Time to become measurable

What makes an exhibition valuable to exhibitors? Everything revolves around meetings but what do you get in return? Is investing in exhibitions still useful? These are some of the questions which exhibitors ask and organisers should be able to answer. And those answers all start with data. New technologies such as Indoor Positioning (IPS) make it possible to measure success in real time. How can organisers prove the effectiveness of their exhibitions? And what does that mean for the performance model?

Analogue to digital
Companies can only spend their marketing budget once, and marketing managers compare the ROI they receive from an exhibition with online campaigns. The latter can be personalised to an individual level, with the effect quantified via various parameters and adjusted in real time. Achieving this is more complex in the physical world – how does one measure the success of taking part in an exhibition? While we can all agree that physical experiences and meetings are more powerful than any digital interaction, in a world where we are used to success being measurable, exhibitors demand hard data. This is now within reach.

What we know
As an organiser, you know how many people attend your exhibition and have lots of information about them available. Visitors make online profiles to become members of the community platform, for example, in which they submit their job title, age and interests. They may also browse the community platform looking for stories and information, register for the exhibition, download the exhibition app, sign up for specific activities, and download digital brochures during the event. By combining this data you can gain a fairly accurate profile of the visitors even before the event starts. However, although this data provides exhibitors with considerable insight, one important piece of the puzzle remains missing: visitor behaviour during the exhibition itself.

Scanning your visitors
Most exhibitors measure their success based on the number of people who visited their stand, and the resulting leads and sales. There are various ways to measure this data. A commonly used system in the RAI (Visit Connect) provides visitors with a scannable badge which exhibitors can scan after talking together. This gives insight into all the information about the visitor recorded in the exhibition database. Exhibitors can then supplement this data with their own findings resulting from the meeting. This gives direct insight into the number and quality of their contacts, which they can apply during or after the event to make their participation more effective and the results more measurable.

Visitor traces
All of the above comprises data that is actively provided – the holy grail of exhibition data, however, is the total behaviour of the visitor: where did they go, what did they do and how long did they spend at specific stands. How can this be measured?

GPS means we can be tracked anywhere and at any time via our mobiles. Until we come inside that is – then the GPS loses our trace and another technology is needed. This is known as an indoor positioning system (IPS), or ‘indoor wayfinding’, linked to an app on the visitors’ mobiles. It provides a constant insight into where visitors are and how they move around. The technology is still under development but it is going to herald a revolution in the exhibition world.

Firstly, it provides an extra service to visitors by helping them find their way around. Examples of such apps are already available at airports, train stations, or department stores. For exhibitions, you can inform visitors of interesting stands and guide them there, set up a route, or even bring them into contact with other visitors who may be relevant to them.

At the same time, visitors leave a trace: you know where they are and how long they stay there. This means exhibitors can be provided with insight into how many visitors visit their stand, their profiles, and how long or how often they visited. Such information can be compared to other data, such as the number of scanned contacts versus the number of people who visited the stands – which indicates the effectiveness of the stand crew – or (an average number of) comparable providers that indicate the competitive strength at the event. This data provides additional insight and value, and helps exhibitors become more effective.

More insight through combination
And you can take things even further by analysing the behaviour of exhibition visitors and finding patterns. Someone visited the Canon and Nikon stands but not the Leica one; why? How can the interest of the visitor be tickled?

I don’t advocate providing this type of personal data to exhibitors as I believe it could breach visitor trust, but there are interesting options for providing services as an organiser which benefit exhibitors and visitors alike. Examples include personalised newsletters after the exhibition with offers based on the visitors’ profile and behaviour during the event. This way Leica could come into contact with interested visitors after the event that missed their stand. Using advanced models, this data can also be effective during the exhibition to ensure visitors are reminded to visit the Leica stand.

Exhibitions revolve around data
What is not yet daily practice for exhibition organisers certainly is for Facebook and Google. Remember the ads you see after googling a holiday, for instance. Facebook and Google are data companies. Interestingly, exhibition organisers are growing towards this too. In addition to square metres, organisers could also sell results to exhibitors. The data organisers can generate enables two things: making results measurable and enhancing the results.

Taking responsibility
These technologies can lead to some major and much needed changes in the exhibition and conference world. Consumer exhibitions in particular are struggling. Exhibitors want proof that their exhibition investment is worth more than, say, an online Facebook campaign. To give the right response, organisers must provide insight into what a stand achieves. It is therefore important that exhibition or conference organisers invest in data; collecting, analysing and then sharing these analyses with exhibitors.

Better still, actions before, during and after an event can contribute to exhibitors’ success – which may also affect the performance models. First and foremost, however, it is crucial that organisers start to use the huge amount of data available. This is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity for survival.

Max Weijers

Max Weijers

Max Weijers | @Max_Weijers | Strategy Manager RAI Amsterdam | Innovation | Technology | Data | Kitesurfing

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