Trade Show Smarts: Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

Post authored by Jeff Fugate, Senior VP, Sales & Marketing 

you don't know nothing produce storeTrade show and conference organizers are on a constant quest for new event experiences that matter. Yet as the pace of change accelerates, this quest gets more challenging and it’s loaded with risk.

What if you design something new and substantial, only to discover that your attendees are now craving something else?

What happens when what you think you know about your event audience is wrong?

The Four Boxes of Knowing

Skip Walter, Director of Innovation at The TAI Group, a consulting firm specializing in organizational change, frames this “knowing” challenge in a powerful, yet simple way with his Four Boxes of Knowing.

Based on our observations across thousands of trade shows and conferences, we believe these boxes are right-sized as they apply to our industry — with the largest box representing “What you don’t know you don’t know.”

Knowing Built on Inaccurate or Sketchy Data
Most event organizers have a good handle on attendance demographics. They’re filtering data to understand first-timer attendance, repeat attendance, etc. Many drill down further to analyze attendance loyalty and revenue by title, industry, organization, geographic region, etc.

These insights tend to be accurate, as they’re extracted from transactional data.

But once attendees arrive onsite, that’s when the data capture starts to unravel. Rather than all data, smaller and more random samples are collected. And sometimes, the integrity of that data is questionable. Here are just a few examples:

  • Sessions Attended & Valued Highly
    Badges get scanned as attendees enter session rooms, but that’s where data capture usually ends. How many people left midway through the session? How many people grew disenchanted with a less than capable speaker? Or a session that failed to deliver on the learning objectives promised? Or worse yet, a session that morphed into a sales pitch? And when attendees exit, where do they go next?
  • Exhibitor ROI
    Many exhibitors will size up your event value prop using just one metric: How many leads did we collect at the show? The smart ones will go a step further, assessing lead quality and conversion rates, but still, they struggle to accurately gauge ROI. While the booth staff managed to scan some visitors, others lingered, but failed to get scanned. Some executives who fit their buyer profile to a tee spent two or more hours on the show floor, but never stopped by their booth. How many qualified buyers didn’t they meet, but should have?
  • Networking & Deal-Making Exchanges
    Badge scans capture who and how many attended the evening reception, but how long did each person stay? Who valued this networking opportunity most of all? Where did they gather? And with whom? As for the trade show, that’s often the place where initial buyer-seller conversations happen, but as they advance, they’ll often move to quieter, more private spaces (lounge, restaurant, bar, etc.). Do you have an accurate gauge on the full scope of onsite activities these deal makers are moving through?
  • Experience Design Elements
    Significant dollars are invested to launch new design elements, but more often than not, they’re considered a success or a flop. Show organizers rarely pay much attention to what happens in the middle. Which new design concepts almost worked? What behavioral insight might help refine this idea, so it can be relaunched to score a win?

Closing the Knowing Gap: Past Practices
For years, show organizers have tried to close the knowing gap using a variety of methods:

  • Satisfaction Surveys
    Satisfaction survey completion rates typically run at 10-15% for external audiences and at about 30% for internal audiences. That’s too small a sampling for conclusive insight. Surveys also tend to appeal to the two extremes: (1) Raving fans; (2) People with gripes. There’s a huge 80% block in the middle with strong opinions who remain silent. Also, surveys only capture what guests remember doing, not what they actually did … and survey completion rates for C- and VP-level decision makers tend to be extremely low.
  • Human Methods
    Staff might be scanning badges, counting heads, and conducting one-on-one interviews. Yet these methods are costly and difficult to scale.
  • RFID
    With low cost tags, show organizers would place RFID tracking systems across the venue to extract attendee behavioral insight, particularly for high activity hubs. But this solution fell short, largely due to high RFID reader costs and human body interference with signals.
  • Bluetooth Beacons
    Show organizers experimented with beacons placed throughout the venue. If attendees downloaded the event mobile app, the app would serve as a receiver, generating data on where and how long attendees would stay at a given location. Still, this required getting attendees to download the app, identify themselves, and keep the app running through the duration of the show. If attendees chose to power down to preserve battery strength, data capture would end. With all those conditions to be met, it was impossible to get anywhere close to 100% behavior capture.

So the knowing gap persisted … but then something big happened.

2nd Generation Bluetooth Closes the Knowing Gap
The Bluetooth beacon strategy outlined above is known as 1st Generation. But it’s the 2nd Generation Bluetooth era, now in full swing, that’s poised to deliver unprecedented value to show organizers, exhibitors and attendees, but a strategy flip is needed.

This 2nd Generation breakthrough entails a flip that leverages wearables. Each attendee is now tagged with a BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) beacon that’s embedded within their badge. Now, a network of BLE readers can be deployed across the entire venue to capture all data, not a 10% random sample.  That eliminates all the previous attendee compliance steps outlined above. Finally, 100% capture is achievable and at a more reasonable cost.

Enter eventBit™
eventBit-clrExperient is capitalizing on 2nd Generation BLE advances with eventBit. With more comprehensive data gathering capabilities, coupled with more sophisticated behavioral analytics, eventBit enables more personalized and hyper-relevant experiences for attendees, while providing richer customer intelligence and decision insight for exhibitors and show organizers.

When you can accurately track all event guest behaviors throughout the duration of a show, everything improves.

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits delivered to each segment:

  1. Attendees
    • Helpful insight to streamline and improve application of key learnings and enhance relationship nurturing after the show.
    • Comprehensive reports to share with supervisors and colleagues back at the office – plus much stronger evidence to justify future attendance.
    • Ability to compare pre-show intentions with actual onsite behaviors.
    • Full digital capture of their entire event journey – the sessions they attended, the exhibitors they visited, as well as new connections and exchanges.
    • Engage in richer and more relevant peer-to-peer exchanges and learning.
  2. Exhibitors (and Sponsors)
    • Deeper insight on all sales opportunities – who visited their booth, who lingered but didn’t get scanned, and who was nearby, but never stopped by.
    • More credible and complete data to calculate event ROI, plus decision insight to guide future event investments.
    • Valuable information to dramatically improve lead capture, lead nurturing and close rates.
    • Detailed metrics to evaluate and improve booth staff performance.
  3. Trade Show & Conference Organizers
    • Swifter, more precise personalization – something attendees have now come to expect in today’s “Show Me You Know Me” business environment.
    • A powerful tool to measure and enhance event experience design elements.
    • More comprehensive data to support increased pricing for popular, high-activity hubs – and to support a tiered booth pricing model based on activity heat maps.
    • Outstanding opportunities to extend the event value runway, through post-show webcasts, digital events, self-paced learning modules, etc.
    • Deeper insight on what targeted segments value most to improve event marketing messaging and tip more decisions to attend.
    • Validation that the organization’s mission and vision is in lock step with what matters most to their customers.
    • Priceless customer intelligence to protect and grow event revenue to ensure a profitable future.

Looking to shore up a few “knowing gaps” of your own? Contact me at and let’s talk.

2016 will be the year when trade show and conference intelligence takes a giant leap forward. We’d like to help you master that giant leap, so you can capture every possible reward.

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