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Harnessing the Power of Event Data for Trade Show Growth

By Skip Cox


  • A smarter approach to mine the data you already have
  • Why centralizing your myriad data makes it much more valuable
  • How to strategize your measurement approach that leads to growth

A version of this article originally appeared on

Nineteenth-century U.S. merchant and marketing pioneer John Wanamaker observed: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Many event organizers identify with Wanamaker when it comes to event data. They know their data is telling them something, they’re just not sure what that something is. And they’re not certain how to harness their data to more closely monitor the lifeblood of their trade show: qualified attendance growth.

Fortunately, today’s organizers have more data tools and strategies than Wanamaker did and, by following these steps, can draw insights from patterns and trends that lead to attendance growth.

Data, data everywhere

If you are like most organizations, you have no shortage of data. You may have data on:

  • Audience attraction (website visits, social media clicks, registrations)
  • On-site engagement (RFID metrics, mobile app engagement, keynote data from second screen)
  • Post-show follow-up (attendee opinions, costs, ROI)
  • Auxiliary data (CRM, membership data, attendee interests)

You may find, however, that it’s scattered across multiple departments and stored in various formats.

Your first goal is to centralize this data in one place.

This process is critical, as it directly affects how well you derive value from your data. To get started, create a set of data standards and a governance policy that ensures you collect and store data safely, legally and consistently.

Your goal is to integrate data from disparate sources so you can develop a core set of metrics across all activities.

Measure what's important

With your data gathered, which metrics should you be looking at for your trade show?

Different events have different purposes, so it’s vital to figure out what success looks like for your event and determine which data points will tell you whether success has been achieved.

Dig deep on this strategy, as there may be some not-so-obvious metrics that are more influential than you think.

Conversely, avoid vanity metrics. It can be tempting to measure your event based on low-hanging fruit, like overall attendance. But…did the right people attend? And did they take the desired action?

Your sponsors and exhibitors ALSO want the right people at your event.

Start by listing your business goals for each event you host, such as:

  • Attendee satisfaction
  • Demonstrating ROI to exhibitors
  • Effectiveness in learning and education
  • Reducing churn among attendees and exhibitors
  • Improved positioning compared with competitive events

Next, list the most important metrics and key performance indicators that tell you when you have reached these goals.

And remember: Qualified attendance growth is key because it will affect all other topline metrics such as the number of exhibitors, sponsorships, and revenue growth.

After all, your sponsors and exhibitors also want the right people at your event.

See the forest AND the trees

One of the challenges with event data is there are hundreds of things you can measure. Collecting the data is easy.

Making sense of it? That’s an entirely different ballgame.

Reporting on metrics can easily fall into a pattern: You collect the data, report on it, decide whether things look good or not based on your targets, and then promptly move on.

Moving beyond superficial reporting, however, is where data truly comes into its power. In-depth analysis and the detection of patterns allow you to not only see the big picture in a sea of metrics but also to steer your ship based on what the data is telling you.

Make no mistake: This task is difficult and time-consuming to do manually. There are helpful tools available that can connect data across all points of your event ecosystem and turn raw data into real-time data analytics dashboards, giving you actionable insights on trends over time, validated hypotheses, and clarified assumptions about your event strategies.

Event data can be a powerful tool. To perform at its best, it must be utilized productively.

By taking the time to organize your data, set relevant goals, and then analyze what your data is telling you, you can successfully monitor and grow your event.

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