How to measure event success in 2019

September, 10 2019

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Smart badges. Mobile apps. Virtual reality. Thanks to the rapid pace of technological change, events are a completely different experience today to how they were 10 years ago. Different from 5 years ago, even.

It’s also easier than ever before to collect data and measure performance.

You can, for example, measure sales KPIs like the number of sales leads, customers and cost per customer. And using wearable technologies like radio-frequency identification (RFID), Near Field Communication (NFC) and biometric tracking, you can dive even deeper into visitor behaviour.

With so much data available, the challenge now is to decide which data to measure and so best judge whether your event has been successful.

Here’s how event success was measured in the past, the pros and cons of using technology, and the best way to measure event success in 2019.

How event success was judged in the past

Brands have used basic technology to measure success for a long time—and still do. Clickers, for example, have been around for decades, and are used to measure event attendance and the number of interactions event staff have with attendees. This is useful to a certain degree. It allows you to compare the number of interactions at an event against those at the same event in previous years, or against other events. 

On the other hand, this approach works on the assumption that a higher number of interactions equals a more successful event. But what if one event involved 20 high-quality interactions that led to sales and another involved 2000 that all came to nothing?

Heat mapping is another tool that measures quantity, and more specifically, where people gather at an event. Again, this is useful to an extent as it gives brands a semi-quantitative assessment of how many people chose to visit certain exhibitions. But it cannot tell you why they gather at certain spots.

Neither clickers nor heat mapping give brands conclusive data from which to measure event performance. So, event success has often been measured anecdotally. In other words, staff reported their interpretation of event performance based on observation.

Events are a social marketing channel, so human instinct and feedback will always be valuable for measuring success. But, subjective analysis of an event comes with inherent bias.

Let’s take a look at how new technology is opening up a wealth of hard data to complement anecdotal evidence.

The role of technology and big data in measuring event success

According to the 2019 Experiential Marketing Trend Report, 73% of B2B brands are capturing audience data at events.

Most of this information is gathered using wearable technology like the following:

Radio-frequency identification (RFID)

RFID is already standard practice at large festivals and conferences, and smaller events are beginning to jump on board. With RFID, a chip is embedded in a card, badge, or wristband. The chip can then communicate with a scanner via a radio signal.

RFID technology gives event exhibitors real-time insight into how attendees are behaving. And if you encourage them to register their wearable device with an email address, or link it to social profiles, you can collect data to use in future marketing.

Near field communication (NFC)

NFC is like RFID but intended for close-proximity communication only—either between two devices or between a device and an NFC-enabled tag.

At events, NFC is used in badges (sometimes called ‘smart badges’) to hold information on attendees. Companies can then, for example, capture lead information for follow-up by scanning an attendee’s badge.


Wearable beacons can be attached to an attendee’s lanyard. They send signals to various “receivers” around the event which pick up the beacon’s signal and track the attendee’s movements. 

They can also send data to mobile phones so that, whenever someone passes by a particular exhibit, they receive a customised message.

Biometric tracking

Biometrics is the technology used by Fitbit to measure heart rate, blood pressure and sleep. 

It is also used at events to analyse physical, behavioural and emotional characteristics. This allows brands to see how attendees react to certain activities.

Now, with so much potential data at your fingertips, it can be difficult to know where to start, what to measure, and how to interpret the information.

Let's address that right here...

How to judge event success in 2019

Technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, but it still has its limitations in measuring event success.

Take biometric tracking as an example. Let's say you measure the response of an attendee to a presentation by a brand ambassador. And let's say you find that they respond angrily. Then, to your surprise, the very same person visits your exhibition, buys your product or service, and becomes a very valuable long-term customer.

The point here is that data acquired through any single technology can be valuable but may not provide a complete picture.

Even in 2019, technology cannot replace human judgement and anecdotal feedback. But, it can certainly aid the process by adding quantifiable data to your assessment of an event.

Combining different sources of information—such as heat mapping, smart badges and observational feedback from staff—is likely to give the best overall picture of event success, providing you are considering these in relation to your event’s goals.

The importance of identifying your event goals

Unless you are clear about what your event is trying to achieve, it will be hard to devise a strategy for measuring success. Define your objectives before you attend an event. Then, decide what success would look like.

For example, if you need sales, you might set your target as 100 qualified sales leads. You might even say that the event will only be successful if 10 of those leads convert into sales. And that the average order value must be at least £12,000 at a cost per sale of £5000.

Once you have a clear picture of what a successful event looks like for you, it should be clear which KPIs to measure. Then, you can decide on the best way to measure them... and take it from there!

Want to see how we’ve measured event success for some of the world’s biggest brands? Check out our case studies.

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