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Seven Myths and Misconceptions about Event Attendee Tracking Technology

Behavioral analytics is the science (and also the art) of understanding when, where, why and how people do what they do.

There are several technologies used in the event industry to capture the data, from Bluetooth to Wi-Fi nodes hidden in event displays that actively monitor attendee location by pinging their mobile devices.

The industry has embraced these technologies because they provide event managers the ability to make near real-time data-driven decisions about their displays and exhibits. Meetings expert Corbin Ball said recently, “real-time collection of onsite data can be a goldmine of information to gain insights for event improvement, to make midcourse corrections, to engage participants and to provide more targeted marketing.”[i]

Despite the benefits of event data, including attendee tracking, there are several myths and misconceptions about the technology brands use to capture the data. The following are seven misconceptions about Wi-Fi tracking technology.

Myth 1:  Behavioral analytics technology invades personal privacy.

The only data that Wi-Fi-based behavioral analytic systems gather is the media access control, or MAC address, identifying the smart device traveling with the attendee. There is no personal information associated with a MAC address. It’s completely anonymous.  Further, behavioral analytic systems typically hash each MAC address gathered, replacing the address with a random numerical code, distancing the device even further from any personal identity.

There is no way to tie a MAC or hashed MAC address to any LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter account.

Systems that use Bluetooth require attendees to opt-in by downloading an app. While these systems generally do access personal information, it is only after the attendee agrees to let them access this information.

Myth 2:  People need to be connected to Wi-Fi for the analytics system to work.

Behavioral analytics systems do not need the smart device they are monitoring to be connected to Wi-Fi. The smart device only needs to be searching for a Wi-Fi network.

Research indicates that at any time about 90 percent of smart phones are actively looking for a Wi-Fi connection. This is the default setting for most devices. This means that at any time, roughly 90 percent of attendees at an event can be monitored.

Myth 3: Bluetooth is the preferred technology for behavioral analytics.

Bluetooth systems require the attendee to opt-in, which means downloading an event app and giving the system permission to monitor the movement of the attendee’s smartphone.

Even the most successful retail or store apps, which offer instant in-store savings or coupons, convert only 25 percent of their customers. Event apps are increasing in popularity and the percentage of downloads are also growing. The percentage of attendees that opt-in to behavioral tracking however is very low – on the order of 2-3 percent.  That’s compared to up to 90 percent of attendees that can be monitored using Wi-Fi systems without an opt-in requirement.

Bluetooth systems can open broad access to the personal information stored on your phone. An app that allows you to download an event-only incentive may also want access to your contact list, text messages, audio lists, and social channels.

Myth 4: Behavioral analytics technology replaces lead generation methods.

Behavioral analytics technology and lead generation methods are complementary data gathering approaches.

Behavioral data addresses the “what,” including what an attendee looked at, for how long, whether or not they left and returned, etc.  Lead generation data addresses the “why,” such as why an attendee looked at a display, why they are interested in learning more about a car, camera, a laptop, etc.  Together, these two approaches paint a more complete picture.

Take, for example, a display at a recent car show.  Behavioral data indicated that attendees were spending more time at an SUV display than anywhere else in the exhibit.  Survey data indicated, however, that attendees were most interested in a nearby sports car.  Relying on just the survey data, the event planner may think that more sports cars will draw more people to the brand.  The behavioral data, however, indicates people spent more time with the SUV, perhaps because it is considered a more feasible purchase. Should the event manager reduce the number of SUVs at the show to display more sports cars?  What will benefit the client most?  By understanding the behavioral data, can event organizers fine tune the survey questions for deeper insights?

It’s best to have both sides of the picture.

Myth 5:  Behavioral analytics technology is nothing more than a “spy in the sky.”

There will always be those that think behavioral analytics is simply a way to “check-up” on things and provide ammunition for change.

In reality, behavioral analytics is all about improving impact, and helping event managers find the best mix of resources to maximize client ROI.

Event behavior analytics is a relatively new tool, and with anything new comes skepticism.  Feedback from the industry, however, suggests that behavioral analytics is a window to positive input and continuous improvement.

Myth 6:  Monitoring consumer behavior at retail locations and at events takes the same skill set. 

Monitoring consumer behavior in a fixed location, such as a big box store or supermarket, is generally a one-time set-up with periodic tweaks. The engagement zones are set for weeks, months or even years.  The Wi-Fi nodes are typically wired into the ceiling support structure.  Once everything is in place, it’s all about gathering data.

Monitoring at an event requires identifying and placing nodes at locations that are constantly changing from week-to-week and sometimes day-to-day.  Event managers may choose to monitor different sets of displays on different days and during events, the adjustments to the monitoring typically happens on demand.

Events require proven performance skills that can react on a moments notice.  And then be ready to do it all over again.

Myth 7: Installation of behavioral analytic systems can interfere and even delay set-up of the rest of the event.

While it takes a certain skill to set up a behavioral analytics system, the installation is straightforward and non-intrusive to other activities. Wi-Fi nodes are roughly the size of a smartphone and weigh less than a pound. They can be plugged into the display electrical system or run on auxiliary batteries. Once in place, they don’t need to be monitored, and can easily be moved throughout a display. In addition, with systems set up to monitor an entire exhibit, as opposed to individual displays, engagement zones can be reprogrammed remotely within minutes.

Understanding attendee behavior at events, displays and exhibits is becoming increasingly more important as experiences become a greater percentage of brands’ marketing budgets. According to some estimates, big companies spend an average of 14 percent of their overall marketing budgets on conference and customer events. Others estimate the total spent on these marketing activities surpasses $562 billion a year. Companies want to know what is resonating with attendees and what is simply costing them time and money. The benefits of monitoring attendees interaction with your display and exhibit are clear as the data will provide you the validation you need to make quick adjustments and optimize the attendee experience for maximum ROI.


ECN 102015_NTL_Seven Myths and Misconceptions about Event Attendee Tracking Technology_Kurt SabinKurt Sabin is the Director of Business Development for Event Guidance, a leader in behavioral analytics for touring events. Sabin has developed measurable marketing program strategies for several companies, including Sears, Planet Fitness, Warrior Sports, and Graphic Resource Group, the parent company of Event Guidance. (www.eventguidance.com)

[i] http://www.corbinball.com/articles_technology/index.cfm?fuseaction=cor_av&artid=9236

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