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The ‘million dollar question’ about event data algorithms

The “million dollar question” facing organizers right now is over how event data can create high-quality recommendations, according to an industry expert.

Eleni Lialiamou, executive vice president of product management at Informa Markets, believes the way we live our lives has been transformed through technology – and exhibitions deserve the same.

But how close we are to introducing smart, data-driven algorithms for recommendations was described as the “millionaire dollar question”.

She said: “There are so many things that are happening in our everyday life which are driven by data – and hopefully using data for the right for optimization.

“When you think of exhibitors, their intention is to leave an exhibition with quality connections.

“Quality I think is a very significant word – it’s not just the number of connections, but it’s the quality of connections.

“That’s where data can make the difference, really using data to create these powerful recommendations – that’s not an easy thing to do. 

“When Spotify recommends songs or Netflix recommends movies, that’s a very elaborate piece of work.

“It is not just the data – it’s the element of curation, it’s the element of understanding of past behaviors, it’s the element of feedback loops, it’s the element of an event organizer being an expert in that vertical.

“That’s where the value comes – those recommendations, those abilities to find each other in the digital space to assess the fit to understand the product, understand the profile of the exhibitor.”

She pointed to how “transformative” the past few years have been in bringing technology into our private world – through shopping, recreation, banking and more.

However, it was claimed the rise of online events during the pandemic has not dampened desires to meet face-to-face. 

Research from Informa shows professionals still really value the ability to connect and do business in person.

Eleni added: “Look at the experiences of the past three years and how transformative it has been on how we use technology every day.

“That applies for all age groups, all demographics, people that didn’t necessarily use technology on a day-to-day basis.

“That’s the great opportunity for the event industry – it’s how data technology enables people to connect and meet each other to drive business forward.”

AI-powered recommendations

Eleni believes organizers have to move away from asking participants a “very long list of 25 questions” for registration, as their research suggests respondents don’t pay attention to it.

She set out how it is more important to understand how both sides operate contextually, in the same way Spotify algorithms can work out types of music you enjoy at different times of day.

This can then be further improved by building up more data about an event tech users by gathering information from additional or adjacent live shows as well as holistic behavior.

Eleni added: “At the foundation of it is the data – what do we know about our buyers and sellers? What do we know about their intent? How do we gather that information? When do we gather that information? How do we ask the questions? Are they contextual?

“Also understanding deeper their products and everything around their company profile sets the foundation for better recommendations.”

The “feedback loop” was highlighted as key to the success of the algorithms by training them through curation.

An organizer can do this by analyzing how people react to the recommendations, whether they are connecting and meeting each other based on those suggestions.

She said: “That’s where you create high-quality signals – the signal-to-noise ratio is increasing dramatically and that’s where people get quality.”

Eleni claimed this area is what Informa is “doubling down on” through “rethinking the entire journey” buyers and sellers.

It has brought in a “rigid approach” of gathering data and consistently remembering both visitors and exhibitors throughout its event editions, making sure it can understand behaviors across all touchpoints.

She added: “The quality of the data and the quality of tracking past behaviors, is going to be even higher.

“We understand what connections did happen and then feed that into what we recommend of what connections could happen.

“The deeper you go, the more quality outcomes you get in these types of recommendation algorithms.”

Getting data from a live setting

Informa has been running a number of “experiments” for gathering data at hundreds of events with thousands of attendees.

This gives them a vast amount of information about connections being made onsite, which can then tracked digitally.

Lead retrieval is one example of how this can be done, with an event app being used to exchange information.

Eleni said: “Ideally, what we want to get into is the ability to see the connections that people are making while in the event so you can get real-time, contextual recommendations. 

“It’s not just what data you put into the algorithm, but taking it to the next level. 

“Netflix knows exactly the time of day, it  knows exactly the context – and in the context it offers a recommendation. 

“Event tech should be at a similar level – if I exchange a badge with you and a specific product, it only makes sense that it’s contextual recommendations to say you should be meeting another person.

“It is about taking it to the next level, bringing it to the point where you really have in your hand the power of data. 

“We absolutely do deserve to have it. If that experience throughout the event gives you that confidence that data can enable you to be more productive to leave with more quality connections, it allows us to create value before and after the event as well.”

How to make it work

This more tech-led approach to events could be much more seamless and user-friendly within the next 12 months, according to Eleni.

She explained the importance of partnering with ExpoPlatform to make many of these digital dreams a reality.

It was set out how the removal of industry-standard features such as physical badges should no longer be seen as a hurdle, but as the new normal.

She said: “I would hope that in a year’s time some of the things we’re talking about will be real – you walk into an event and we wouldn’t ever hear again ‘it’s so difficult’. 

“I would imagine it’s not something we wouldn’t see in the next 12 months. That’s our goal – to bring these things to life.”

Making this data-driven transformation possible requires a working approach of repeated testing, according to Eleni.

An iterative process with the apps and website was set out as crucial to helping Informa develop its technological capabilities.

Eleni believes a growth mindset helps the organizer to keep up with this transforming landscape in our industry and get ahead of competition.

She said: “It’s a lot about doing the research, being very diligent on the feedback, being very careful to synthesize qualitative and quantitative data to understand really how your product fits with customer needs. 

“Then iterating, constantly evolving, constantly innovating, constantly challenging how you’re solving problems – and not only keeping up to speed with every other technology solution, but trying to be ahead of them. 

“How can we set the pace? How can we set the example for these new norms or these new behaviors? 

“For me, that is the biggest foundation for a successful transformation –  the way we work and how we really engage with our customers to make sure that we are really ahead with our tools, with our platforms to create experiences they really value.”

We hope you enjoyed reading this article and found it useful. At ExpoPlatform, we want to help you build better events and communities. Please get in touch and ask for a demo here. Thank you 😀