While the inaugural Transform USA conference did not initiate the discussion about data, analytics and digital transformation in exhibitions, it most certainly placed it on the front burner.
During the conference, held July 20 at the Washington Marriott at Metro Center in Washington, D.C., C-suite exhibition executives from across the nonprofit and for-profit exhibition sectors heard from industry colleagues on a variety of subjects, but “disrupt or be disrupted” was the theme of the day.
When Denzil Rankine, CEO of AMR International, opened the conference, he promised “practical, not just theoretical perspectives on data, analytics and digital.”
Co-producer Sam Lippman, CEO of Lippman Connects, added that the program would be a blueprint to “impact your organizations in a transformative way.”
Indeed, Transform USA did not disappoint.
The program, which attracted 125 participants, kicked off with a keynote presentation from Jean Foster, vice president of marketing at the Consumer Technology Association.
Having come from the corporate arena, Foster helped attendees understand that “CMOs today are very different beasts than the CMOs of five years ago.” Without data to substantiate the company's participation in trade shows, they cut them out of the budget, she added.
Foster then led the audience through a six-step plan for “setting a data-driven strategy.”
Exhibition organizers, she explained, must understand exhibitor goals, know what data they have, create a roadmap for analyzing and using data (including tools, skills, and talent), focus on the attendee experience before, during and after the event, leverage technology and share the data with customers.
To create a “data-centric, digitally driven organization,” Koley Corte, senior vice president and head of digital (Americas) for Reed Exhibitions, discussed “aligning technology and digital solutions to the customer journey.”
RD Whitney, executive vice president, Americas at Tarsus Group, explained his firm’s focus on the “key buyer growth” metric and creating a center of marketing excellence that is centralized enough to be efficient but distributed enough to react quickly to market changes.
On the topic of increasing exhibitor and attendee ROI, Sougato Das, formerly managing director, partnering for the Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO), discussed BIO’s success using partnering software to foster innovation.
Megan Tanel, senior vice president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), described how AEM recently launched a 75,000 square foot “fully funded tech experience” complete with “vignettes and tech talks” at the CONEXPO-CON/AGG show.
To help conference participants navigate the technology landscape, Mark Bogdansky, senior director of meetings and events at the Auto Care Association, suggested a process.
“Get one or two representatives from each department together, set up a monthly meeting, and give this conference technology group the authority to research and make decisions about show technology,” he said.
Leonora Valvo, CEO of Swoogo explained the importance of the application programming interface (API) economy in creating ecosystems of best-of-breed software platforms.
The discussion turned strategic when Marco Giberti, CEO of Vesuvio Ventures interviewed Haluk Kulin, senior vice president of strategy and data at FreemanXP, and David Saef, executive vice president of strategy and MarketWorks for GES.
Kulin described Freeman’s plan to change the “same as last year” culture by looking at the “nature and design of an experience,” while Saef championed an approach to data that examines how and why (exhibitors and attendees) interact with each other so that the data collected can be used to support those interactions in real time.
Scott Schenker, vice president of strategic events at ServiceNow, added perspective for the Transform USA audience on monetizing data when events serve as a marketing and sales channel (vs. organizing events as a business).
He described five types of data that move a lead through the sales funnel: demographics, diagnostics activity, intent and impact, and followed with ways to monetize the data, including bundling data into sponsorships for an added fee and offering audience data buyers, such as industry analysts, on a subscription basis.
Two case studies explored non-traditional ways to augment exhibitions.
Vincent Aydin, digital sales manager at Messe Munich, described his organization’s Open Innovation platform, which crowdsources solutions to exhibitor challenges.
Marian Bossard, who as senior vice president of global market events at the Toy Industry Association “helps brands sell more product in more markets more often,” talked about the group’s work with a complementary digital commerce platform (shoptoys365.com). She also described her motivation for organizing a fan-based event.
A panel moderated by Mark Haley, president of Smart City Networks, featured Elli Riley, senior director exhibits and meeting services at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), and Mark Sims, senior vice president and CIO, Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center.
Sims provided an update on how conference centers are implementing technology to improve exhibition processes and attendee experiences, while Riley described the technology requirements of end-to-end participant experiences.
“It’s a big undertaking to understand what everyone’s needs are going to be the more personalized we want (exhibitions) to become,” she explained.
Denzil Rankine provided closing remarks to summarize the day’s program.
“Customers are different now and the discussion around data, analytics and digital is not a technology discussion – it is a discussion about the culture, skills and capabilities of organizations,” Rankine said.
He continued, “The industry needs to design metrics for digital success, solve problems outside traditional face-to-face formats and develop a capacity for monetizing the data it collects. And because the data the industry still exists across multiple technology platforms, the API economy will greatly facilitate the consolidation of data and insights.”
Some attendees commented on the frankness of the Transform USA discussions.
“I was inspired by the organizations that were transparent about their ‘houses built on sand’ and painted several different pictures of what disrupting ourselves might look like,” said Elizabeth Glau, attendee experience manager at the International Society for Technology in Education.
She added, “This was one of the most forward-thinking events about our industry I've been to.”
Show organizers announced that Transform Europe 2017 will take place in Dec. in London, while Transform USA will return to Washington, D.C. in July of 2018.