Data Drives Better Matchmaking

March 16, 2021

Brian Scott

Brian Scott, president and founder of ClearTone Consulting, provides executive technology consulting services based on 35 years of technology expertise and 20 years of CIO/CISO experience within the exhibitions and events industry. Brian provides expert technology consultation in the areas of technology strategy, software development, systems integration, data warehousing and analytics, cyber security, data center operations, cloud computing, and end user support. He works with his customers to overcome technology challenges, leverage tech to drive growth and revenue, secure valuable digital assets, and execute projects to meet the organizational objectives.

In my last blog post, I discussed how several virtual platforms and standalone matchmaking services tout the promise of highly effective matching between attendees to attendees as well as attendees to exhibitors. In reference to the data that is available to any matchmaking system and the subsequent value that’s likely to be output, I dug up that age-old saying “garbage in, garbage out.”  

There are also more than a few vendors out there that love to put the ”AI” label on their process as if to assure event organizers that just because artificial intelligence is being used that highly accurate matches will be guaranteed. Unfortunately, it simply does not work this way.

I promised that I’d suggest some approaches that event organizers could take to their respective platform providers to better the effectiveness of the matchmaking, but before I do, let me explore some simple use cases to explain why many event organizers are not having positive experiences in this area. 

I’ll use a hypothetical attendee as an example. Let’s name him Herbert. Herbert attended a virtual meeting and completed a registration process, where he was asked his name and other basic profile information such as email, etc. He was also then presented with a few demographic questions. The first question asked for his title and the second question asked for his company name. That’s all we know about Herbert other than he has a warm and inviting name.

Herbert happens to be in the human resources department of a small company named Acme.  Given its focus on employee wellbeing, Acme recently created new titles for HR team members and Herbert’s new moniker is chief motivational officer. Acme was also purchased last year by a billion-dollar company and is partially integrated in areas such as procurement and back-office systems, but retained its name and market autonomy.

If the registration information is all we knew about Herbert, it would be easy to classify him as a C-level executive for a small company. Without more information, matchmaking systems may have him meet with other executives, positioned as a top decision-maker or buyer, and limited to small business groups. The reality is that he’s not a buyer or executive, and is actually part of a much larger organization. 

The first session Herbert visited didn’t help the situation. He recently became particularly concerned about retention in Acme’s technology department, so he attended a session in the “Tech” track to better understand the mindset and environmental influences. This led the matchmaking algorithms to believe that Herbert is a technologist and should be matched with other techie attendees.  

It’s pretty easy to understand how the matchmaking system didn’t have a lot to go on and was simply not effective. This is where a much more strategic data capture plan that is meant to specifically support effective matches could play a very positive role.  

To continue this example, what if we asked Herbert to identify his specific department, to prioritize his top two reasons to attend the meeting, to enter his top three products that he may have interest in and to list his top three personal interests? As you can imagine, this data could really drive matching algorithms and greatly increase the odds of making meaningful connections. 

But there’s a challenge with these types of questions. In each case, there could be many options available for him to select. How many departments do you list to try to cover them all?  How many reasons to attend? And the big one: How many products do you have to list?  Making so many choices available with checkboxes next to them is an archaic way of approaching user website interfaces and would likely result in an aggravated user. This is where new technology such as AI can easily help.

Instead of the multiple columns of lists with checkboxes, what if there was just a text box for Herbert to enter anything he wanted? This certainly makes it easy for Herbert but results in an unstructured data set on the backend. Under department, he could enter “Human Resources,” “HR,” “People and Development,” “Employee Wellbeing” — or any number of options (including misspellings).  

A good implementation of artificial intelligence can read these entries, understand what was intended, account for misspellings and categorize them in a structured way. Now we have a rich, structured data set on the backend to drive all kinds of great matches and still have a simple, easy-to-use interface for the attendee.

Another option would be for the systems to execute basic screen scrapes off the website associated with the email address domains and use that data to create an “interest” picture of the attendee. It’s fairly straightforward today to programmatically understand a great deal about a company from just analyzing the content available on the site. This content spans products, services, company culture and values, industry, the kinds of positions that may be open, ownership...the list goes on and on.

Between these two, there is significantly more data specific to an attendee focused on understanding who they are and what they’re interested in. I’m highly confident that with deep data such as this, any matchmaking service worth it’s weight in salt would be able to produce phenomenal connections that resonate with the attendees and exhibitors and increase the value and ROI of your meeting. I suppose the opposite of “garbage in, garbage out” is “treasure in, value out” and that’s exactly what we all want for our stakeholders.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.