Building the right culture for digital success

The UBM and Informa merger raises an interesting question. How can a £9bn company provide effective and consistent customer experience across its many event portfolios, in its many theatres of operation around the world?

The solution lies, at least partly, in the appropriate use of data and technology. In an increasingly personalised world, facilitated by a myriad of technologies, attendees expect events to be designed to fulfil specific and individual needs.

However, historically organisers have been poor at using data; systems are too often not unified, data capture is inconsistent and post-show surveys ask the wrong questions, data playing second fiddle to gut feel.

In a company with the size and complexity of UBM-Informa, where data from registration, marketing automation, CRM, web traffic, onsite visitor movement, show surveys and other sources typically sit in separate silos, it is all too easy to let it slip through the cracks, unused or abandoned.

Refining an entrenched culture

Today companies of all sizes must adopt a dedicated approach to using this data more effectively, and this unified data strategy requires a company-wide mindset that places the capture and use of data front and centre.

Kim Myhre, MD at experience design lab MCI Experience, told attendees at December’s Transform Europe event that we are going to need “a different kind of employee” to cope with the requirements of a new type of attendee.

“The whole thing changes up the model and we should be thinking about how other industries are changing when we start looking at our own industry. People and their behaviours, younger people with technology at their fingertips, shorter attention spans; we need to be incorporating all those things into our model,” he said.

Sales will always remain a core function of an events organiser, but it can no longer sit at the heart of the business. Marketing-first should replace sales-first, however the marketing skill set must also evolve in our companies; the need for creative skills has been surpassed by the need for data and analytical skills. But as was made clear in a recent report by US event tech company Feathr, the majority of specialist marketing executives (82%) don’t have a single view of all customer data. What they must have is a dedication to gathering it and embracing the technological competitive advantage that it affords.

Starting small

The organisational implication – certainly in companies the size of UBM-Informa – is that centres of excellence must be created, dedicated to the implementation and adoption of new digital solutions. These can be focused in a centralised marketing department until skills are more widespread and the time is right to spread them across show groups. Or they can sit within a show group that champions a new approach, and spread more widely at a later stage if successful.

In the past AMR has worked with clients that have achieved this by setting up a sister or daughter company not bound by the same restrictions as the mother vehicle, just to enable faster innovation.

According to UBM’s Director of Event Technology, Govind Sharma, there is an element of trial involved in this process.

“We need to understand that we’re solving a pain point with the use of technology. We start with a small prototype and work up,” he said. “We do alpha, beta and then go live; design thinking. Ask them questions, then look at the behavioural data, and thirdly just let them play with the technology that you think works.”

Building resilience

What matters, according to Ailis McKernan, Head of Digital at AMR International, is first building an environment that is receptive to new technology and the motives behind it.

Organisations struggle with rolling out new technology, she explains, “because it is risky and sometimes fails.

“The consequence of failure is fear to try again. Rather than accept failure as part of the journey, a company will never attempt to go down that avenue again. What they need to do is view it as a method of course-correction not a dead end.

“Culturally that’s a difficult mentality to embed in an organisation,” she adds.

The introduction of redesigned, more appropriate KPIs can help here. Specifically, those that reward employees for making returns based on technological or digital development and not just revenue.

“What you don’t want to do is make everyone feel fine about failing,” says McKernan. “What you do want to do is create a culture where failing is okay so long as it’s a step towards getting towards the right answer.”

An effective digital strategy for exhibition organisers is dependent on the gathering and analysis of data throughout the customer journey from outreach to feedback, and subsequently the application of appropriate digital solutions. The seeds for digital success are sown from the outset, but for these to meet with fertile soil, we must create a digital transformation mindset.

Want more information?

For more information about how AMR supports event organisers to develop and execute customer-centric strategies, including data, analytics and digital, please contact: