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Pandemic pivot: How an events producer turned digital matchmaker during Covid-19

A proprietary "matchmaking" system helped Hyve Group accelerate its digital transformation in response to the pandemic.

By Cristina Lago

Before the pandemic hit, business-to-business exhibition and conference producer Hyve Group was turning over millions of pounds from in-person events. This changed overnight when lockdowns were imposed and governments banned mass gatherings.

Covid-19 forced Hyve to rethink its business model and accelerated the digital transformation plans that it had initiated in 2019. Now, group managing director Elizabeth Deeming tells Tech Monitor, Hyve is in the process of becoming a digital business.

Hyve digital

Hyve has made structural changes to accelerate its digital transformation. (Photo by Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock).

Hyve Group’s digital transformation

Since its foundation in 1991, London-based Hyve Group, formerly known as the ITE Group, has organised physical events for a B2B audience. It produces 130 conferences and trade shows annually across five continents. Delegates attend these shows to network and close deals but even before Covid-19, there was an appetite for expanding these meeting opportunities beyond the events, says Deeming.

“The way we used to connect them was really one way, an analogue way, which was trade shows and conferences once a year, mass gatherings at a venue outside the city,” she explains. “And it worked fine but actually, even before the pandemic, we were getting a lot of customer requests saying ‘I need to meet up more than once a year and I need it not just to be a mass gathering. I love that but I also want to sometimes just see specific people’.”

Deeming says conference attendees typically have someone specific in mind they would like to meet – they might not know yet who that person is but they know their profile. Hyve has the data about the attendees, including who they are looking for, how big their budgets are, and what they aim to achieve by the end of the event. Deeming and her colleagues realised that the potential of this data could be of great benefit for Hyve’s customers. “We had a lot of that info already because we’re deep in these industries,” Deeming says.

In 2019, Hyve had acquired a proprietary ‘matchmaking’ system, as part of a larger acquisition by the group. The system matches vendors and buyers registered for an event. Its main advantage is that it saves everyone’s time, says Deeming, by matching contacts will compatible interests and budgets.

The software was used for the first time at the 2019 edition of Groceryshop, one of Hyve’s flagship events for the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. Over three afternoons, 1,300 participants at Groceryshop had a total of 8,884 minutes of pre-qualified meetings that had been arranged through the matchmaking software.

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“For 1,300 people, it takes them a couple of hours to populate their information into the proprietary platform that we own and then our algorithms do the work,” says Deeming, who claims that those three afternoons are the equivalent of three months worth of meetings. “In the weeks leading up to the meet-up, it matches them or moves them out of the match. We have saved loads of time for these customers.”

This system proved invaluable during lockdown, Deeming says, as it provided Hyve’s virtual events with a unique selling point.

Hyve becoming a digital business

Despite the acceleration of digitisation during Covid-19, Deeming admits that the company is “an incumbent player in an analogue world”. But the company is making radical changes to become a digital business, which include hiring new SVPs for technology and SVP product, as well as a new head of data, and recruiting more digital talent. The company has also built a corporate innovation centre from scratch, Deeming says, “to get this out to as many customers as we possibly can.” Hyve is now working on improving its matchmaking system using customer feedback to refine predictions.

The shift to virtual events and digital features such as matchmaking does not spell the end for in-person conferences, Deeming says. “What’s been so interesting and continues to be interesting to me is in no way is it going to replace the shows,” she says. “What they’re saying is we want both and you’ve finally given us a choice, and I love that.”

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