In an ideal world, an event marketer could meet with attendees before the event to grill them about who they are, what they're interested in, and what they're hoping to take away.

Though it may not be feasible to personally meet every attendee, event marketers can use data to plan more personalized events that appeal to attendees, boosting attendee satisfaction and retention, customer relationships, and return on event investment.

Here's how you can do it.

Start with promotion

Don't wait until your attendees arrive to start targeting. Event promotion is your first point of contact with your guest, and thus it's where you should begin your quest for personalization.

The first step is to use attendee data to segment your guest list and fine-tune promotion efforts.

Initially, segmentation will probably mean separating people who have attended your past events from new attendees, as the two groups have different needs and expectations leading up to the event. For example, a loyal attendee who has come to your conference 10 years running probably wants a warm welcome but likely doesn't need an explanation of the event process, whereas a first-timer needs more guidance.

From there, you may want to get even more granular. You could, for instance, offer a high-priority sales lead from a bootstrapped startup a lower registration fee than one from a Fortune 500 company, or you might flag customers who were difficult to please in the past and reach out to them directly to offer one-on-one assistance.

You'll also likely want to separate potential leads, sponsors, and VIPs from the rest of your guest list and interact with them in individualized ways to ensure satisfaction.

Get to know attendees

Every registration form on the planet asks for certain data points—attendee name, company, contact information, and so on. Smart event marketers take it further.

Ask up front about what guests' needs will be when they're at your event, such as dietary or mobility restrictions, and even some (seemingly) just-for-fun questions, such as their nicknames or favorite pastimes. You can then use that information to make guests feel comfortable and welcomed by using that information on nametags, as ice breakers, or for other personal touches.

It's a small detail, but to a serial conference attendee it will make your event a standout.

Schedule wisely

Instead of forcing every attendee to go to the same sessions, in the same order, event marketers should consider either handing choice over to the attendees or taking attendee data into account when arranging the agenda. The former obviously increases personalization—each person is able to do exactly what interests him—but the latter can be just as effective in keeping guests happy.

By gathering data about attendees prior to the event, organizers can make educated guesses about which sessions will be most popular and plan accordingly, perhaps scheduling must-see panels at multiple times or in the room with the largest capacity.

Furthermore, they could perform more advanced factor or cluster analysis to sort attendees into groups based on their interests and use that information for laying out the schedule.

In other words, that data would give marketers enough insight to know that, say, a significant number of guests work in marketing. With that information, they could make sure that a few extra sessions relate to marketing and prevent those sessions from overlapping with one another if at all possible.

Putting that level of thought into the agenda does take time, but it's worth it; ensuring that guests have access to the most personally relevant and interesting lineup possible will greatly boost overall satisfaction with your event.

Follow up after the event

Your work isn't done when your event ends. Post-event surveys are invaluable sources of data for an event marketer, because they provide information that can be applied to future events. Plus, asking for honest feedback from your guests makes them feel respected and valued; but it's vital to then actually use that feedback. Repeat attendees will be exponentially more satisfied if they come back next year with some of their suggestions implemented into the programming, and exponentially less so if they feel ignored.

It's also useful to go back and look at where your attendees came from. If many new attendees found your event through Facebook, for example, you'll know that's a place to spend some effort next time. Homing in on the most effective Google search keywords is also valuable information, allowing event marketers to zero in on potential guests' priorities.

* * *

Too many marketers see a miles-long guest list staring them in the face and resort to mass email blasts and robotic communications. Tactics like those may be efficient, but they aren't effective. Your guests are living, breathing people, and they want to be treated as such.

Putting in just a bit more effort to personalize your event planning and execution will pay off in the long run. Guests will remember the conference that printed their preferred nickname on their nametag, or the one that offered their company a much-needed discount—and that will make them want to come back.

With so much data at your fingertips, there's no reason yours shouldn't be that kind of event.

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How to Personalize Event Experiences by Using Data

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image of Matthew Wainwright

Matthew Wainwright is the director of marketing at He comes from HubSpot, where he was a principal on the channel marketing team. He has also worked at agency Catalyst Online.

LinkedIn: Matthew Wainwright