How to Measure the Impact of Face-to-Face Events

I appreciate we have access to a plethora of resources available to provide information and ideas that make us think, reflect and grow – with ideas to improve and adapt our events to our changing stakeholder needs. After listening to an #EventTech podcast today, I am finding myself thinking about how we consider stakeholders, in this case exhibitors. During this show the guest’s approach to meeting exhibitor expectations using event technology, specifically in this case, beacons and their ability to create a heat map surprised me.

Reading results from technology

A heat map provides a digital visualization of where people are traveling through your event. It shows by colour or density higher volumes of traffic, and each beacon can indeed tell you exactly how many devices (presumably with their people attached) have gone past any specific area. This is useful for understanding flow, for managing in real-time movement of participants and allows for adjustments that can positively impact the guest and exhibitor experience. When combined with smart gamification strategies, push messaging and ‘near me’ tech, the possibilities become very interesting.

The suggestion from this guest was with a heat map and its data, “We can show unhappy exhibitors how many people walked past their booths and provide evidence we have ‘done our job’ as organizers and provided them people to talk to.” The conversation continues to note that any lack of success of a particular exhibitor at a show could be attributed to any of the following – if their booth staff wasn’t good / were on their phones / talking to people they already knew / were understaffed or had uneducated staff, etc.

What really defines event success

Anyone who has been an exhibitor knows how many resources – human and financial – are invested in participating in a show. Nobody takes this lightly, and while not all booths are visually stunning, and not all exhibitors stand out front with a smile waiting for the next guest to come and talk to them – there are many factors at play on both sides – flow, timing, placement of food and beverage, time of day, competing events within the overall program, and reasons the participant has attended and may be interested in talking to or meeting with as examples.

For exhibitors, trade show success is often judged on hard leads returned to the office and shows focused on buying with both buyer and seller understanding this purpose will deliver this. Often these shows include hosted buyers, across all industries and not just events / meetings because if your show is being judged on “hot leads” then bringing buyers who have business to do and can do this in the most expedient way is good for everyone.

Other shows will deliver success based on conversations which build or grow relationships; others when show education offers a way for thought leadership from the exhibitor to be shared. “Success” requires thoughtful activation and a responsible investment – understanding which shows get a tabletop and a banner with limited staff, vs. the shows where you bring out the big booth and a significant portion of your team, and focus on demonstrations, opportunities available and conversations. For busy people attending a show where the majority of the suppliers they are interested in meeting are also in attendance makes sense from a resource perspective – time and financial. As organizers we need to ensure we allow enough time on the show floor at defined times for there to be adequate traffic flow for both exhibitors and guests – it is more than just a numbers-passing-by game.

To put this in perspective if you don’t regularly follow or otherwise know me, I believe deeply in the power of technology and its ability to benefit human interactions. I have been actively using all types of #eventtech for some time. I have been a planner, producer, trade show designer and exhibitor; I have been the organizer and the client and I have also been responsible for spending tens of thousands to create memorable on-floor activations for multiple clients. I have also worked at QuickMobile and been behind the scenes where beacons have been used to heat map entire shows and tracked traffic patterns through a venue, a city and even back to origin airports. This data is used for real-time adjustments as well as future planning by many organizations working with a variety of savvy vendors and analysts to interpret and apply recommendations driven by the data. There are great success stories from PCMA, CES and SXSW who all used beacons in ways that made a positive difference to the experience.

Ultimately success is defined by each person who attends, and performance is not defined or defended by a heat map. We need to consider the technology we implement – why and how it is applied to achieve interaction, knowledge retention, contact exchange and data collected within the realm of what is most useful – and take advantage of this ability to measure more clearly the impacts of face-to-face business events.

This blogpost originally appeared on Tahira Endean’s blog on July 25, 2016.

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