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Insight/ Strategic Planning

Event Marketing’s Data Problem

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by Lawrence Coburn
CEO & Co-Founder
DoubleDutch

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Article Highlights:

  • By not providing enough visibility into the data that proves its value, event marketing is losing credibility.
  • Leads must be delivered in real time, along with an associated context of that lead that goes beyond just title and company.
  • Event registration systems, lead-scanning systems, and event surveys must all be modernized for the digital age.

The CMO Council's recent “Customer Attainment from Event Engagement” report confirmed what many marketers have been sensing for a while: Even as visibility into ROI leaps forward across most marketing channels, event ROI measurement remains stuck in the past.

As CMO.com reported in late April: “The study [...] warns that events have been lagging and will soon fall behind unless they are more rigorously conducted. There is a particular need for enhanced metrics.”

As dire as that sounds, at no point does the study suggest that CMOs are losing faith in events as a productive channel. Rather, the frustration can be found more around the lack of data coming from event marketing in contrast to other marketing channels.

In other words, event marketing has a marketing problem.

By not providing enough visibility into the data that proves its value, event marketing is losing credibility next to such channels as paid search, email, and Web site, for which there is a wealth of data that helps CMOs feel comfortable with their spends.

The good news is that powerful, high-level trends are laying a foundation that will enable marketers to bring event marketing analytics up to par with other channels.

First and foremost, the rise of mobile shows no signs of slowing down. With virtually every event attendee carrying a powerful smartphone or tablet that is connected to the cloud, there is now a better way to extract data from a live event than via business cards and lead-scanners.

As mobile continues to surge, the social graph is marching into the workplace. Networks such as LinkedIn, Jive, and Yammer are training professionals to see the real utility in connecting with others and sharing work-related content online. In an event setting, this means that attendees are increasingly comfortable with leaving digital clues as to what and who interest them–data that can be used to shed additional light on event ROI.

For these macrotrends of mobile and social to lift event marketing out of the data dark ages, four things need to happen:

1. Events must rapidly adopt mobile event applications that are optimized for engagement and analytics. By capturing detailed event interaction between attendees, content, and exhibitors, event organizers can provide much greater insights to their sponsors. The goal should be an interest graph that maps every attendee to every event-related object. Professional and social networks are conducting this type analysis today as a means to better serve users with content and experiences–there is no reason that live events can’t follow suit. It is time to put the paper event guide to rest.

2. Legacy event data sources must be optimized for marketing insights. Event registration systems, lead-scanning systems, and event surveys must all be modernized for the digital age. Lead-scanning, in particular, needs to move beyond the hardware-based systems of yesteryear and become optimized for a software-dominated world. Leads must be delivered in real time, along with an associated context of that lead that goes beyond just title and company. It is unacceptable to force marketers to wait until days after an event to collect a list of leads with little data beyond email addresses.

3. Data sources must be integrated. By combining Web analytics with social analytics and event analytics, marketers can begin to get the complete picture of event leads as they move into the funnel. For this to happen, event marketing data must sync with marketing automation software. If a potential lead is browsing a company’s Web site, then a marketer from that company must be able to piece together that “funnel” activity with a visit to an event booth. In this context, marketing systems integration becomes paramount.

4. CMOs need to be outspoken about data requirements for events they sponsor. Every marketer is being held to a higher data standard now than they were a few years ago. Event organizers need to evolve in the way they think about meeting the needs of their sponsors, and a little pressure from their customers certainly won’t hurt.

The good news for CMOs is that the infrastructure for robust data collection in the live event space is now in the place in the form of smartphones and tablets, and attendees have been trained in the behavior that will result in digital trails that should help event marketers illuminate and maximize ROI.

Savvy event organizers are already on top of these trends. They realize that if they are able to capture more live event data, they will be able to demonstrate more ROI to both sponsors and attendees, which should increase the size of the pie for all.

About Lawrence Coburn

Lawrence Coburn is CEO and co-founder of DoubleDutch, a San Francisco-based startup that makes customizable social applications for events.

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