Importance of Data for Events

Data is becoming more and more important. That also applies to events. How to gather more relevant data and how te leverage that data for organising better events? Those are questions for Kevin's guest Heather Odendaal.

Kevin Van der Straeten
Comment this tv episode

Do you have an account on Sign in here
Do not have an account yet? Write your comment here:

Also available as a podcast:

Also on podcast:

Listen on Google PodcastsListen on Apple PodcastsListen on Shopify


Hi Heather, welcome to our studio.

Thank you for having me, Kevin. Good to see you.

We're going to talk, today, about event data. And the importance of data.

Could you tell me why data is so important? And what you mean with data, specifically?

So one of the reasons why I think data is so important, at this current moment in time, is because: as we are attending events, in 2022, every attendee is going to be so much more particular about the events that they chose. Whether that's a virtual event or a hybrid or an in person event. So the data will allow us to understand the needs of that event attendee.

So, in fact, data has never been more important in understanding our audience. And using that data, we can craft our event to meet the needs of what they're looking for.

Okay, I do understand what you're saying. But if we make it a little bit more concrete. How do we capture the data? And from then on: how do we then translate it into, like what you said, using the data to craft better events?

There's a couple of ways that event planners are using that right now.

So, obviously, we've come a long way with event technology. There are a lot of great platforms out there, that now enable and ask the questions as you register the attendees. So getting yourself a really powerful event registration tool is the first step.

The second step will be your CRM. And ideally your CRM links up with your event registration tool. So we have this automated process. A lot of the great event platforms also have calls and opportunities to survey your attendees. All the way through the event experience.

Which, previously, we often relied on having a follow up survey. Let's be honest: how many people are actually completing?

So I think it's really important to not just collect the data at the beginning of your event experience, in the registration process. But all the way through that customer journey. Through polls. Through additional questions. Through, of course, a post-event survey. But then, when it comes to actually using that data, it's the power of your CRM.

So, understanding...

So, as an example, our team uses Infusionsoft. And through a number of tags, that are automated through our event platform, we're niching down. We're not emailing somebody about an event in Toronto, who lives in New York. You know, we are not emailing somebody who is an entrepreneur, about an event that is tiered towards, in our case we work with corporate women.

So, through a series of tags and through a series of managing your data properly, you can make sure that all of your marketing communication is super-targeted.

The biggest challenge that I'm seeing in this current, sort of, virtual event world is...

You know, every time somebody signs up for a virtual event: how many emails do you get, subsequent to that event? There is just, you know, these powerful machines of, sometimes, fake tags that are emailing you constantly. So I would say, as an event planner, you need to be super-targeted. And focus on what the needs are of your customers.

So we've got the data recorded and processed from your event registration tool. You deliver it over to your CRM. And then there's also a number of other supplements you can use to better know your customer. And I would argue that one of those ways is actually an in person connection. So even though...


And I'll give you an example of what we do within our membership community. So WNORTH is a global membership. They do over fifty events a year and an annual conference. And through the process of getting or onboarding a new customer, not only is our system capturing data. But we offer them an opportunity to have a one-on-one call. So don't think that data is just all about input into a computer. There is a powerful way to...

And it's either me or one of my team members who will hop on a fifteen minute call.  And they will be in Infusionsoft adding notes and adding tags according to that conversation. So, not to disconnect the human connection from data, that's a really important piece. Because now there's tags associated with that particular customer that said: when you bring the 2022 WNORTH conference back, I want to the first one to get a ticket. And we now know that about that person, so we've tagged them appropriately. Guess what: when the tickets go on sale, they're going to get an email that's specifically: you wanted to be the first one to know and here we are.

I find it an interesting story about that tagging. Because tagging is a very easy way to get a lot of data about a person. But how do you, as a planner, define the categories of tags. Because you already mentioned you have a tag for next events. Maybe for some interests. But what kind of tags do you use?

We have quite a few tags. But we do categorize them. Into geography. Into business interests. Into professional backgrounds.

So in the case of entrepreneurs, corporate women, is one of the ones that we use for WNORTH. We'll also have...

Because we're running courses. We're running in-person events. We're running virtual events. There's a number of different pockets. And what we know about these virtual attendees is they are actually a slightly different persona than an in-person attendee.

So, about 75% of people will go to a virtual networking event. To learn. Only 25% will go to network. The opposite for in-person. 75% will go to an in-person event for networking and only 25% to learn.

So, although you do have attendees that will attend both, they attend for different reasons. So I definitely recommend that you are tagging your attendees that go to in-person events and that go to virtual. Because they are different. And they should be marketed to differently.

I can really see that this way of working, especially if you're working for an organization like this, where you have repetitive events and so on, that data can be very valuable for marketing for your next events Is that also the case if you organize a one-time event? Maybe let's even say: a wedding or something like that. Is it, also in that case, still very interesting to gather data? Or is it less important in that situation?

I think it's always important. I'll use an example of a first time event. Let's say it's an artisan market. And you've got...

This is your first event. You've got two hundred vendors. It may be an enormous amount of work and you may or may not do it again. But it is really important to keep that data. Because, in the case of course, if you do it again, or in the case of, if you are in a position or planning for another organization, where you may be able to support in that area, it's always vital to have that information.

How you use it may be different.

One of the things that I've seen a lot, for smaller organizations, that may not have a powerful CRM tool, is really leveraging social media. Whether that's Instagram or LinkedIn or...

You know, one of the more powerful event invitation platforms, right now, is LinkedIn. They, about a year ago, launched the ability to have events on there. And if you're doing a one-time workshop, you're just becoming a coach or whatever it may be, LinkedIn Events is a powerful way to be able to invite all those people. Retain that information. If you do another event on LinkedIn, LinkedIn remembers who went to your last event and you can invite them easily.

So, not to say that you have to have a CRM at all. There's other ways, managing your network on social media, that you can retain that information as well.

In the beginning of the interview you already mentioned something about doing surveys after the event. And I understand that you say: the most critical moment to gather information about your participants is before the event. But also after the event it's important to know: what did they think? What could be improved? That kind of stuff.

What is the best way to approach that? Are there any pitfalls we need to avoid? How would you do that?

I have started doing a lot more media surveys. Which is: some of these event platforms, and even Zoom, allow you to do a survey, a quick temperature check right after you log off of the event. And we've been having the most success with those. Because they are quick. They are right there. You know your feedback because it just happened.

So, number one, I would recommend that. Enabling that in your practice. And then, you are 100% correct, getting that post event feedback is critical right now.

And as I mentioned: people are being very particular about what they're attending these days. We all have Zoom-fatigue and if we're going to go to a virtual event, it'd better be good. So, gathering that input on how that event went, so you can improve it next time is also really critical.

You mentioned before that in the onboarding process, you actually call people.

You also do the same after an event? If you, for example get feedback, very low temperature. That you call in and say: oh, you didn't like it, can you tell more? Or is that a step too far?


So, no, what we do mostly, is with our membership. When we have a cancellation on our membership. Or a cancellation of a ticket, actually, an event ticket, we will do that. So we will ask them a couple of questions, by email. And we do give them an option to select a call.

It is a little bit harder to get somebody on a call. So we often just ask a couple of follow-up questions.  But yes, it's definitely a good practice to not only nurture the good contacts but the potentially expired ones.

Yes, because I can imagine that that's a moment in time you can get a lot of valuable information. At least to save other members.

Exactly, yes.

We're now talking about participants. Of an event.

But there are many other parties involved. I think about speakers, suppliers, whatever. Is it also important to do something with data about them?


Definitely. So, you know, sponsors and suppliers and partners...

In many event planners worlds we haven't necessarily spoken to them all. Over the last, let's say, two years. So, I think it's really important to not only gather and keep that data on hand. But also to update it. And to go through what may be a somewhat of painful process. But a bit of contact management. So if you've got suppliers, you've got sponsors...

It's been two years. There's been turnover in many organizations. So don't assume that your leads list, inside of your CRM, from two and a half years ago, is up-to-date. And so I would say: now is a good time, especially if you have some support, to go in and update these lists. Using LinkedIn. Using good old-fashioned phone calls. To ensure that you have the right contacts. Because what could happen, as we start to emerge and we start to go back to tradeshows, we start to go back to conferences, is we think we have this list of all of our sponsors or all of our exhibitors, but all the emails bounce back and everyone's moved on. So I think what's really important about that particular audience is ensuring that you have the right decision maker at this moment.

While I'm thinking about this right now keeping up updates on all that data is quite a big job.

Do you put somebody in charge of that? Or is it really a team effort? Working, all together, to keep the data updated.

I think it's a team effort. We're a small business. And we'll keep all of our data management in-house. So that is, in terms of being fair to the team, it's in different wheelhouses.

For example, our team member who's in charge of sponsorship would take the lead on updating the sponsor leads list. And I, often, will be working in sort of a sales capacity, for organizations. To bring attendees from their organizations. And that would be, sort of, my plate.

So I would say it depends on the organization. Smaller businesses, it might be more of a team effort. And it's definitely something that you have to consider. Whether you're going to do it internally or if you're going to outsource it.

Yes and least have the mindset to know that this is really important and you need to focus on this. Otherwise you will end up with a list, indeed, after two years which is not accurate anymore.

Maybe as a last question. We already touched on the subject of event tech. And that event tech is also evolving into helping us manage data more and more. AI, machine learning, all those things are coming our way.

For you, if you look at the next year, what are focus points or trends that will be important? When it comes to event data.

We'll see the real emergence of hybrid events. And we will see a continuation of virtual events.

But I think this next year will be truly the hybrid. And even if the in-person component only has fifty people in it, then that is what it will be. But I think, with regards to data, it will be understanding your different audiences and where they're at.

As an example: using the data that you collect from your registrations and almost separating the virtual attendee with the in-person attendee. And I've seen this trend going on, as there is actually a different marketing strategy. And there's a different email marketing campaign, going to the virtual attendees versus the in-person attendees. So I think 2022 will be about understanding exactly what audience you're speaking to. Virtual versus in-person. And speaking their language.

That's very interesting. And I think you're totally right. That that is what we need to focus on.

Heather, I really want to thank you for your time and sharing these insights with our audience.

Well, thank you for having me Kevin. It was a pleasure to be on the show.

And you, at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.