systems marketing and sales use to capture customer data. We also need to understand marketing and sales concepts like the marketing funnel, sales funnel and customer journey.
Building these skills will allow us to connect the dots between our events and the marketing and sales disciplines. If we do this, when the metrics come in we’ll be able to demonstrate we took the insights and applied them to shift our event strategy, and voila: Engagement numbers went up, pipelines grew, we fed this many qualified leads, and we helped enrich these many customer conversations.
And then the event spending and budgets will increase because leadership will see the results, recognize event attribution and understand that it makes sense to further invest in events because they deliver relevant insights that directly contribute and impact revenue growth.
Editor's note: Julie Lynch, Global Events Leader at F5, Inc., a U.S. technology company focused on software and security, contributed to this article.
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