Capturing ‘Lightning in a Bottle’ Event Data

When COVID-19 forced the American Pet Products Association (APPA) and Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) to make Global Pet Expo a digital experience in 2021, show management learned valuable lessons about data capture that it has put into practice at its in-person show.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Held in late February 2020 in Orlando and attracting 17,000 attendees, Global Pet Expo “snuck right in” before the pandemic shut everything down, said Christopher Bonifati, CEM, director of attendee services at the American Pet Products Association (APPA), which co-produces the event. At that point, he said, the coronavirus — which had just been named COVID-19 — was an “over-there” problem.

Christopher Bonifati

Christopher Bonifati

Over there meant COVID was having a major impact overseas, specifically in China and Italy. In an effort to shore up attendance and compensate for participants who wouldn’t be able to travel from those countries, Global Pet Expo turned to Bear Analytics for help. Working with the event data company, APPA focused its attendee-marketing campaigns on other geographies, including Canada and Mexico, which were not affected by COVID at the time, and where a significant number of attendees had previously come from. “We were able to look more at areas where there was greater potential and then drill down specifically into the types of activities and sessions these attendees participate in after they register,” Bonifati said.

That exercise “completely changed the way” Global Pet Expo “scored” its leads for its fully digital event in 2021, he said. “The leads became less about geographical analysis and more about looking for newer entrants into the industry as an untapped market. We also looked at people who were particularly interested in education in the past because we felt that translated well into a digital format” as the digital show included recorded learning experiences with a live chat and polling features during sessions.

Bear Analytics’ IQ platform made Global Pet Expo’s data “more granular and behavioral based,” enabling show management, Bonifati said, to tailor messaging specific to different registrant groups, or personas, for the online event, which was never meant to be a virtual replication of the physical event. “It was less about trying to imitate a trade show in a virtual space,” he said, “and more akin to an exclusive online shopping experience,” with a digital showroom where suppliers posted their company information and marketing collateral in addition to detailed product listings. To explain how to navigate the online event and what to expect, the trade-show team held Zoom webinars and, by using Bear Analytics’ IQ platform, was able to develop marketing messaging and webinar content specific to personas they had identified.

In-Person Application

Global Pet Expo’s approach to a digital version of the trade show was so well received that aspects of it were incorporated into a companion mobile app for on-site attendees at Global Pet Expo 2022, set for March 23-25 at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center. The mobile app has been designed to “enhance the experience on site,” Bonifati said, including a robust exhibitor search tool, show planner to schedule appointments, interactive floorplan, education and special events schedule, social media and networking, and more.

New this year, the in-person show also will be extended into a digital experience “with attendance open to all registered buyers,” Bonifati said, adding that details will be announced at a later date. The focus will be on growing engagement beyond — while not offering a viable alternative to — the live event, “which we don’t want to do,” he said. “We’re just trying to bridge the gap between the digital space and the live space.”

Global Pet Expo online product listings

Using data gained through Bear Analytics’ IQ platform, Global Pet Expo was able to create “an exclusive online shopping experience” for attendees of its online 2021 event by connecting buyers with the exhibitors most relevant to their business.

Data Insights

Global Pet Expo has sought to make data collection at its in-person event yield rich insights similar to those from the digital experience, but there are limitations. “One thing that’s unique to the digital space is engagement data,” Bonifati said. “With the digital event, we were able to pinpoint specific data like product link clicks. From there, we can define behavioral patterns to further develop attendee personas. Ideally, we want to capture that lightning in a bottle data at the in-person event. It’s a real gold mine of information, so our ultimate hope is to find ways to replicate some of that data at a live show,” he said, without scanning everybody’s badges or “setting up huge beacons on the show floor.”

Show management has started collecting demographic data up front during the registration process to support these efforts. “We’re capturing more demographic information and focusing on the most relevant questions to ask both exhibitors and buyers. For example, we added a section for buyers to indicate their products of interest by pet category.”

By collecting that information, Global Pet Expo ultimately hopes to use this product taxonomy to better connect buyers with the exhibitors most relevant to their business. “We can now look at a buyer who is, for example, interested in dog, cat, and bird products and generate exhibitor recommendations based on product offerings. This is also a huge value-add to our exhibitors looking for unique strategies to further their return on investment, especially new brands eager for exposure. Leveraging data and technology to get the right buyers in front of them will have a profound impact on their show experience.”

Bear Analytics Founder and CEO Joe Colangelo said Global Pet Expo’s success started with its team having “a well-defined series of goals for 2020. As a result, the team was driven to do more with the data they were already collecting,” he said. “We simply focused on a solution that drove more of the right audience so their exhibitors and sponsors achieved the right mix of buyers on the show floor.”

“Our ultimate goal is to be able to generate these exhibitor recommendations for our attendees,” Bonifati continued. “We feel as though that is a big step forward, and the insights we gained from producing a digital show have provided a new framework to build into the live show.”

Global Pet Expo is a good example “of progressive next-generation event marketers,” Colangelo said. They are using data “in conjunction with deep professional expertise, to shape the on-site and online experience.”

Data and DEI

Demographic data from Global Pet Expo’s registration process will help capture information to support future “diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the show and throughout our industry,” APPA’s Christopher Bonifati said. “As we look to expand these efforts, we can start to analyze if our industry is truly indicative of a diverse pet care community and where we need to grow. We also hope to leverage this data to put programs in place that better support the diverse needs of all show participants.”

For example, Bonifati said, a filter in the app could enable participants to find minority-owned suppliers, “and discover some of these incredible businesses that are part of our industry.”

To ensure their event is welcoming to all, Bonifati also suggested organizers ask participants to respond to the statement “I feel like I was treated fairly” in their feedback surveys. If you collect demographic information including race and ethnicity at registration, he said, you can filter responses to see if there are any significant differences in the responses between groups. “If you don’t collect that demographic information,” he said, “some of those minority voices might be drowned out. It’s difficult to even address a problem if you don’t truly understand your audience.

“It’s a journey of a thousand steps,” he continued. “Our first step is just to understand our community so we can work towards building a more diverse and inclusive industry.”

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

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