Kim Benjamin
Jun 12, 2018

How event planners can navigate data

There’s more to data gathering than numbers, spreadsheets and feedback forms.

RFID, iBeacon and NFC are popular methods for collecting on-site data.
RFID, iBeacon and NFC are popular methods for collecting on-site data.

Technology is pushing the boundaries for event data management. You can do a lot with data you’ve collected: measure attendees’ interest prior to an event via email or social media activity, gauge on-site engagement, and follow-up after your event with web surveys and trending topics on social media.

Armed with this data and the potential to integrate this within existing CRM systems, event planners not only have insights into attendees’ interests, needs or buying habits, they can also track their movements at events. This can help them understand which sessions are proving popular and lead to improvements for future events.

Traffic flow at an event, for example, can help showcase information on the audience’s behaviour and interactions with the event’s space. Measuring how long a visitor will stay in a certain area can help evaluate the “entertainment” value for a given zone, enabling changes to be made
in real time.

New regulations

With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force, data and its management will be under the spotlight like never before. Under the new rules, any business that has a presence, offers goods or services, or monitors individuals’ behaviours in the European Union (EU), needs to comply with the new regulations. This will impact many businesses in Asia-Pacific offering goods and services to countries in the EU.

GDPR will require companies to create a data inventory and ensure they have transparent data processing systems in place, informing every individual what they intend to do with any data collected.

While the impact of the new regulations are yet to be felt, the management of data collection itself appears to present a significant challenge for event planners.

Event management software provider Cvent conducted research in July and August last year, examining how event professionals can leverage technology to capture and analyse data, learn more about attendees and enhance their overall experience.

One of the main findings revealed that event professionals need to be more effective at collecting and using attendee data. Only 29% of event professionals say their organisations are extremely or very effective at collecting data compared to 23% that say they are extremely or very effective at using their event data.

Additionally, most events can do better at tracking and understanding what attendees actually do while at these events. Only 38% of event professionals say they understand extremely or very well what their attendees do on-site.

“In the past, event planners have had to gather business cards and rely on manual processes to gather data at an event,” says Will Kataria, director of sales, Asia-Pacific at Cvent.

“Now they can utilise event technology to gather, store, and track leads. The main challenge is getting planners to adopt that technology. It not only makes their jobs easier to use an automated tool, it also helps them show the return on investment from the event.”

Gathering data before, during and after the event is vital to get an all-round picture of delegates, their interests and their reactions. The crucial element here is to know what data to collect and when.

The art of surveys

Registration forms have traditionally been used as the main pre-event data collection method. Polls during breakout sessions can highlight attendee levels of engagement while surveys during or post-event can offer insight into sentiments, opinions
and trends.

“A second type of data source is from the ‘traces’ participants leave when preparing their visit and attending the event itself,” said Daniel Gundelach, director, consulting and marketing at FairControl, part of MCI Group.

“Website and app tracking, observations and visitor tracking using technologies like wifi, RFID, iBeacon and NFC are common methods for data collection.”

Different data collection methods appear to work better than others depending on the country, as Sorin Widjaja, manager, special events at Amway Indonesia points out. He says the most effective way to collect data in Indonesia is in person, when compared with surveys or apps.

Some surveys respondents will wait until the submission deadline and often, attendees tend to forget about doing it altogether, he said. Furthermore, surveys tend to not represent the majority of respondents and in Widjaja’s case, chasing attendees to complete a survey will sometimes trigger a vague response.

“Respondents approach surveys without giving much thought to the questions, they just complete them and press send,” he explains. “This usually happens when we carry out the survey within apps or via an electronic form.”

Widjaja added that when designing surveys, thought must be given to the results one expects, which will inevitably impact the quality of data. “If we give an open question then we are expecting a wide range of answers,” he said. “How we create or ask the question is really important in getting the result we want.”

Zoe Cheng, business development director at X2 Creative, says that when the process of data collection is too forced, data quality can be poor, while some people who don’t want to share their data or be contacted may provide false data.

Brands may also be focusing too much on the technology or the methods used for data collection without considering whether these complement the event experience.

“You are much more likely to gain cooperation if data collection is a seamless, natural extension of that experience,” says Selene Chin, managing director of Pico Pixel. “We must remember that we are facilitating a transaction, so there must be something in it for the visitor as well.”

It’s not always about offering a free gift or incentive in return for data, either, she adds. Event planners need to consider time spent and the number of fields to be completed versus the benefit gained, asking themselves “what can visitors expect if they give their data?”

With the sheer amount of data that can be collected from events and multiple touchpoints, It’s also important to identify the richest information for the needs of the business. Depending on the type of event, this ideally should be derived from a combination of surveys, tracking, lead management and observation.

Choose your own insights

“As a brand experience agency, the kind of data we seek tells us to what extent we have moved the customer, audience perception and feelings about the brand, or data that shows return on investment, sales or intent to purchase,” says Natalie Ackerman, EVP, Greater China at Jack Morton.

“Being able to compare data sets pre- and post-event is always helpful.”

Ackerman references one instance in which the agency created an event using the audience’s biometric data via bioreactive wristbands as a component of the event itself, which she says added greatly to the engagement of participants throughout the event.

The agency was also then able to analyse data post-event and share this with the audience. The “richest” data should also be considered from the point of view of its impact on meetings and events spend.

Xinling Yap, head of SMM strategy & solutions, Asia Pacific at CWT Meetings & Events breaks down “richest”: details about the meeting owner including their contact information and cost centre should be collected before, while data around the number of attendees, dates, meeting set-up requirements, F&B and side activities should be gathered before, during and after.

“It’s also crucial to log all the relevant data around budgets – initial costs when sourcing, negotiated costs and final costs, as this helps track savings and opportunities for bulk negotiations in the long-run,” she says.

“Having too much data is better than having too little, because clients’ strategies change from time to time and different data can produce different performance result indicators. What we may not require today might be needed in the future, depending on what insights the client wants to see.”

One type of data that is easy to miss is behavioural, and yet, says Pico Pixel’s Chin, behavioural data is often the most “seamless” to collect. “It gives us very rich insights for planning the next experience. What we should, but often don’t consider is that by collecting actionable data, we should be prepared to adjust the experience in line with the information we’re getting," she said.

Who owns data?

When it comes to data collection, there are inevitably legal hurdles to navigate, for all parties involved – from the brand to the agency, tech providers and venues. To maintain brand reputation, and more importantly to ensure the trust of attendees, all privacy policies should be clearly visible on event materials, both online and offline.

“Have clear guidelines about data handling, encrypt the data in such a way that it is password protected and most importantly, ensure there are clear contract terms agreed for data collection,” says X2 Creative’s Cheng.

With the onset of GDPR, one of the major changes will be that “blanket consent” will no longer apply – businesses will need to get an individual’s consent before they can collect, store and use any of their personal data.

Within Asia-Pacific, every country has its own laws in regard to data security, so compliance with local regulations alongside GDPR will be key. As Pico Pixel’s Chin says, the rule of thumb is to be transparent about data collection efforts and to treat data with integrity.

Ideally there should be one “data owner” and all service partners involved should be obliged to fulfil the defined standards of data processing. Another way to ensure compliance could be to install a “data hub” managed by specialised agencies such as FairControl, which coordinates data-related aspects of consolidation, analysis and reporting.

With the many layers of data available from events — from behavioural and attitudinal, to marketing to profiling, right down to device usage and location — planners need to bear in mind that each strand tells a different story.

While incomplete data can seem like a minefield and a distraction, potentially leading to inaccurate analysis, it also offers the opportunity to continue a conversation
and find out more.

“Start thinking about data from the outset, not as an afterthought,” Chin recommends.

“Be open-minded about the way you will collect it. Be clear about what you want to find, and that will guide you in terms of how you will present the data once it has been collected. And be prepared to act on the data, even if it means you have to adjust your experience as you go along.”


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