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Unlocking the Keys to Strategic Planning with Data-Driven Insights

Heather Holst-Knudsen
June 23, 2023

Digging into event data uncovered gaps in strategic planning, leading to a plan to bridge the gap. This approach improved collaboration and communication.

In my last blog, Uncovering the Hidden Gold: How Marketing Can Secure a Seat at the Revenue Table, I talked about how I realized we needed to be using our data in the best way to move the business forward. Marketing had it's set of KPIs and reported against those KPIs but they were not earth-shattering. Today, I want to talk about identifying critical gaps in the data, my aha moment, and how to use the gaps in planning. We (marketing) need to get deeper into the data to drive a stronger marketing strategy to show results to the business that matters - to earn a seat at the revenue table.

Over my time in media and events, we reported on the typical results but these numbers are superficial and only sometimes essential. Don't get me wrong, the marketing numbers are essential - to marketing. Did it really matter to the rest of the business how paid social media was performing? Did it matter how much traffic the website was getting? Not really - but these numbers are where I still see event and media companies' focus.

Don't believe me? 

Identifying Critical Gaps in Data

A few years back, I talked with the CMO of a large medical device manufacturing company about his media buying experience. During the discussion, he expressed that the media sales reps didn't have the skills and/or data when faced with a knowledgeable buyer. He was presented with options for an ad package and the standard details: email open rate, email click-through rate, website impressions, etc. Then he started asking more questions. He wanted to know information about the programs that went more profound, like:

  • On average, for a lead generation campaign, how many of the accounts were met with 90% or better-accepted leads?
  • For email ads, what is the average click-through rate for advertisers vs. other content?
  • For website, what is the average click-through rate for ads? Sponsored content? Etc.

You see, he didn't care as much about the standard metrics that are reported, like total impressions, subscribers, and website traffic. He wanted to understand his return on investment. The sale rep he was working with couldn't answer those questions - if they could, it took longer to get the information because they had to go request the data.

I recently attended Event Tech Live in Las Vegas, one of the sessions was about using event data to create a data-driven strategy to improve the event and deliver value to the stakeholders. Overall the session was great, I was sitting there thinking - I sure wish I had something like this in my prior life. It would have helped get me out of the weeds and really allow me to focus better and understand what was happening with the marketing efforts. However, what needed to be added for me was using the data to improve revenue and increase the value of the business beyond delivering attendees to the event. 

My Aha Moment

When it hit me that marketing was looking at the data all wrong and reporting on marketing numbers that didn't really matter outside of marketing, I started pulling post-show data from each event into two workbooks; one focused on marketing channels and event data in the other; things like square foot sold,  number of exhibitors, number of attendees, attendee areas of interest, attendee companies, number of attendees from key companies, exhibitor product categories, etc. 

This took a great deal of time and effort - because it was pulling data from 16 different spreadsheets, pulling reports from 16 different events in our sales database, and compiling it all into something that made sense. Oh, and not to mention, I had to engage the data team multiple times because I kept finding discrepancies in the data. 

I will not spend any time (right now) talking about the marketing channel data, but you never know when that might surface. On the event data - I discovered some really interesting things.

  • Attendee product interests did not always match exhibitor product categories
  • Key companies exhibitors wanted were not always there in large numbers, if at all
  • Key companies attendees wanted to see were missing
  • Assumptions about who the conference attendee profile were wrong
  • When a person registered - it directly impacted their attendance at the event

I could go on, but there was a lot of information uncovered once someone took the time to dig into the data to really understand. What it did teach me was there were fundamental gaps in our strategic planning, not just at the marketing level but at the brand level. 

Shifting the Strategy

As a marketing leader, it can sometimes be hard to accept the way you have been developing the strategy needs improvement, and especially hard telling the business the way they have been doing it could be significantly improved. However, the reward is definitely worth the effort.  

The best way to approach the challenge is to break it into parts. It is easier make small improvements with lasting results rather than try and change everything all at once, disrupting the business. Here at H2K Labs, we have a flywheel approach to help our customers tackle challenges. 

As an example, before I worked in events I was in the restaurant industry for many years. At one point, I was in the role of a “restaurant troubleshooter” where I would be sent into an underperforming store to “fix it”. In effect, I was sent in as the general manager where they had removed the prior manager and given marching orders to make things run better - from service to quality. It was all over the place. My approach was simple, I went in day one and just worked. I did this for a week. The next week, I started working with people directly to help. In one instance, I noticed the food was not being prepared properly, so on one of the busiest nights, I scheduled myself to work the line with the rest of the kitchen. I slowly started implementing the correct way to do things and all the while explaining what I was doing to the person next to me. Then after a couple of hours, we switched places and they took over. After a day or two of this, the food preparation drastically improved. I repeated this over and over with all of the “problem” areas and guess what? In a matter of three weeks, we were a fully performing team and the store was improved. All it took was a little coaching. 

That approach stuck with me to this day. Using this knowledge, I approached the issue of strategic planning to improve the way we as a business approached our planning.  For example, we took the mismatch of the attendee interests and exhibitor product categories and worked those into the strategy. We focused on developing a plan to offset the gap and put it into action. We identified the companies needed to satisfy the other to improve not only the event but improve relationships with our exhibitors. Then we picked another area to improve - key attendee companies and developed a plan to ramp up efforts to attract more of the right people from those companies to the event. 

The end results were fantastic. The different teams started working closer together to make the products a win-win. Trust in other departments deepened. Goals were being met and as a result we saw better collaboration, more internal communication, and a lot less finger pointing when there was a problem. 

However, it took a lot of time and effort to get that data because of the complexity of the business model. It wasn't really sustainable to put in the hours of manual work to keep things moving along. There were just too many platforms with different pieces of data to make things manageable. Platforms in the market were not able to help do these things as they were not created for our business. Sure, we could piece together the data sets in a spreadsheet - but someone always had to spend hours doing the work when their time could have been better spent doing more impactful things. 

In my next blog, I will focus on using this data to advance your team and align them with sales.

Until next time!

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