Attendee Data Collection: Weighing the Risks & Rewards

February 9, 2016

Everyone’s talking about “big data” these days, but exactly what does that involve?

Thanks to a variety of technology tools, shows now have the ability to collect a wealth of information about attendees: demographics, interests, social media details, job title/role, number of years attending, buying authority, time spent on the show floor (and in what areas), reasons for attending, other shows attended and more.

Having all this data provides insight into who really is participating in the event and how to find others who are similar. It also offers the opportunity to make adjustments and create an event which more accurately connects with the audience.

For example: Traffic counts can be used to adjust the flow and ease bottlenecks on the showfloor – or attendee interests can help to create personalized experiences with suggested sessions to attend, exhibitors to visit, or even other attendees to meet.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) used data they collected to develop profiles of six specific attendee segments. These audience personas were combined with feedback gained from focus groups and post-event surveys to create personalized marketing campaigns and onsite experiences.

Promotions were tailored to reflect age group, attendance history, and more. Then depending on which sessions each attendee registered for, they were offered suggestions for other topics of interest as well as exhibits to visit.

Attendees loved being able to custom-design their experience and as AAFP Meetings & Conventions Director Tom Pellet said, “Using the data we gathered has totally changed the complexion of our event.”

What about the methods to collect all of this information? Much of the demographics, history, and interests can be gathered at the time of registration. However presenting a laundry-list of questions turns off attendees and likely won’t be filled out completely.

Consider offering some kind of incentive for attendees to share data (some shows even gamify the process), and remind them how they will benefit with an improved experience or conveniences on-site.

On-site behavior, such as traffic patterns/movement, interactions, dwell time, and sessions attended can be compiled in the background using RFID, beacons, heat maps, and show apps. But several challenges exist in this area, including the fact that show apps are still not gaining the kind of traction necessary to get accurate data: the Event Manager Blog’s Event App Bible report states that only 33 percent of events surveyed have at least 50 percent of attendees using their app.

Shows also must be careful about making assumptions based on surface data. For example, if someone leaves a session early it isn’t necessarily a reflection on the topic or speaker, but perhaps a matter of receiving an urgent phone call.

Transparency about how data is being collected and how it will be used is crucial – it’s a matter of building and keeping attendee trust. Using aggregate data is fine, but be very cautious when compiling and using personal data. First, it should always be stored on a secure server. Data breaches are a growing threat (no matter how small the event or list) because thieves want to get their hands on credit cards, email addresses, and passwords.

A second security issue involves how the list is used. Bottom line: never rent or sell the data due to privacy issues. (Yes, that includes sharing it with exhibitors … a touchy subject for most shows!)

While most attendees recognize that their personal information will be used for the purpose of marketing the current and future event, they may not be accepting of other uses. For example, they might be fearful of having their movements tracked, either online (e.g., ad stalking) or at the event.

Once all this mountain of data is collected, it’s worthless unless there’s a structured system in place for compiling and analyzing everything. It can either become an overwhelming blur of information, or it can be an incredible tool for creating future floor plans, marketing materials, sponsorships, and programming. The potential is there … it’s up to each show what to make of it.

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