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editorial
The Data Deluge


Is our rabid quest for information actually creating a scenario in which we're drowning in underutilized data?
Big data is big business. According to one estimate, it is expected to become a $66.8 billion industry by 2021. As our daily lives become increasingly digitized and our behaviors exponentially more trackable, machines, websites, and companies learn more and more about us, one click at a time. Success stories of how massive corporations have used this steady stream of consumer data, however impersonal and Big Brother-esque, to boost their bottom lines have prompted practically every company to start seeking at least some sort of baseline information on its customers' demographics, psychographics, behaviors, and opinions.

On the flip side, consumers have gotten data savvy themselves, trolling the seemingly limitless waters of the world wide web in search of recommendations, reviews, and ratings to help them decide everything from which take-out restaurant to order from to whether they should invest in the latest miracle skincare product on Instagram. The result is a new reality where both parties – suppliers and consumers – are smarter and able to make more informed decisions.

But after chatting with a few exhibit and event managers, I'm starting to question if big data has gone from benevolent value add to bandwidth-clogging behemoth. See, during a discussion regarding the importance of using face-to-face marketing as a data-collection opportunity, a few experienced exhibitors boasted of their robust efforts to conduct pre-, at-, and post-show surveys, as well as exit interviews and other data-mining activities. When I asked how that information has impacted their companies' marketing approaches, however, there were zero concrete examples. Sure, they were returning from trade shows and events with an ocean of information on their target audiences, but they never took the time to analyze the data and leverage it to optimize their investments on the show floor. The whole thing made me wonder: Is our rabid quest for information actually creating a scenario in which we're drowning in underutilized data?

I often preach about the importance of crafting effective qualifying questions and how doing so can help sales reps personalize their follow-up communications. But collecting insights that go nowhere is a little like talking to an attendee who wants your product, has the budget to buy it, and would like to make a purchase in the next few weeks, but then never following up with this red-hot prospect.

Don't get me wrong. I am a huge proponent of diversifying your program's deliverables, and bringing home bona fide insights into your target audience is one of many ways to do just that. But take a look at the information you're extracting from exhibit visitors and ask yourself what you're actually doing with it. Qualifying questions aside, if you're peppering prospects with unnecessary queries that aren't adding value to your organization or exhibit-marketing program, you're just wasting everyone's time. What's more, you run the risk of alienating those being interrogated. After all, if they repeatedly express a common concern and you do nothing to address it, their impression of your organization will likely be worse than if you'd never asked at all.

If you're one of the few exhibit managers with a detailed plan for how to turn data into insights, and insights into improvements, congratulations. But if you're collecting more information than you know what to do with, consider taking a step back and reevaluating your objectives. You wouldn't rattle off a list of questions in rapid-fire succession on a first date, so why initiate a business relationship that way? Face-to-face marketing should feel more like a dialogue than a harsh interrogation, so ax the unnecessary questions, streamline the engagement, and try a less prosaic and more personal approach. E



Travis Stanton, editor;
@StantonTravis
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