Matchmaking has been an ‘on/off’ topic in events for at least 15 years. From the ages of manual matching in Excel to the era of artificial intelligence being the promise of effortless and real-time recommendations, things have evolved. But not so much. Most of us are still selling to exhibitors the right to annoy visitors.
So, as usual in that situation, I remove my “organiser” hat and look at it from my “frequent visitor” perspective.
Written by Stephan Forseilles, Head of Technology and Digital Transformation, Easyfairs.
I must make a confession: I rarely install matchmaking apps, especially when I attend a show related to event technology. Being CTO/CDO for a relatively large organiser, I know I’ll be bombarded with requests because the landscape is really, really teeming with new companies at the moment. I mostly prefer to be left alone (believe it or not, I’m an introvert), browsing the list of exhibitors and selecting myself who I want to meet. And let‘s be honest: I also want to keep some time for people I already know, who may or may not be my suppliers, are sometimes friends, colleagues or ex-colleagues, but with whom I always have a good time.
I strongly believe matchmaking should be visitor-led. It’s a matter of experience. I expect from a matchmaking system to make meaningful recommendations of exhibitors and products I should see. Relevance is the key. Netflix and Amazon have incredible algorithms to know what my interests are. Amazon is so good at it that they sometimes start shipping goods closer to your home BEFORE you order them! They have started working on that more, than four years ago. That’s what I’m expecting from a matchmaking system: booking time for me in an exhibitor’s agenda BEFORE I request a meeting.
Of course, the key to better relevance is data. The better the data, the better the recommendations of algorithm. So where to get that data?
Registration questionnaire, the first channel we think about, is probably not a good place. Pro tip about your registration questionnaire (yes, yours!): it is too long. Data from long registration questionnaires is notoriously bad quality. Most people just want to get through it as fast as possible and finding the shortest route to the badge, the checkbox that will not trigger an additional question and the “click-NEXT-click-NEXT” at the speed of light are a sports at which we, frequent visitors, often excel.
As organisers, we have to find new ways of collecting more meaningful data through other, less intrusive and annoying means. And we have to do it in a way that is totally transparent and open to the users. If they understand that what we are trying to achieve is optimising their experience and not harvesting data to re-sell to exhibitors and partners, they will more gladly help us.
That’s what good matchmaking must be to me, as organiser AND as visitor: more relevant, less annoying and more honest. Getting there will require a change of mindset and some amazing technology. And both are on their way!