Eran Ben-Shushan and Alon Alroy, two of the three co-founders of Bizzabo, talk about their new book Event Success: Maximizing the Business Impact of In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Experiences.
In this episode, we talk with two of the three authors of the new book, Event Success: Maximizing the Business Impact of In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Experiences. They also happen to be two of the three founders of Bizzabo, Eran Ben-Shushan and Alon Alroy!
Eran Ben-Shushan is Bizzabo’s Co-Founder and CEO. For three consecutive years, Eran has been recognized as The Software Report’s Top 50 SaaS CEOs. In 2021, he was named to Goldman Sachs’s “100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs,” Business Travel News’s “25 Most Influential” executives, and BizBash’s “Most Influential Event Professionals.”
Alon Alroy is Bizzabo’s Co-Founder and CMO. He works closely with thousands of event executives and CMOs to deliver world-class event programs. Alon was just named to Connect and BizBash’s “40 Under 40 List.” He’s also been recognized as one of Business Insider’s “Most Important Marketing Tech Executives” and Eventex’s “100 Most Influential People in The Event Industry.”
Here’s what you’ll hear about in this conversation:
[00:00:00] Erik Fisher: Welcome to Event Experience by Bizzabo. I am your host, Erik Fisher, and this is the podcast where we bring the best and brightest event experienced leaders together to share stories, tips, and lessons learned from creating some of the world’s biggest events. In this episode, we’re talking with two of the three authors of the new book, Event Success. Maximizing the business impact of in-person, virtual, and hybrid experiences. They also happen to be two of the three founders of Bizzabo Eran Ben-Shushan and Alon Alroy. Eran is the co-founder and CEO of Bizzabo. Eran has been recognized as the software reports, top 50 SAS CEOs for three consecutive years.
[00:00:49] In 2021, he was named one of Goldman Sachs, 100 most intriguing entrepreneurs, one of business travel news, 25 most influential executives. And one of BizBash is most influential event professional. Alon is the co-founder and CMO of Bizzabo. He works closely with thousands of event executives and CMOs to deliver world-class event programs. Alon was just named to connect and BizBashes 40 under 40 list.
[00:01:17] He’s also been recognized as one of business insider’s most important marketing tech executives, as well as event techs, 100 most influential people in the event industry. In this conversation, we talk about the event successful. The three components that must be addressed to make future events, a success identifying and overcoming the event, impact gap R O E, or return on events and the four major areas that make up data maturity and how they factor into event disruption.
[00:01:50] All right, let’s get into it.
[00:02:00] Well, I’m excited today to bring you a conversation that I am going to have with Alon Alroy and Eran Ben-Shushan about the book Event, Success, maximizing the business impact of in-person virtual and hybrid experiences. The brand new. Guys, I’m super excited about this book. And I want to start out the gate by saying there’s not another book like this out there in the industry.
[00:02:27] So that just naturally brings to mind. Where did the idea for this book come from? Was it a direct result of the pandemic or is that just one factor? In other words, like what needs did you see in the event industry that led you to know this book needed to be created and fill those needs?
[00:02:48] Alon Alroy: Erik, first of all, that’s a great question.
[00:02:50] And it’s so fun to chat with you about the book. It has been a big project and a big passion to write that book over the past year in a way event. Success has always been the passion of Eran, Boaz and myself, and has been the mission of Bizzabo for the past 10 years. Definitely over the past two years of the pandemic, we saw that there is such a big opportunity to educate and help and support the community of event professionals and marketers to prepare for a new normal, for a new hybrid world.
[00:03:31] We saw that so many things have changed. New engagement models, new event formats. New professions, in a way that we’re created in this new hybrid world. And we saw that in order to be successful, we need to put something other, and we just had the luxury of working with some of the world’s best event professionals.
[00:03:54] Some of the most amazing brands out there who are able to strive and really disrupt the way of thinking over the past two years and create some amazing experiences. And we’ve found that, based on everything that we’ve learned, powering thousands and thousands of events throughout the past 10 years, of all different shapes and forms that just something we can do for the community to put it out there to leverage the access we have to our amazing customers, in a way as we saw that as a gift to the community. So that was the idea behind the book. And I’m very, very excited to to hear what people think about
[00:04:31] Erik Fisher: So it seems to me that, like usual, you had a pulse on the industry and just knew the moment we were in required a bold move of stepping up and creating.
[00:04:40] And obviously the book, the book is called event success. I mean, that is the goal of the book as well. Anybody who reads this book is going to have better insight and actions to take to not only improve their events, but also,as I like to think about it, moving into this new model of thriving event success.
[00:05:05] So to that end, I’d love to jump in and talk about the initial three components in the book that, that you say must be addressed to make future events a success. And those are management engagement and growth. So Eran maybe if you wouldn’t mind, let’s break down those three components.
[00:05:25] Eran Ben Shushan: Yeah. First event, success is something that goes for many years with us at Bizzabo. Around six years ago, we realized that, while the industry is thinking in terms of EMS event management software to drive events, success really has multiple pillars.
[00:05:42] And as you said, management, engagement and growth. This is how we think about it. And making events more automated, more personalized and more measured. Measurable is something that we’ve been focused on for many, many years recently. And especially throughout the pandemic. And thinking about the future of events with virtual and hybrid events, basically being redefined.
[00:06:06] We also put a lot of emphasis on event experience coming in, making it clear that we are building the event experience operating system, but to hone in on events success for a moment. So event’s success. As I said, it’s not all about management. It’s not just the functionality and orchestration. And actually, I don’t know if you know that Erik, but I, in my previous life used to be an event planner.
[00:06:32] So I have a lot of respect and in fact, admiration to everything that is that it entails to be an event organizer, the complexity of the orchestration, the stress level, the anxiety, everything, that comes into play when organizing events. And when we think about management really as part of the book and as part of event success, we realize that the way we think about management, goes through an incredible transformation as a result of COVID and events being redefined.
[00:07:04] And we realized that event professional need to really demonstrate a variety of new skills that needs to be more technical and some of them more on the soft side of creativity. For example, empathy, collaboration. And really working in multidisciplinary teams and cross-functionally within their organizations as events become more of a sophisticated means to drive business and to drive business outcomes. And to the extent that sometimes we realize, and we see that as a trend in the industry and our customers thinking about that, that they need to change the composition of the teams that they have. The makeup of the teams and some of the roles that they need, some of them have become obsolete.
[00:07:51] Some of them are completely new and need to be part of a marketing team, part of an event team. And that was not necessarily how we used to be in the past. So the book speaks about that angle of management for future success of events and how we think about that. And we think it’s going through a major transformation.
[00:08:12] The second piece that is crucial to drive success. And is also going through massive transformation is engagement. And the piece about engagement is that events have changed so dramatically with virtual coming into play and hybrid in the future. And in general, just even before COVID people were always looking for more efficiency and to make sure that the outcomes that they’re able to drive from those events makes sense compared to how much they invest into those events. So basically people want to invest less and get more. And in order to be able to do that we realized that organizers and event planners need to level up the way that they are able to drive engagement in those events. And here, again, some of it is going to be completely new because we’re talking about new mediums and realms of interacting.
[00:09:07] And in order to achieve that level of return on event, the ROE that they’re looking for and the level of efficiency and level of experience that they’re expecting, because people are going to want to travel less and participate more. And they would like to really get a lot of value in those moments that they’re in interacting with the events.
[00:09:30] And if they’re not getting it, they’re going to probably drop off. If they’re online, they’re just going to hit the exit button. If they’re at the event itself, they’re going to get disengaged and they’re going to go and do other things. Taking engagement to the next level is something that we think is going to be inevitable in order to drive event success.
[00:09:50] And then the last piece, which is growth. Really, what we understand is that data is becoming the name of the game. So if you’re not using the right tool, if you’re not using the right stack, it’s no longer just a single tool. You really need to think about it as the hub or the system of record that you’re using to run all of your events or most of your events in an organization.
[00:10:16] That’s what the CMOs, the marketers that we’re engaging with, in most cases, are interested in those consolidated platforms in the ability to understand data, to analyze it, to measure it and to make decisions and to drive action that will leave into business outcomes. And the ability to correlate between those is becoming imperative in today’s world because everything else is measured and historically events have been kind of a black box.
[00:10:48] That can no longer be the reality. Nobody’s willing to live in peace with that. And that’s a big part of Event Success and the future of driving success in, in the new era with events.
[00:10:59] Erik Fisher: It’s exciting times. It’s, it’s a formative moment in terms of disruption. That again, we, as Bizzabo are leaning into and I’m excited to be a part of that.
[00:11:09] Obviously when we’re thinking and talking and wanting to guide our customers, as well as the industry into this transformation of events and, and especially addressing those three components Bizzabo ended up coining a new term event impact gap. I’d love to break down what that means, because I think a lot of people have never heard of this before
[00:11:30] Alon Alroy: When we try to really listen and observe everything has gone down around us, we truly understood that there is a big gap and we try to understand, how do we actually crystallize what does that mean? And we got to a lot of interesting conclusions. The first one is that we now live in a hybrid world.
[00:11:51] When you think about it, we ordered dinner in an app, which is a digital experience. And we have it delivered to our door, which is a very physical experience. We go to the bike. That is a physical experience. And we get encouragement from a trainer online that is digital. Talking about Peloton. For example, we use our phone to call a ride, digital and and a driver comes to our doorstep after two minutes, which is physical.
[00:12:19] We live in this harmonious blend of physical and digital experiences that really improve our everyday life. And as consumers we’re really used to that, honestly, pretty magnificent experience that is making our lives much easier and better. But events have really struggled to meet this reality. And in large, because of event management software which is how we described the whole category of events after it to date, really treated all of the digital component as a bolt on. All of them have purpose built solutions.
[00:12:56] The result is the event impact gap, which is the enormous chasm between the aspiration that the event organizers have to create immersive, connected and personalized human experiences. Is there ability to do so with the current technology and the resources, and we’ve outlined in the book, four big problems that have caused the event impact gap. The first one is around data. Customer and event data is either missing or captured in isolation. So it’s really hard to see and measure progress towards real business outcomes. The second one is that events software companies don’t empower event leaders to truly connect with the audiences.
[00:13:40] This is where you talk about, you know, the, the big black box. Speakers talking into an unknown world, and it’s super challenging to create meaningful connections. Third is that the available tools are neither intuitive or truly flexible preventing event leaders from being able to really design unique experiences.
[00:14:01] And when we think about event organization, ’cause all about that. It’s all about creating personalized and unique experiences that speak to their audiences and forth in a new hybrid world. It was just very challenging for event professionals to stay up to date with the operating know-how, with all of the new domains and technology to really strive in a new hybrid world.
[00:14:25] All of that made us coin a new term, the event impact gap, just to illustrate the big problems that we need to solve as a community. And that we are trying to solve as Bizzabo with the events experience, upward think system, and kind of pushing and your community in a new category of event experience.
[00:14:45] Erik Fisher: It feels like we’ve been living in a world where we’ve been living, according to that term, boiling the frog where the frog doesn’t know it’s being cooked, but it slowly but surely gets there. And I think that’s where we’ve been, as certain as in terms of the event industry, we’ve been living in a hybrid world for so long, but we didn’t realize we’ve been living in it.
[00:15:05] And it’s like a wake-up call to wait a second. You’re missing success in your events because you’re not addressing the issue of this.
[00:15:15] Eran Ben Shushan: The pandemic in a way, created a lot of disruption, but oftentimes disruption creates opportunity. And I think as an industry, while many people have suffered over the past two years and it was definitely, we went through a lot of difficult times together.
[00:15:32] A big opportunity is ahead of us to do things differently and to get out of it, way, way stronger if we play our cards right. And the book is supposed to help people do exactly that.
[00:15:45] Erik Fisher: Eron, I heard you use a term earlier that it was also coined in this book called return on events or R O E. I’d love for you to break down. What does that mean in terms of return on events? What should event professionals be looking at in terms of using it?
[00:16:01] Eran Ben Shushan: Yeah. So absolutely ROE is a big part of the genesis of what we have been doing as entrepreneurs for many years in the industry and probably the holy grail of what people who are running events are trying to achieve, which is essentially to understand if you invest something into your events, whether on the organizing side or the other persona is involved in events.
[00:16:25] Whether it’s the participants and these exhibitors, speakers, companies, the entire ecosystem of events is, you know, pretty heavily investing into those events, millions of dollars, billions of dollars. And to measure that there’s always been this kind of a tough science, I would say for event organizers, where they’re not really able to quantify.
[00:16:54] And making decisions based on data with regards to the return of their events and the business outcomes that they’re able to achieve as a result of those events. Now, as I alluded to earlier, the world has changed dramatically as Alon mentioned, it’s changing the hybrid sense of how we interact between physical and digital.
[00:17:13] It also have completely changed in what are the expectations to be able to make decisions. Based on data and to invest capital based on data and not only capital but also your time. So deciding whether it’s going to be a worthwhile event to participate in. Or deciding how much to invest in one event as a corporation, in being able to measure and translate, how is that going to be reflected in new pipeline or retention of existing customers or the engagement or brand awareness and other metrics that today the world is expecting and used to measure through other tools that they have.
[00:17:51] The way that we have built our technology and also a lot of what we talk about in the book is really helping those people who are planning the events to understand what do they need to do in order to quantify the impact of their events. And part of it is going to be the tools that you use as I mentioned, review, or the integrations that you put into place.
[00:18:15] And the way that you operate your team in order to actually understand that ROE factor or the return on event. So, you know, many times we, bring some metrics based on studies. There are many studies that speak about how many people think that events are effective. It’s usually around a 90% of based on most research.
[00:18:38] When you asked the following question, how many of those that know or think that their events are effective can actually measure or accurately assess the return on their, on their investment? Usually that drops into around 20%, 20 to 25%. We also know, for example, that CMO budgets, pre COVID for events are around 24%.
[00:19:03] And we tend to believe that by making events more measurable. And being able to quantify that ROE factor, it will actually help those organizations and CMOs lean towards increasing their budgets, because they’re going to see how effective the tool that is called event or the medium that is it. You know, events is actually helping them in drive the business outcomes that they’re looking for.
[00:19:31] So ROE is a big topic. It’s a big part of our passion because we do believe that when people are putting so much money and so much energy and passion needs to events. The bare minimum that you can expect or should expect is to be able to quantify that and constantly optimize and improve the outcome that you were getting from those events.
[00:19:52] Erik Fisher: Well, in speaking of measurement, another big piece of the book is dedicated to. Addressing the role that data plays in disruption and, and the moving forward of the industry. I’d love for us to break down what the four major areas are that make up, what you call data maturity.
[00:20:11] Alon Alroy: I will say that we are privileged to have a co-founder Boaz, who is our chief data officer as well, and is constantly adding enormous amounts of value to that data discussion in the industry. We all talk about data and how to be more data driven. We also identify that it’s not that easy. And in the book, we’re really trying to educate and to share a bit more about our data silos in a way. And again, empowering event leaders to understand data and then to deliver data, et cetera. When we talk about the data maturity model, we talk about four main components, data capture, data integration, data utilization, then data translation, data capture means in a way to improve our ability to gather data holistically. Just make sure that we even have the data available and data can be demographics. It can be the fact that you attended a session, the fact that you participated in a Q and A of sorts, whether it is in-person or virtual in-person. We do that with smart wearables and virtually we’ll do that with digital signals that are throughout the different engagement cycle.
[00:21:31] And an example for that would be to let’s say, compare session attendance with cross-reference that with demographics so that, you know what type of people are attending, what type of sessions. It allows you to just capture to have the data available. Then integration is about connecting the captured data to your business systems so that you can take action in the future to enrich the data you already have. We all run businesses, whether you’re a nonprofit or corporate or an agency and so on. And for sure you operate your business based on data. Events as this amazing medium that helps activate communities or accelerate pipeline and so on can enrich the data you already have in order to drive business outcomes. So their integration is about taking the capture data and integrating that into your systems. The fourth component is data utilization, meaning using the data you integrated to offer better and more valuable attendee experiences.
[00:22:42] This step is really about the ability to identify and curated the precise data points. It can help achieve curated personalized experience goals. Examples can be to personalize your communication. Again, you integrated a lot of captured data to your marketing automation system, and now it allows you to personalize the communication to increase conversion rates and increase attendance rates and so on.
[00:23:11] So they’re not communicating the same thing to everyone who just told you. I’m from Japan versus I’m from Germany and my interests are X and your interests are Y. They give us all of that data because they trust it to do something with it. The last component in the data maturity model is data translation.
[00:23:29] This is where we’re starting to talk about insights. They think what we’ve learned and actually taking action on it. For example, if we see that the most engaged attendees. are engaging only in the first 20 minutes of a session or that people with a specific title are more likely to connect with people with similar title.
[00:23:53] These are all data insights that can really drive us to take action, but it’s not possible to get to insights unless you have captured data. You integrate that with your system, you enrich the data you already have. You’re thinking about ways to utilize it. And then you can get to the holy grail of the data maturity model, which is insights that lead to action.
[00:24:15] That was a short introduction. There is a way more about it in the book itself.
[00:24:20] Erik Fisher: Yes, that is, that is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to data inside of the book I think one of the other things is not just about the books, not just about data. The book has real event professionals and their stories and their perspectives woven throughout it.
[00:24:36] In fact, in one of the stories you spoke with Nicola Kastner about the flagship event she ran for SAP. I’d love for you to tell us about that event and how Nicola used the data to drive forward her strategy.
[00:24:51] Eran Ben Shushan: You know, Erik, that’s actually a fantastic story that I’m so excited to speak about when Nicola and her team at SAP came to realizing that they need to take a data driven approach to their event, and we’re talking about big scale event. Flagship event, they run a lot of events, but their flagship event is called Saphire Now it’s an event of 24,000 participants. In person. And what they realized is that they need to start by asking themselves some really important questions in order to drive the right experience and then outcomes. There business outcomes for SAP out of that mega event that they’re running. And they realized that with,all of their customer base and everybody using SAP’s products, they need to bucket people by topics of interest and based on data that they were able to collect from registration, website visits, content interactions, they eventually landed on five key themes.
[00:25:55] And those key themes were relevant for their business. Things such as business model disruption, empowered customers, diverse workforce, and so forth. And what they did, is that they were able to very creatively blend between a data driven, scientific approach and experiential at events.
[00:26:19] And what was cool that they did is that they named those five themes as neighborhoods. And they literally took those five neighborhoods all the way to defining different territories or sub venues in the venue that they had in their case, if I remember correctly, I think it was around a million square feet of real estate where the event took place, you can imagine.
[00:26:48] And they really, literally made those five sub venues with different atmosphere and different backgrounds and different food events. So it was not only based on different themes that were more personalized, that created better outcomes. It also created a certain experience that created relationships and bonds between the people that were part of those cohorts and what they were able to do in addition to kind of architecting and designing that event to fit to those personalized experiences that they were building. There were also applying another cool thing that is pretty advanced, but definitely I would expect to see more and more event planners doing that. Taking a very advanced ABM approach. Account-based marketing approach into their events in applying a marketing methodology that is very well known from other platforms and other initiatives, marketing initiatives that are very prominent in today’s world, but in events, they are kind of lagging.
[00:27:56] And what they did is they applied the same account-based marketing concepts on those cohorts of people at events, and they were able to repurpose some of the content pieces and some of the interactions and point of interests that came up or surface as part of the event and repurpose those assets to create also a more engaging and personalized experience also after the event. So really what they did around that event is they took a data-driven approach. They made it experiential. They rallied everybody in the organization, their marketing teams, their sales teams, they brought them together and they drove a lot of outcome for SAP as a result of that. So really a exciting use case in my view and a great example, alongside with some other examples that we have there.
[00:28:53] Erik Fisher: It’s a great story. And you can find that in the book. It’s also something that if you click through the links in our show notes for this episode, we’ve got a blog post that is an excerpt from the book, where you can dive in if you don’t have the book yet, or can’t get it yet, you can dive in and really learn more about that story and this true return on event by bridging the event experience gap.
[00:29:18] Eran Ben Shushan: There you go. Exactly.
[00:29:20] Erik Fisher: So we’re more than two years now into living with COVID-19 and all the disruptions that it’s caused. And I’m curious as you look ahead, what things do you see on the horizon for the events industry and what can savvy event professionals do to stay ahead?
[00:29:39] Alon Alroy: First I’ll assure that these are exciting, I may even say optimistic times, we are doing this interview in March, 2022. When we look at our data, we see that in-person events are on the rise. The community, the industry is starting to go back to in-person events, but you know, the term maybe go back or back to normal is actually another right one.
[00:30:08] Event experience leaders are now redefining what events are in every format. As they set out to create experiences that foster meaningful connections. We’re not going back to the pre pandemic days we’re reinventing the future, and this is why the time is very special. It’s very unique. And there is a very big opportunity ahead of us.
[00:30:30] The opportunity also creates new requirements in order to be successful. The key things that you had to have as an event organizers are not the same requirements that you need to have in order to be successful in the new hybrid world. We’re moving. We see a big shift from an event manager that dealt with logistics and the venue, event planning and so on. To an event experience manager who needs to be digital savvy, needs to understand systems, and video, and formats, and marketing.
[00:31:07] We see that the people who will be successful in a new hybrid world are those who will be able to embrace new technology, will be digital savvy, who will understand that the old profession. Often event organizer who mainly dealt with logistics, venue planning, budgeting, this is not enough to be successful in a new hybrid world.
[00:31:31] The rise of the event experience leader that is shaping up the future, and those who want to thrive in the new world, wanting to embrace those new skills and to get curious, and to disrupt themselves. In order to leverage that big opportunity. Events are becoming without a doubt, the most important marketing channel and the most impactful channel to drive business impact.
[00:32:01] I’m very excited to share that journey with the Boaz and Eron and with the community. And I really hope that the book will be able to take us forward to an amazing place in which we’re leverage technology to bring people together. Erik, thank you very much.
[00:32:20] Erik Fisher: Thank you. Yeah, this has been great. And I look forward to continuing that dialogue that the book starts and continues and taking it to a new level with future episodes of this podcast.
[00:32:32] And I hope that you will return and join me on some of those episodes in the future. So Alon, Eran, thank you so much for being here. Everything we talked about will be linked up in the show notes. Thank you.
[00:32:45] Alon Alroy: Thank You.
[00:32:46] If you’re not subscribed already do so. Wherever you are listening to this. Thanks again for listening to event experience, we’ve got lots of great episodes coming up and planned out for you. Thank you again to Alon and Eran for sharing their perspective and experience on event experience and make sure to check out the show notes where you’ll find the link to find out more about Bizzabo, but also, and especially the brand new book Event Success. Maximizing the business impact of in person, virtual, and hybrid experiences. I know you’re going to love it. I’ve gone through it myself. I love it. Thank you so much for listening. Make sure to subscribe and we will see you next episode.