The signs are everywhere that associations and corporations are relying more heavily on ever-larger volumes of data to guide their decisions. If our meetings fall behind in the race to take better advantage of data-driven strategies, the rapid loss of focus and relevance will crush us.

There’s nothing new in the need to base our meeting strategies, programs, and marketing collateral on sound research, rather than educated guesses or wild hunches. (It’s been six years since an ASAE study identified data-driven strategies as one of seven measures of success that define outstanding associations.) However, the evolution is in the sheer volume of data, the rise of new technology tools to manipulate it, and organizations’ growing interest in data as a competitive advantage.

“So rapid is the growth in the global stock of digital data that the very vocabulary used to indicate quantities has had to expand to keep pace,” noted a July 2006 white paper by IBM Global Technical Services. “A decade or two ago, professional computer users and managers worked in kilobytes and megabytes. Now, schoolchildren have access to laptops with tens of gigabytes of storage, and network managers have to think in terms of the terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) and the petabyte (1,000 terabytes). Beyond those lie the exabyte, zettabyte, and yottabyte, each a thousand times bigger than the last.”

A recent article on the MarketingProfs site sees the dawn of the yottabyte coming soon to an organization near you. “Advanced analytics—the science of extracting meaning from vast quantities of data—enables more sophisticated forms of segmentation and real-time decision-making that create new opportunities for merchants to know and serve their customers better,” wrote Jill Puleri, vice president and global retail industry leader at IBM Global Business Services.

Puleri identified retail as a sector where competition will drive the adoption of advanced analytics. But her recommendations to chief marketing officers should ring true to anyone whose meetings program has ever sought a more central role in the life of the organization. She advises CMOs to:

  • Build a closer relationship with the chief information officer and make sure the IT team understands their objectives.
  • Treat key data as a vital corporate asset, not a byproduct of business operations.
  • Ask smart questions about how the organization uses its data.
  • Invest in better data.
  • Change the business processes and cultures that can impede data-driven strategies.
  • Hold everyone accountable for delivering results.

You probably won’t be able to draw on zettabytes or yottabytes of information to produce your next meeting. You probably won’t need to. But you’ll still need to know how to take what you can from the dawn of big data. What do you already know about your audience? Of all the data you’re missing, which is the most important to collect? How can you gather the information you need to wring better results out of your meeting, without being buried in statistics? For many organizations, this is an opportunity waiting to happen. The crunch will come if your competitors make it a priority before you do.

Have you registered yet? GMIC’s 2012 Sustainable Meetings Conference is less than a month away in my very own hometown of Montreal. Sign up now for three intensive days of sustainable meetings education and networking, just in time for the introduction of the new APEX/ASTM Sustainable Event Standards.

Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content, and founding chair of the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Foundation. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.