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Physical Data – The Oil Spill at Business Events

Physical Data - The oil spill at Business Events

If data is the new oil, then there’s a category of data that we are simply wasting at business events. And that’s called Physical Data.

In fact, when we talk about data at business events, we’re almost always talking about Digital Data.

We can actually classify data into two categories: 

  1. Digital Data – referring to data that are captured from online (or digital) interactions 
  2. Physical Data – referring to data captured from physical interactions in the real world 

The following diagram shows some examples of digital & physical interactions:

examples of digital & physical interactions diagram

We have today reached a point where most tools are about capturing and analysing digital data. For example, your email marketing tool can give you all sorts of statistics about who is clicking on that link and at what time, as well as the open and click-thru rates across the different campaigns that you run. Website analytics tools likewise give you quite a bit of insight about online website visitors behaviours – what landing page they go to, and whether they bounce from that page (ie, exit the website altogether) or continue to other pages. You can even build funnels and set up goals that the marketing team strives to optimise. 

But business events are primarily physical in nature today. Are we seeing the same kind of tracking, analysis and optimising of people’s flows at physical events? Not really. 

And yet, at physical events there are lots of data that can be captured and then used to infer information about your audience. And that is just going to waste. In fact, I’d propose that: 

Physical data is more valuable than digital data. 

We’re all familiar with the registration form as the first hurdle to go through when embarking on a journey to attend a business event:

registration form

Studies show that the longer the forms the less likely people are to fill them. But when there is no choice but to fill up a long-form with lots of checkboxes or long drop-down lists, what do you normally do? When form filling fatigue kicks in people tend to simply choose whatever first few options they see, and hence suddenly you have inaccurate data about the attendee in your database. 

Contrast that with what normally happens at a physical event when people are simply sitting down at a session. This is the type of rich data that is available: 

physical event data

By knowing how much time somebody is spending at a session (whether the person stayed for the full session, or left after the first 5 minutes), you can infer the interest of the person in the topic at hand and the quality of the speaker. A lot of the data available can be inferred – eg, by simply analysing the time spent at a session and correlating that with the agenda information (session name, description, speakers, …). We can actually automatically build a profile of an attendee: 

attendees` profile

And this is done automatically without any form filling. 

But before the above is even possible, the question is: are we capturing these data points at physical events today? Are we capturing the dwell time at sessions in a frictionless way? Are we then correlating that with the agenda information? Or, is the agenda information simply something that appears on the website or on the printed agenda and then simply disappears after the event is over?

The truth is that today we are not really capturing physical data. And even in cases where it is being captured, it is not being kept years after years. The value here is that you can progressively build a profile of your database so as to be able to better provide personalised and curated services down the road. 

Unless we start capturing physical data at events, the oil spill will continue…

This blog post is part of a series about the opinions that we hold at GEVME. They originate from an article that our CEO Veemal Gungadin posted on LinkedIn. You can find all the blog posts from the series here.


About the author: Veemal Gungadin is the CEO of GEVME and also holds the position of Vice President for Digital & Innovation at SACEOS, Singapore’s Business Events Trade Association. He is also an investor in innovative startups and a public speaker on the topic of digital transformation in the business events industry

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  • Interesting read. I never really thought about the difference between physical data and digital data before. Indeed, the world has become so digital, the value of physical data has been lost in a sea of devices and apps.

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