The data game: Surfacing the dark leads
By Lawrence Coburn

Share this article:  

This is the third of a three-part series on tracking data at events. Here are the previous articles: Part 1 | Part 2

In the early days of search engines, there was much discussion of "The Dark Web," or the portions of the Web that were unreachable or uncrawlable. Examples of these kinds of pages included corporate intranets, PDF files, video and unlinked URLs. One 2001 study put the size of the Dark Web at 40-55 times the size of the indexed web.


What is the most effective method of reaching clients at events?
  • 1. Business card exchange
  • 2. Booth rental
  • 3. Digital event app

Since then, Google has made much progress in lighting up vast portions of the Dark Web, and not necessarily out of the goodness of its heart. The longer huge swaths of the Web remained uncrawled, the more vulnerable Google was to an upstart competitor.

If you look at the world of lead-capture in the live-event space, very little has changed since the 1990s. Leads are primarily captured through physical interaction between humans — typically either the exchange of paper business cards or the scanning of a badge by a hardware-based scanner.

Much like early search engines were able to easily crawl HTML pages that were well-linked by other sites, event exhibitors are doing a pretty good job of capturing the low-hanging fruit: data from people who physically walk up to their booths and request more information.

But what about the people that don't make it to the booth to get scanned? What about the interested buyers who never knew your booth existed? What about the dark leads?

Consider the wide-scale disruption that is happening in other industries. Shoppers no longer have to go to physical stores, students no longer have to go to physical schools and consumers of news no longer have to go out to find that news — the news is finding them.

In the live-event space, the conduit that will connect the vast numbers of dark leads with the appropriate exhibitor will be data.

The data signals are everywhere.

Existing data sources such as event registration, attendee schedules and public LinkedIn and Twitter profiles are now being complemented by a firehouse of event app data.

If I am an event attendee and I tap on an exhibitor profile in the event app to learn more about that company, that's a signal. If I bookmark that exhibitor, that's a stronger signal. And if I request more information in the event app, that's perhaps even a stronger signal than the person who strolls up to the booth looking for a free pen. Armed with this data, it should be a breeze for event organizers to match attendees to exhibitors.

Let's play this out even farther. If we are able to eliminate the constraints of time and space in matching attendees to exhibitors, we can start to imagine a live-event world that is part real life, part virtual. Exhibitors not able or willing to travel to a faraway land to set up a physical booth at the event could still have a virtual booth in the app. Attendees too busy to travel could browse hot new products and companies remotely.

While there is no indication the real-world event will ever be replaced by its virtual counterpart, there are all sorts of signs that the virtual can complement the real.

The topic of how to maximize ROI for event exhibitors is crucially important to the event ecosystem as a whole. Exhibitors fund much of our industry. If we can collectively leverage technology and data to remove the friction in the marketplace between event attendees and exhibitors, the pie will grow larger for all of us.

If we execute this properly, no longer will exhibitors leave a live event with that nagging feeling that they left leads on the table. That feeling that if only their booth had been in a better location, or if the buyers hadn't been so darned busy or if they could have had multiple scanners for their staff, they would have done better.

To borrow a sci-fi term, these are "meat world" problems straight out of the mid-1990s that have since been solved in other industries. There is no better located retailer in the world than Amazon, no better situated university than University of Phoenix, and no better newsstand than Google News. Live events borrow a cue from the virtual while preserving the human interaction that makes the event so effective.

So what percentage of the overall leads available to a given exhibitor are currently dark? It's tough to say for sure, and it likely varies quite a bit from event to event. But based on our initial data, it would seem that increasing the overall lead volume and quality three to four times by more intelligently matching attendees with exhibitors is not out of the realm of possibility.

The tools are now in place, and data is finally starting to escape from a live-event setting.

It's time to light up the dark leads.

Lawrence Coburn is the CEO and co-founder of DoubleDutch, a mobile conference application in the events industry designed to thrill event attendees, surface leads and unlock insight into your event.