Post authored by Michael Godsey, Senior Vice President of Market Development at Experient
How’s that for a title? I know that’s a good bit of drama, and I think it comes from watching the movie Gladiator a little too much over the years. However, this issue is a critical one that needs to be addressed because it directly affects the event experience for attendees and exhibitors alike.
We are now in the information age. Most, if not all, show organizers care about protecting the attendee’s data, and they should. It is a major responsibility to make certain that attendees (who are often members) don’t have their contact information abused. After all, nobody wants their inbox filling up with junk every day. Unfortunately, many of the opt-out clauses on registration forms are being driven by legal departments who want to make certain that attendee data is protected and are unintentionally harming lead retrieval in the process.
Just so we’re on the same page– an “opt-out” clause is a sentence or field on a registration form or website that allows the attendee to check a box to keep their contact information out of certain things such as pre-show mailing lists, show communications, etc. Herein lies the first problem. What verbiage do you use? Here are some examples I’ve seen on forms:
- “Click here if you want to keep your information off of exhibitor mailing lists”
- “Click here to opt out of event emails”
- “Click here if you don’t want to receive information from exhibitors”
- “Click here to remove your name from exhibitor lead databases”
All of these sentences can mean something completely different to each attendee. No matter how accurately you word the opt-out question, most attendees just immediately click as soon as they see any language that keeps their contact information out of a database. I’ll address statistics on that shortly.
NOTE: Many of the opt-out clauses are legit. It is good to give the attendee the option to remove themselves from show emails, email marketing, etc. But the issue I want to raise today is about lead retrieval. Please, DON’T give them the option to opt-out of lead retrieval. Why? Because the attendee already has the ultimate opt-out clause for lead retrieval– they don’t have to let an exhibitor scan their badge or swipe their card. Period. As a matter of fact, when the attendee asks the exhibitor to scan their badge, they fully expect that exhibitor to be able to contact them– that is the whole point. So now, the attendee choosing an opt-out clause on the registration form (that they probably didn’t read) causes the exhibitor to not get their contact information. As a result, the exhibitor never follows up after the show. Nobody wins.
I can tell you for a fact that most exhibitors are furious when they return from the show to find out that several of the attendees they collected as leads have no contact information. They call us and complain. We often have to inform them that it is the policy of the show organizer to let the attendee opt-out of lead retrieval, and the exhibitor’s response is almost always the same. “Let me get this right… I spent huge amounts of money to exhibit at this show and now I don’t get the information for the leads I actually collected? What is the value in that?” And that’s where my grandiose “Death to the Booth” title comes from. It is that serious.
The funny thing? The attendee gets upset too. As I mentioned earlier, they likely didn’t really read the opt-out clause during registration. So when exhibitors don’t contact them after the event, they get frustrated. Yet the exhibitor has no way to contact them other than direct mail, and that isn’t high on the marketing priority list right now for most companies.
Think of it this way: would you police your show floor and stop an attendee every time he or she tries to hand an exhibitor their business card? YOU! STOP RIGHT THERE! DON’T GIVE YOUR INFORMATION TO THAT EXHIBITOR! Because if you let opt-out clauses get into lead retrieval, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Often for an exhibitor, the only tangible take-away from the event is the lead database they collected. When we looked at 80,000 different exhibitors, do you know the average number of leads they collected at a show? It’s 100. They collect 100 leads on average, and now, many, if not most, of the leads they collect have no contact information. That brings us to the next subject.
We took a look at events that have opt-out clauses that keep attendee data off the barcode and therefore out of lead retrieval. The number of attendees that opt-out on every event now averages 48 percent. So almost 1 out of every 2 leads collected by the exhibitor won’t have the attendee’s contact information, and this grows every year.
This is a huge threat to the health of your tradeshow floor. If you care about that, you need to care about this subject as passionately as I do. I don’t think anyone would challenge that, from the exhibitor’s perspective, having no data on attendees when they actually scanned them in the booth is a major issue. On the vast majority of shows with that level of attendee opt-out, we see a decline in the number of exhibiting companies every year.
Enough of the negative, let’s shift this thing to the positive. The good news is that we can fix this issue quickly. First of all, as I said before, opt-out clauses are important, and there are many places that the attendee should have the option to remove their data. Keep doing that. All show organizers should understand the importance of protecting attendee data, but let’s keep that out of lead retrieval.
If you are a show organizer, check your opt-out clauses that are integrated into the registration process. Make sure the text is clear. And whatever you do, make sure you talk to operational staff to make certain that contact data is always included in the barcode or magstripe card. Once again, remember: the attendee already controls that process. They can police whether or not they let an exhibitor scan their badge for a lead, and when they decide to do it, they fully expect the exhibitor will get their data. But if you give them the ability to opt-out of lead on the registration form, they’ll do it. And in 99% of the cases, it’s not because they thought it through, it’s because they didn’t even really understand “lead retrieval.” But when they see “Keep your contact information out of databases,” they click right away. It’s human nature and most of us do it.
If you are an exhibitor, look at your lead databases when you leave an event. If you see a good percentage of leads that don’t have contact information, chances are the show organizer has attendee opt-out clauses in the registration process that keep the data out of lead retrieval. Approach them about it and use the information in this article to educate them about how it impacts your ROI.
I have been pulled into many meetings with show organizers on this subject, and in every case, they have reversed their decision on lead retrieval opt-outs. Why? Because they simply didn’t know what was going on and why lead retrieval should be removed from all opt-out scenarios. Once that is explained, even the legal departments get it, and they almost always err on the side of caution.
Let’s not forget the importance of the tradeshow. For most events, it is a critical part of the overall value of the show, right up there with education. Please excuse my passion on the subject, but when you’ve talked to as many upset exhibitors and attendees as I have, you get fired up about this topic. I have been in this industry for 24 years and I completely understand the needs of exhibitors, associations and show producers. Luckily, while this is a serious issue born out of good intentions, it is easily solved. Let the attendee continue to control whether or not they give their information to an exhibitor. Let them “hand out their business card.” If you have attendee opt-out clauses on your registration form, make sure they don’t keep contact information off the barcode. LONG LIVE THE BOOTH! Strength and honor! Sorry, Gladiator again.