Conversations: Brian Gates on Breaking Down Silos and Harnessing Powerful Event Data
21 Jun 2023 | Jessica F. Lillian | 5 minutes
The Conversations series features candid conversations with RainFocus executives and other thought leaders. You’ll find discussion of breaking news, invaluable industry tips, and commentary on the biggest topics of current interest to events and marketing leaders.
In this post, we sat down with Brian Gates, senior vice president of industry strategy at RainFocus. With an extensive background in both events and marketing, Brian has seen considerable evolution in the industry and is always excited about opportunities for events to become even more powerful, personalized, and efficient. Here’s the first half of our fascinating two-part discussion:
One issue in the industry we hear a lot about is “events on an island” syndrome. Why does this tend to happen?
It starts with how event budgets are often set up within marketing. They tend to be aligned to individual programs, which allows companies to independently buy and use technologies for each event program. The system manages expenses and provides autonomy, but it also creates the opportunity for each team to seek and buy its own technology within its budget. This winds up creating silos.
On the vendor side, there’s a parallel issue. Events can — and often do — require a lot of different technologies to drive event experiences and team efficiencies. Most vendors specialize in a particular event use case or aspect of the event lifecycle. This limits their value to event programs.
Other vendors grow to a size where they can solve multiple use cases and serve a complete event lifecycle, but their growth occurred because they acquired a lot of technologies. This tends to be more of a marketing tactic. They can check all the boxes on a RFP, but those products they acquired don’t actually work together. Instead of creating your own silos with point solutions, you get a pre-built system that already has silos.
What are the effects of this lack of integration within event technology and across the organization?
It creates a lot of inefficiencies. Within the event team, if you’re using multiple solutions, you end up having to customize the solution. This increases the risk of failure. The alternative is that you live without key components and end up doing the tasks manually, again leading to increased risk and extra effort.
On top of that, there is the user experience impact. Switching among multiple systems creates waste by forcing people to relearn or redo strategies because different systems operate differently. As a result, the solutions don’t wind up actually delivering on the event vision, and add a lot of complexity, risk, and stress along the way.
During the event itself, if you have fragmented technologies and use cases, it severely impacts the attendee journey. Even the simplest aspects of personalization become nearly impossible. You have a disjointed or one-size-fits-all attendee experience.
Today, event attendees expect the same degree of personalization that they find across their personal lives. When this aspect is missing or poorly done, it severely impacts the likelihood of future engagement and makes it difficult for the event teams to reach their registration goals.
What are the other ways this can hurt overall event channel marketing success?
Unlike other marketing channels, events are highly visible, easily understood, and impact all aspects of the business. But when they are isolated and siloed in the organization, they become a point-in-time experience — which has a tremendous impact on event success or ROI.
Events are run for specific business objectives. They drive marketing and sales activities, and help the organization humanize its brands. Chances are if you can’t provide a personalized attendee experience, you can’t get meaningful data out of the event. That means you can’t advance the customer journey, and it means you can’t demonstrate meaningful ROI.
Event ROI goes well beyond just registration and attendance. It’s about engagement and how you use that engagement to drive better campaigns, sales, advocacy, and meaningful connections that build brand relationships.
So, once a company recognizes this event siloing is taking place, what are the important initial steps to take to start integrating?
First, instead of looking at events as one-offs, take a more portfolio-based approach. On the tech side, evaluate what you’re currently using and see how you can group uses together. Create bigger “swaths of use” by using vendors that cover your use cases. Over time, this reduces silos and starts to consolidate your event channel, which makes it more effective.
Vendors to evaluate first are those that cover your entire event channel. Ideally, you can use these to access unified data on attendees and create greater value by solving for the event channel as a whole.
Full tech transitions may seem daunting, but it doesn’t all have to be done at once. Find your platform, then move program after program over to it. This phased approach allows you to move your most important programs first and optimize as you consolidate.
Event KPIs are important as companies seek to integrate their event channel management and improve their data — how have those evolved recently?
Many organizations are in a state of flux right now, trying to balance the right mix of in-person, virtual, and hybrid events. As they experiment and perfect their strategies, knowing how to evaluate event success and compare programs is critical.
Our periodic table of event KPIs can be incredibly helpful in charting a path to success. Depending on the type of event, the most relevant metrics may change. In-person, virtual, and hybrid events all have some form of attendee engagement, but the specifics change. The way they engage is measured differently. The ways you can use that engagement across marketing and sales depend on how attendees are experiencing the activities offered through your event.
The periodic table is an overall menu. We encourage people to determine which of those metrics are most important to them. Start with how you will use the data post-event, and then look at pre-event, during-event, and post-event metrics, and consider how each might apply differently.
In general, we are seeing more focus on audience acquisition and the program value of events. This ties back to how organizations are measuring their overall strategy going forward. They’re embracing different models for developing and retaining customers, and events are a big part of that.
Stay tuned for Part II of our fascinating interview with Brian!