Hitting the Sweet Spot With Data

The National Confectioners Association boosted attendance at its annual show by nearly 10 percent in one year by paying attention to what its own registration data revealed.

The National Confectioners Association (NCA) faced an enviable problem as it planned its 2016 Sweets & Snacks Expo: an exhibitor wait list with more than 200 names on it.

NCA’s marketing campaign produced sweet results.
NCA’s marketing campaign produced sweet

When NCA’s Expo Committee decided the time was right to grow the exhibition — held annually in Chicago since it launched in 1997 — it meant expanding into a second hall at McCormick Place. That would bring in more exhibitors — 22 percent more — and raise revenue, both pluses, but there was a potential downside, said Jenn Ellek, NCA’s senior director of trade marketing and communications. Exhibitors liked the crowded feel of the show floor at the Expo, Ellek said, so NCA also would need to grow attendance.

It was a big challenge. Over the previous five years, attendee registration had increased only about 1 percent each year. To keep traffic density high, Ellek and her team estimated that they would need to raise that number into the double digits. And although she had access to several years of event-registration data, her small team had little time for deep-data analysis, Ellek said. It was “healthy paranoia,” she said, that drove her to partner with Bear Analytics, a firm based in the Washington, D.C., area that specializes in data analytics for events and associations.

Each year about 40 percent of attendees are new to NCA’s show, Ellek said. “We needed to move the needle” on those attendees who had previously attended or who had registered and not shown up, she said. After doing some data cleanup, Bear performed a behavioral analysis of those attendees, looking at loyalty, retention, registration timing, geography, and conversion rates. Bear’s analysis identified which registrants were most likely to convert to attendees, and highlighted opportunities to re-engage those who had come to the Expo before but not returned.

The project culminated in a set of “smart” lists identifying the Expo’s most loyal attendees, a list of “no-show” registrants who routinely registered but failed to attend the event, along with attendees who had come to the Expo for the first time in 2015.

NCA used the lists to reach out to prospective attendees with personalized email messages, which resulted in higher open and click-through rates. “I call it ‘show them you know them’ marketing,” Ellek said. “If you are sending the same exact email to all of your prospects, you should stop.” And instead of sending messages to all prospective buyers at the same time, NCA identified at what point in the cycle  buyers previously had registered, and contacted them then. 

NCA’s data-driven marketing campaign grew both buyer registration and attendance by nearly 10 percent from 2015 to 2016, yielding more than 17,000 industry buyers from 90 countries, and four acres of candy and snack products — a record. Next? Analyzing registration data to chart where future growth is most likely to occur. “We’re going to continue to get more sophisticated,” Ellek said. “We are building the plane as we are flying it.”

A Long Courtship

The decision to hire an analytics firm to create a data strategy for the National Confectioners Association was no snap decision, according to NCA’s Jenn Ellek. In fact, it took about a year of conversations with Bear Analytics before NCA took the plunge. But that period of time gave both sides — Ellek referred to it as “dating”— the opportunity to understand exactly what each other’s goals and abilities were. “Up until three years ago, we were working from multiple spreadsheets,” Ellek said. Bear Analytics “understood exactly where we were coming from. And it turned out that their core competencies matched up perfectly with our core weaknesses.”

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor of Convene.