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Beyond the marketing funnel

by EN

EN Editor Saul Leese talks to Paul Dominguez, founder of tamedMedia and Mark Parsons, MD at Events Intelligence, about how data can be used to strengthen tradeshows post-Covid-19.

The digitalisation of events has created new flows of data which can be used to deepen engagement and drive future growth if used beyond the traditional marketing funnel.

As we emerge from lockdown and evaluate the new landscape, many things have changed including the way we think. While many of us aspire to head back to the office, the reality is that months of home working has impacted the way we approach teamwork. Being forced to work remotely using technology as an enabler has shown us that it is not necessary to all be in the same place all the time. When we return to our offices, it is very likely that our recent experiences will make it easier to work remotely and to achieve more flexibility at work.

But why stop at changing just the way we think about where and how we work? As an industry, the marketing of exhibitions has not evolved that much over the last decade, but the technology stack has. Simply put, the average organiser does two things. It spends nine months creating and executing plans to convince potential exhibitors that their show is ‘the one’ to exhibit at; and then it uses the last 2-3 months to frantically market to ‘turn out the vote’ and deliver an audience for exhibitors.

However, the crisis has driven change. To remain relevant, many in our industry have embraced digital-only initiatives. Data from Events Intelligence shows that 32 percent of a panel of 230 UK tradeshows have announced new digital initiatives over the last three months.

These new content initiatives and digital events generate massive amounts of new interaction data. For a savvy organiser this creates an opportunity to strengthen tradeshows for this or next year, and for many years to come. These digital initiatives are likely to be less of a short-term fix than many of us expect. A recent survey by SmartXpo showed that over 75 percent of respondents thought that their tradeshows would be subject to severe limitations until Q2 2021. For better or for worse we are all going to have to ‘go digital’ to remain relevant. If all you have to sell is square meters and a promise that people will turn up, the next 12 months may be very challenging.

From a marketer’s perspective, the traditional rhythm of a tradeshow has changed: no longer is marketing tasked only with making the value case for exhibitors and with “turning out the vote” for the audience. Event marketing has become a far more complex dance of multiple touch points, profiling, and nurturing. To deliver on this promise, we identify three themes to get right.

Weaponize Digital

Digital is an interactive and measurable medium. Users who engage with specific pieces of content or choose to click on a link in an e-mail declare their interest. Digital events provide even richer insights into users because users interact with content for longer. This insight can be passive (evaluating what was looked at, which companies and products appear to be of interest, etc) but can also be active (how users answer a poll, what questions they asked, what paper they downloaded, etc).

Content can be “weaponised” to help gather data which can then be used to cluster users into areas of specific interest. Content can be shaped to help discover different interests. When designing polls for events, think about whether there is ‘one more’ question which helps you understand the audience better. Polls and surveys can be used to gather purchase intent data helping organisers to understand the level of demand for specific products.

Glue data together

To extract real value from it, data needs to be “glued” together so it can be queried. Data from audience and exhibitor CRM systems, website data, newsletter platforms, content marketing, digital events and registration systems commonly sit in different platforms. While large organisers spend hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) integrating systems into complex CRMs such as Salesforce, the reality is that binding data together (even probabilistically) and querying it is not overly difficult or expensive to build or to outsource. One can use many online databases and analytical tools provided by cloud compute platforms offered by Amazon, Microsoft, or Google.

There is little value in data per se, the value for event organisers comes from being able to query data from multiple sources to discover areas of interests. You should seek to build a “data lab” that enables you to quickly explore different data sources to identify clusters of similar interests, which we like to call “communities of interest”.

Using interests to tailor and delight

Tradeshows bring together large audiences of engaged buyers and sellers. Pre-Covid-19, most organisers didn’t really know that much about the interests of their attendees or those of their exhibitors. Post-Covid-19 those organisers that can build a data-led content and digital events strategy, will be able to segment users effectively and to generate tangible value. For a typical show of 10,000 attendees and 500 exhibitors, being able to split them into small groups of 100 or 200 individuals who have specific and similar interests has significant value for the organiser, for its exhibitors and its attendees.

Sales reps can use insight into communities of interest to sell the value proposition of a show more closely to specific exhibitors and to upsell pre-show access to those potential attendees who are highly engaged on a specific issue.

Attendance can be improved by tailoring marketing messages to focus on the expressed interest of the user. More creatively, those ‘influencers’ within your audience can be identified and leveraged to gain extra marketing reach for the event.

Matchmaking can be significantly improved by combining exhibitors’ targeting lists with information on attendees’ interests. A further layer to this is by adding new data covering company similarity from data providers such as Events Intelligence.

So where does that leave the marketing funnel?

Just as remote working will continue in the future, attending a mix of digital and live events is likely to become the norm now that the fire has been lit. From a marketing perspective, this creates a richer and continuous relationship with our communities of attendees and exhibitors. Data from these interactions transform the traditional marketing funnel into a complex machine to segment users into interest groups. Data is commonly described as the new oil – for organisers to create real value they need to build refineries!

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