7 Ways that Data Analytics is Empowering the Events Industry Transition Back to In-Person

Austin Cappa

Over the course of the last 6 months, we have been consistently engaging with our trade association clients to better understand how they met the key challenges of transitioning back to in-person trade shows and conferences in 2021.  This is especially critical as we are rounding the corner into 2022, and large event organizers are looking to make a splash in 2022.

Instead of our team pontificating on our learnings, we’ve enlisted the expertise of one of the industry’s best.  Paul Kissin, Director of Marketing and Web Technology at the National Confectioners Association (NCA), walked us through how his team successfully harnessed Bear IQ’s attendee profiling and forecasting functionality to produce its long-running Sweets and Snacks Expo in 2021.

Using data reassures attendees and exhibitors

The Expo team realized pretty quickly that modeling expectations for 2021 on past events; essentially best guessing the future based on hunches or the behavioral patterns of the past, wasn’t going to cut the mustard this time around.

One of the first major problems the events team faced was convincing key stakeholders - members, exhibitors, and attendees - that the show remained viable. This is where centralized data analysis proved crucial for strategic planning and communications. Paul and his team pointed Bear IQ at an aggregate compilation of NCA’s most active prospects and then map real-time tracking data from registrations and marketing applications such as Google Analytics to determine what prospect conversion would be necessary to satisfy exhibitor participation.  

“It [Bear IQ] helped us set expectations. It helped us be transparent to the people investing; helped them to know what to expect. And it helped us to actually be in the ballpark of what we’d said in the lead-up.”

Transparent and open communication with key exhibitor and sponsor investment ultimately proved to be a difference-maker for NCA as they returned to in-person in a new city, for the first time in 40+ years.

Developing an agile, data-driven marketing strategy

So, say your event looks like it has downsized to a 4,000 attendance from 7,000 pre-pandemic. What proportion of business types and demographics can you expect to be in attendance? Are they likely to be in the same proportion as pre-pandemic?

Paul described how the Expo team used Bear IQ’s to home in on audience trends immediately after launching registration. He and the team focused on tracking specific demographic cohorts, understanding if they were trending up or down proportionately. By understanding his audience’s composition leading into the show, Paul was able to focus on those areas of deficiency and augment his marketing approach accordingly.  Additionally, those audience cohorts that were overperforming, lead to peace of mind for the team that a portion of their marketing was landing as intended.  

“That’s the type of insights we were getting; you could identify if certain types of businesses had been more impacted by the pandemic. In fact, distributions were similar despite the show’s smaller size. We actually saw the same ratio of attendance between business types.”

Using data to streamline logistics

What about logistics - how do you ensure your backend calculations are still relevant? Questions as straightforward as – how any masks do you need to add to the number of badges required?

The NCA team saved a bundle money by using insights generated by Bear IQ to predict expected onsite attendance onsite.  This resulted in their ability to plan and resource the event accordingly, which really paid off in an environment where everyone is managing to the bottom line.

Improved strategic reporting in real time

Paul and his team took advantage of Bear IQ’s reporting functionality provided clear and accessible real-time summaries of what was happening before, during, and after the Sweets and Snacks Expo. This provided NCA’s senior leadership with a granular picture of the show - its attendees and exhibitor types – for the first time. Senior leaders could now dive directly into the data for themselves for the first time, to clearly comprehend the show’s composition and use this information strategically.

“The Bear IQ dashboard and the ways of analyzing by location, business size, company type; in a very succinct way, really helped the Senior Leadership to quickly understand the show, and really quickly answer questions.”

So, say a large manufacturer has a specific interest in e-commerce presence. Paul described how senior leadership could go into the data and immediately look at registered ecommerce businesses based on size and geography. Without saying ‘This company will be here’, they can say ‘It looks like, based on what we’re seeing in the registration, that the demographic you’re looking for will be present.’  Having the confidence to know the audience before they arrive, is a key indicator for sculping exhibitor sentiment and expectations.

Uncover what’s trending while maintaining attendee data privacy

Paul highlights how event analytics can provide essential data on budding trends at his show without breaching data privacy of the attendee, in an age where privacy is more important than ever:

“A lot of the value of our show, and the value of NCA, is tied to the data we hold. We don’t feel comfortable just sharing a list of people right. So, for us to be able to look at things in aggregate and report on the general trends we’re seeing protects the organization and the privacy of our attendees, but also gets people the information they need.”

Underpinning evaluation and evolution

Insights from events analytics are providing the motivation and the map for the evolution of the Sweets and Snacks Expo over the coming years, and that’s exciting for the team.

“One of the things we’re dealing with right now is whether we’re going to make some changes to the show. The committee is also now accustomed to things being proven with data points. It means it’s really going to help in a long-term strategic conversation.”

Growing a mature data culture


Data maturity has been defined as the level of understanding, adoption and utilization of available data by the staff of an organization for decision-making, ideation, product development and procedural improvements. A mature data culture develops in an organization when the whole organization adopts it, rather than a select few employees or one department.

Trade associations such as the National Confectioners Association are using Bear IQ’s functionality to improve their resilience to uncertainty, whilst growing their organization’s data maturity while they do it.

“We’re more data-driven decision-makers as a result of what happened last year. And how beneficial that was; how much it helped us deal with uncertainty, and everybody’s very understandable lack of confidence in what was about to happen.”

Paul acknowledges that it’s a little early to be able to appreciate the full ramifications of this shift but tells us that;

“In the staff conversations that are happening, and when we’re presenting to our members, there’s been a global shift to: ‘Let’s go get a data point.’ We are much more confident in our data than ever. And I think many more people in the organization know how to wield it.”

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