Insights: Any work undertaken specifically to understand your customers in order to make a business decision. From traditional market research to monitoring of data. 
Insights are a vital asset for any events business. Not only do they help you to develop closer relationships with your customers – whether delegates or sponsors – but they can also unlock value for your business. However, media and events businesses are often not great at generating or, crucially, acting on customer or audience insights: data can often be siloed with key information not being shared with stakeholders across the business. And for events businesses in particular, research gathered as part of the event production cycle is often not enough to truly understand market dynamics and customer needs.
While events witnessed ‘revenge attendance’ across 2023, with many businesses performing above expectation – and, indeed, largely ahead of 2019 numbers – there are still challenges for events entrepreneurs, not least concerning inflationary pressures. Customers and audiences want to attend face-to-face events after the restrictions of the COVID years, and they’re willing to invest, but generating ROI for that investment has perhaps never been so important given the increasing squeeze on budgets.
The flight to quality in B2B events is here, with fewer, scaled and more defensible events being the key to unlocking the top position in your market. So how can customer insights help to get you there?

“Customers can no longer attend a mix of events, or even the second-best event; only the event.”

Making insights work
In Collingwood’s 2023 Media Snapshot, 40% of independent media and events companies surveyed said they were looking to invest more resources into customer insights as a priority in the year ahead. Collingwood recently convened a roundtable comprising B2B event entrepreneurs to discuss how customer insights can unlock value and what this looks like in reality for independent events businesses.
“The benefits of regularly bringing customer insights into your business can be huge, but we know it can feel like hard work so, upfront, we like to answer the question, ‘why bother?’,” said Lauren Pulling, Collingwood’s Head of Insights.
“Get good at insights (not just collecting them, but acting on them), and you stand out as a business that knows its customers’ needs inside out, which gets you a lot closer to becoming a must-attend event.”
  • The benefits of customer insights are manifold for events entrepreneurs:
  • They make decision-making and prioritisation quicker and easier
  • They make success more likely because you’ve failed earlier
  • They give you a process by which to deeply understand your customers and what they need now (not 12 months ago when the market looked different)
  • It’s the easiest way to come up with ideas
  • The act of seeking out customer insights shows your customers you care.
Not only this, but insights are essential for those planning to exit or seeking investment. Buyers and investors will need to carry out commercial due diligence, including market and customer research. Telling a buyer that you have a great proposition is no longer sufficient, this needs to be backed up with data and insights across your market and customers. Buyers and investors will have to do the research, with or without you.
Leveraging what you already have
Insights is essentially any work undertaken to understand customers to make a business decision and can range from market research to the monitoring of data. It shouldn’t be an exceptional activity, but a year-round approach and, to truly add value, must be gathered, shared among stakeholders and acted on.
Fortunately, events businesses already have a wealth of data that can add value even before you start thinking about a new, more formal programme of surveys, depth interviews or focus groups. A good starting place is an amnesty of the data you’ve already got in the business. These might include:
  • Analysis of footfall, engagement or lead gen data gathered from events
  • Primary research developed as part of programme creation
  • Audience and customer personas
  • Post-event feedback
  • Insights from conversations your sales teams have had with sponsors (whether current, lapsed or prospect)
  • Engagement data from email or content campaigns.
Building on what you already have
Businesses should build insights into the existing touchpoints already in place, but it’s essential to ask the right questions. From there, you can begin to formalise more regular insights gathering to build the focus of the customer (whether delegates or sponsors) into your event.
For example, Collingwood’s roundtable attendees discussed the development of customer panels that run every quarter to generate up-to-date industry intelligence and data – as well as helping to steer conference programmes and product development. The panels could even be split into ‘working groups’ to ensure relevant coverage across product sets, themes or sub-industry.
“When bringing insights into a business, there are some simple – but effective – first steps you can take,” said Pulling.
“If you already run a post-event survey, make sure you include some questions about your customer and their needs – and not just questions about your event. What are their biggest challenges right now? What are their goals for the next 12 months? Net Promoter Score [NPS] is also a simple but effective measure that we see correlating with customer retention time and time again. Gather NPS rankings from your customers, but crucially, ask them why they feel this way – and pay close attention to what they say.”
Getting started
For larger organisations it can make perfect sense to create an insights function to formalise the process of insight gathering, democratising and project managing the resulting actions. For smaller organisations, however, that’s not always practical and it can usually make sense for different teams to gather and own different pieces; for example, production carry out interviews, and marketing could own a customer survey.
What’s key is bringing it all together and condensing it to a smaller number of core strategic activities to drive your business forward across the next 12 months – keep it focussed and actionable.
Steve Smith, Events Practice Lead at Collingwood, points out that in smaller companies, gathering insights starts at the top: “Entrepreneurs will often have an existing base of knowledge and contacts in their industry, so when they launch an event they know their market and have ‘permission’ to engage the industry. The founder’s role in the insights process is critical.
“As the face of the brand, a founder should always be out in the market, having conversations about changing trends and shifting priorities. Customers value being able to speak directly to a business owner, so founders are uniquely placed to get access to – and direct, honest feedback from – a range of customers. This first-hand feedback adds depth and richness to the insights mix, particularly when complementing quant-led surveys.”
But insights work needs an owner; whether that person carries out all insights work themselves or ensures that all relevant teams hold up their end of the bargain. This should primarily be a project management-focused role that owns the insights work, keeps it moving among teams, and ensures it’s pulled out and acted on.
“An insights function can be complex, multi-faceted and resource-intensive – but it doesn’t have to be. Particularly for events companies, who have regular touchpoints with their customers already, starting to formalise an effective insights programme can be pretty straightforward,” said Pulling.
Indeed, there are a few simple steps to start your journey:
  • Centralise all the data and insights gathered already
  • Ensure any content production calls, post-event surveys or other existing insights channels consistently include customer-centric questions (e.g. about their jobs, pains and gains)
  • Introduce ‘starter for 10’ customer interviews.
“Crucially, ensure that the insights gathering, democratisation and resultant action is coordinated by one person so your insights are allowed to make a difference to your business. Get good at this, and build from there.”
Want to know more about generating great insights for your B2B events business? Book a coffee with one of our team.