Corporate events have been a vital marketing channel, particularly for B2B enterprises, for decades now. Live events, including conferences and trade shows, remain one of the top lead generation sources for B2B marketers.
Company-sponsored events take the relationship a step further. These may be used for lead generation but are also commonly hosted in order to move known prospects through the sales cycle or to cross-sell and up-sell offerings to existing customers.
Externally facing company events, broadly speaking, can encompass online functions like marketing and educational webinars as well as face-to-face gatherings including:
- Sponsored Networking Events: These are typically a couple of hours long, held in the early morning or early evening hours, and include an informative presentation.
- Road Shows: Half-day events, generally including a meal, commonly hosted by software or technology companies, combining an analyst presentation or customer story with a product demonstration.
- Regional Conferences: Day-long or sometimes two-day events primarily focused on professional skills development, which may be co-hosted by two to three vendors or by a vendor along with channel and/or technology partners.
- Sponsorships: Relationship-building opportunities for select customers and prospects; examples include VIP tents at golf tournaments and luxury suites at sporting events.
- Ride & Drives: Specific to the automotive industry, these showcase and test drive events may be held at dealerships or on location at concerts, games, festivals, or other large gatherings.
- Customer Conferences: Large events, usually ranging from hundreds to thousands of attendees, held once or twice per year, focused on product education and networking for existing customers.
Though these events are held in different venues, with different frequency, for different purposes, all have a few common characteristics, such as online registration, a live check-in process, and an event credential for each attendee (usually either a badge or a wristband).
They also all offer significant, and often under-utilized, opportunities for data collection. While no marketer today would even think of launching a digital marketing campaign without plans in place for capturing data, event data is too often limited to collecting basic attendee information: name, title, and company.
Here are four ways to capture much more extensive, richer, and more valuable data from attendees at your next corporate event. All of this information will be useful to the company in some aspect (marketing, sales, support, product development, etc.). Some of the information will be shared with and useful to individual event or session speakers as well.
Online registration forms present somewhat of a conundrum for event marketing professionals: ask for too much information and you run the risk of people leaving fields blank, entering gibberish, or even abandoning the form. Ask for too little and you not only miss an opportunity to learn more about your event attendees, you may even end up with unusable data (e.g., if your CRM system requires a zip code to be associated with each contact record, and your form doesn’t ask for the attendee’s zip code…you’ve got a problem).
Make sure that, at a minimum, you are capturing all of the information required for use in your CRM or marketing automation software, as well as what you’ll need in order to make your event successful. For example, if you are giving away T-shirts, you’ll probably want to ask for gender style and size preference.
Consider what other data might be helpful to collect (e.g., company size, industry, number of office locations) but don’t over-do it. Some of this data can be collected later or through other means. Get all of the information you need and maybe a bit of what you want via the registration form, but keep it as short as feasible.
Surveys are a vital tool for collecting real-time information from attendees. How was lunch? How useful was the information presented in that session? How did the speaker do?
Survey questions can be presented to attendees at multiple points during the event, and using multiple means. The first questions may be asked at check-in, or even on the registration form. For example, at an experiential event or one that includes a hands-on product demonstration, you may want to ask the same question (such as likelihood to purchase) before and after the event, in order to measure brand lift and calculate a Net Promoter Score (NPS).
Questions about sessions, speakers, meals, accommodations, activities, and other topics can be asked throughout the event, to gather feedback while the experience is still fresh in attendees’ minds. Wrap-up type questions about the overall event experience, or changes in perspective, can be asked at the conclusion.
Questions can be asked using a variety of technologies, such as kiosks, tablets, or event-specific apps. What’s important is to make it easy and as friction-free as possible for attendees to answer questions—and never force them to re-enter basic data: the app or tablet should be able to tie answers back to attendees by reading or detecting their event credential, with no need to keep re-entering one’s name or other identification.
Social Media Monitoring
Social media has become a critical component of event management and marketing, helping sponsors and attendees form communities around events. Through social media, those attending the event become active participants rather than just passive spectators.
First, make your event’s social media presence easy and obvious. Include your event hashtag on signage, presentation slides, and other event materials. Ask attendees to comment on your event Facebook page.
Second, look for opportunities to incorporate social media into event activities. For example, set up a digital photo booth where attendees can take selfies together and instantly share the images on Twitter or Instagram, by correlating their event credential with their social media accounts and including the event hashtag.
Third, at bigger events, have a large display screen set up that shows event-related tweets in real time.
Finally, have a plan in place to capture and use the social media data collected. Who was most enthusiastic? Which sessions or activities generated the most social engagement? Were there any complaints? (And if so, can you deal with them immediately?)
For all but the shortest, simplest events, the event credential (badge or wristband) will incorporate either a QR code or an embedded RFID chip. Both store data about the attendee and can be scanned by reader hardware at various points and for various purposes throughout the event.
For example, attendees may need to scan their wristband or badge in order to enter a dining area or a conference session. Or they may scan their credential then answer a survey question in order to participate in an activity.
QR codes and RFID chips each have their relative advantages and disadvantages. QR codes are less expensive to implement and can be read natively by most mobile phones, so there’s no need for special reader hardware. However, they are slower to use and can be difficult to read in low-light conditions.
RFID technology is a bigger investment but is also more secure. RFID chips are read based on proximity using near-field communication (NFC) technology rather than visual recognition, so they are fast to scan and usable in any lighting conditions. In addition, they enable you to passively collect data both on individual attendee actions as well as broader traffic flow (e.g., monitoring if certain areas were crowded or had large numbers of attendees passing through at specific times) though long-range scanning capabilities.
Credentials incorporating RFID technology let you easily track individual attendee activity on a granular level, such as which sessions the person attended and which booths or stations he or she visited.
As our own Martin Walker has noted, gathering event data using RFID technology lets you track attendees “interacting with subject matter relevant to a business…the same as a digital ad or website” visit may be measured using a tool like Google Analytics. “The difference is that people spend days at an event, while a website averaging 2-3 minutes per session is considered good.”
Pulling it All Together
Effectively collecting and using all of this data in a marketing context requires using a mix of special-purpose apps and broader event management tools to tie all of the information together and integrate with your marketing automation or CRM platform.
The data collected can be used to improve the design of future events (which sessions were most popular? Which should be dropped? Were any so popular they should be split into two sections or scheduled in a larger room at the next event?) as well as to inform sales efforts and personalize marketing outreach.
At larger events, it may be worthwhile to evaluate using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the data collected. Per Mark Granosvky, “AI can be used to streamline the sheer volume of data generated by your events. When every visitor has a smart badge and every exhibitor has a lead capture device, the data on entry, exit, revisit, pre, post, dwell times, text opens, no shows, retweets, links and seminar attendance can get overwhelming. This is where AI—and IBM Watson in particular—can help you create real-time rules that let only the best data ‘get through’ so that you can make faster decisions using the most relevant information.”
For example, you may need sophisticated software to analyze correlations between at-event and post-event actions: did attendees at a particular session show a greater propensity to purchase after the event? Did attendance at certain sessions lead to later online interest in a particular product?
Event marketing is expensive. The cost is usually justified in terms of basic measures like lead generation or customer retention. But events also offer marketers a treasure trove of valuable data. By implementing the proper tools, technologies, and techniques to gather and act on this data, marketing professionals can realize a much larger return on their event marketing investments.