By Mary E. Boone, Owner, Boone Associates
It’s not easy to measure the true impact of events and trade shows. Sure, there are plenty of shiny new technologies that collect mountains of quantitative data (e.g., number of leads, demographics, attendee booth attendance, etc.). Even with all this data, though, let’s face it: we often don’t deeply understand the motivations, emotions and visceral reactions to the experiences we create. Knowing how long someone stays at a booth — or even knowing their pulse rate from their RFID bracelet — doesn’t reveal whether they’re reacting to your product or to an attractive person who just agreed to meet them for dinner. Even if we get aggregate information that a number of people had a pulse-raising reaction to a particular booth or speaker, we still need to understand why they had that response.
Traditional event surveys provide important quantitative insights into participant reactions (i.e., identifying which speaker or session or venue they liked best), but surveys often don’t explore the motivations and subtleties underlying those opinions. Of course, most evaluation tools allow for an open-ended comment or response, but short of reading every one (and good luck trying to tie them to the forced choice responses), it’s hard to really mine those comments in useful ways. In short, surveys are terrific for forced choice, quantitative data, but they provide less insight into qualitative responses.
Why is it so important to understand participant motivations? As we move into the world of Big Data and gather more and more information from our events, the paradox is that it gets increasingly challenging to make sense of all of that information. Just knowing that someone liked a particular speaker or product doesn’t tell you why they liked it. Of course, interviews and focus groups can provide richer data to unearth insights, but unfortunately these approaches (when properly conducted) can be expensive and time consuming. If they are performed in less costly (i.e., less rigorous) ways, they can suffer from bias, inadequate sample sizes, etc.
I have recently been working with a seasoned qualitative researcher to take on the challenge of measuring events at a deeper level. Our approach combines both qualitative and quantitative data to surface patterns from participant stories about an event. The research instrument is simple: participants simply recount a short narrative about a memorable experience they had at the event. This narrative then forms the basis for a series of “prompts” in which the participant provides deeper insights into their own motivations, values and emotions.
Our Alpha test has turned up some interesting data. For example, we discovered patterns indicating differences in the ways introverts and extroverts respond to networking at events. Uncovering these patterns led us to develop some unique ideas for how to redesign subsequent events to better accommodate introverts.
This research approach is quite different from keyword searches of a survey comments section or an examination of social media posts. By allowing participants to self-identify and self-analyze their data, event owners can gain deeper, unfiltered insights into the motivations underlying their responses.
We are in the very early stages of bringing this research tool to market, but marketers and sophisticated event planners tell us they can significantly benefit from understanding why their participants react the way they do to event experiences and content. (Note: If you are interested in participating in our upcoming Beta test of this approach, please call the author at the phone number below.)
Regardless of the event measurement tool or approach you currently use, consider augmenting your quantitative measurement with improved qualitative measurement that reveals insights into “softer” areas such as engagement and brand. A better understanding of participants’ values, emotions, and motivations are crucial to delivering on the business objectives any organization is trying to achieve.
Mary E. Boone is an author, consultant and strategist in the field of communication – with an emphasis on the design of human interaction in face-to-face and virtual settings. Among those quoting from and praising her work are Tom Peters, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, CNN, and National Public Radio. She has written and co-authored award-winning work for a host of publications including Harvard Business Review. The white paper she wrote and donated to the MPI Foundation in 2009, “Four Elements of Strategic Value for Meetings and Events,” is still broadly referenced as a landmark assessment of how to take a strategic approach to meetings and events.
For readers interested in participating in the Beta research mentioned above, Ms. Boone can be reached at 860-767-1675.