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How Strategic Event Data Empowers Associations

Why does your association need an event data strategy and what are the risks of not having one? Event data—and being able to use and interpret it effectively—is essential for associations to understand the impact that events have on their members.

It’s equally essential for ensuring that this impact grows rather than fades over time, that events stay front of mind for members and key stake holders alike.

Explori has worked with thousands of event professionals and meeting planners to help them understand how benchmarking, attendee tracking, setting strategic goals and other practices can work to ensure that events fulfill their purpose, whether it’s driving business for members, bringing members together for networking or moving the dial for the industry. Sophie Holt, managing director of Explori, cautions that simply gathering event data without a strategic plan in place is not enough to achieve these goals.

Holt emphasizes that metrics in isolation, including past attendance, only indicate what has already happened, not what will happen. Even events that were well attended one year can fall flat the next if a newer, more enticing show comes along. Perhaps the seemingly popular event was really a “hostage” situation that only attracted people because they had no other choices. An event data strategy, one that drills down into attendee behavior and examines their actual engagement with the event, can help predict future attendance and indicate what improvements may be needed to keep it on an upward trajectory.

While some event planners may think data won’t tell them anything they don’t already know, Holt says that all too often anecdotal information, whether it’s an effusive email from a happy speaker or angry words from a sponsor, gets mistaken for data.

“You can’t just rely on anecdotal information—it’s a psychological phenomenon that we retain information that confirms beliefs we already hold,” she says. “It’s data that gives voice to the silent majority and reveals hidden trends.”

What are the risks of not having an event data strategy and why is it more crucial than ever? With the pandemic, business and marketing experts say that people have become more discerning of how they spend their time and are looking for more curated experiences.

 “We need a deep understanding of the customer journey and future behavior,” Holt says. “The risks of not doing so are clear—you will be less customer centric, and decisions will be made without addressing what people want or need. You will fall short in marketing goals.”

 She also notes that while the rise of event technology has brough in a flood of new data, it hasn’t brought in a flood of new insights. Unfortunately, data all too often gets trapped in silos within an organization and loses whatever impact it could have. With a strategy in place, data gets to the people who can use it to create better events, achieve organizational goals and predict behavior.

How has Explori helped associations use event data to their best advantage? One example is the Chicago Dental Society (CDS), which has held its Midwinter Meeting every February for over 150 years. Feedback from the event had been gathered on rudimentary survey tools, which didn’t provide a robust way of understanding how the event performed in the eyes of the attendees and exhibitors. 

The CDS turned to Explori to help it understand how this annual event was performing against the global healthcare sector. Explori gathered data at three key points throughout the event journey. Attendees and exhibitors were asked at registration about their objectives in attending the meeting, data on their engagement was gathered at the event and responses were mapped to provide a post-event analysis. 

Following the meeting, Explori blended several key indicators together to provide a single overall event score, including overall satisfaction, likelihood to return, and event importance. Aggregated together, these points provided a clear picture of the event’s performance, without emphasis being placed on any single factor. 

From the data, Explori created an analysis that enabled the CDS senior leadership to understand the attendees and exhibitors’ experiences at the event and their attitudes towards it. They were then able to prioritize the areas of improvement that would have the most meaningful impact.

Holt believes that employing an event data strategy for a successful event is not dissimilar to how a farmer ensures a successful harvest. It starts with planting the right crop, monitoring environmental factors throughout the growing cycle and making note of what can be done better next time.

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