An Emphasis on Data Collection and Analysis Can Mean Big Dollars

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PCMA contributing editor Michelle Davis discusses in "Crunch Time: How Big Data Makes Meetings Smarter," that organizations are getting better at collecting more usable information from their meeting attendees.  This information can include details about the attendees company and career, vendors visited during the show, strongest products interests, best breakout sessions, online conversations with colleagues,  results of on site meetings and much more.

Davis says that before, during and after conferences, vast amounts of information are flowing on everything from attendance patterns to purchasing preferences to venue costs. "But the ability to capture this type of “big data” and convert it into a usable form is a challenge that meeting professionals are just starting to tackle."  Various apps, software and other new technologies now make it much easier to collect information that can be used to bring added value and better ROI but some experts within the meeting industry feel the industry has been behind the curve in adopting many of these solutions.

“The biggest issue our industry has as it pertains to data analysis or data insight of any kind is asking the right questions or knowing what the questions are,” said Dave Lutz, CMP, managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting and a columnist for Convene. “Data is already being collected, we're just not always analyzing it properly.”  "By ignoring big data, meeting organizers are missing out on considerable information that can help them do everything from monetize feedback to boost attendance," according to Brian Silverman, president and CEO of Pleasanton, Calif.-based NiceMeeting.

Associations and other organizations are finding numerous valuable ways to utilize the data, including the marketing of products, attracting attendees to meetings and spotting new trends. Matthew Stein, global content manager for Cisco Customer Conferences, says Cisco uses radio frequency identification (RFID) chips inside each attendee's badge to track the sessions they attend and vendors they visit.

The data collected provides the opportunity to improve Cisco Live every year. By looking at note-taking during breakout sessions, Stein said, he hopes to determine when people were particularly engaged — or not. During a keynote presentation, for example, Cisco could evaluate when attendees stop taking notes and point out to speakers where they lost audience attention. Similarly, online evaluations provide feedback on speakers and sessions, allowing Stein to predict what attendees will want in future lineups. “This is all about allowing people to engage, and once they engage I can measure that,” Stein said. “In the future, I can measure a speaker based on how engaged the audience was.”

Mike Stiles, a senior corporate events manager for Adobe Systems, said that individual leads generated from the data that comes out of his company's live events is so valuable that “we have massive teams to mine through that data and see where the opportunities are.” For example, Adobe might note that an attendee owns three Adobe products but went to a session on an alternate product. Sales and marketing would follow up to provide additional information. Also, Adobe monitors customers’ interests in particular products and topics all year long, and then can guide them to related sessions at a conference. 

One of the biggest challenges throughout this year-long collection of data from customers and attendees is standardization of the information that gets entered into Adobe's massive databases, Stiles said. Without that, anything that gets collected is not as accurate or usable. “The bigger the organization, the more ways there are to enter information,” Stiles said. “Getting consistency of data is key.”