Is Facial Analysis The Next Phase Of Event Data?

The recent rise of virtual events has emphasized the need for and value of strong event data, and thanks to virtual platforms, collecting and leveraging that data has never been easier. These platforms enable planners and marketers to capture more robust engagement data than what is normally collected at physical events, including metrics like session views, the duration of those views, number of visits to virtual booths, and more.

However, facial analysis promises to offer even more specific and useful attendee data for both virtual and live events. Facial analysis is distinct from facial recognition in that the latter specifically analyzes and identifies people, while facial analysis works in generalities: It can tell us how many people are in a given space at a given time, their approximate age, their gender, their sentiment etc., but it cannot specifically recognize them.

Panos Moutafis, co-founder and CEO of Zenus, which has developed both facial recognition and facial analysis technologies, explains that facial analysis presents fewer ethical challenges and privacy concerns, as “people’s faces are never sent or stored, nor are they identified — the [Zenus analytics] device sees the video feed and immediately converts it into statistics.”

In today’s climate, another advantage of facial analysis for live events is that it works very well with face masks, which isn’t the case when it comes to facial recognition. It is simple to deploy and can provide rich data for both event organizers and exhibitors/sponsors.

“If you have a booth at a trade show,” Moutafis notes, “you can see how many non-unique people the camera saw, how many of them stayed for a certain period of time, and how many of them were engaged — i.e., stayed a long time, had a positive sentiment on their face, etc.” Exhibitors can then see what works and what doesn’t based on this information, while organizers can assess which booth placements tend to be the most highly trafficked.

The technology can also be used for occupancy management to comply with Covid-specific protocols and social distancing, similar to RFID tags, by monitoring how many people are in a certain space at all times.

Sentiment analysis, in particular, can be valuable during sessions, as it can assess in real-time how people in different demographics feel about certain speakers and sessions based on their facial expressions. In addition, Zenus can be utilized in a similar way for virtual events using the video feed from a Zoom meeting, Google Meet call, etc. and is working on being able to further support hybrid events.

In a post-Covid future, the technology could be deployed in an even greater capacity at live events. “The device also has an HDMI port, so you can place a large monitor in your booth or elsewhere at the event, and display content personalized to the person walking by,” explains Moutafis. “For example, if there is a male in a certain age group walking by, you can display targeted content, and then if a female of a different age walks by, you can display other content automatically.”

Although the use of facial recognition is becoming more widespread, it is still a relatively controversial technology. However, facial analysis doesn’t present the same ethical concerns and still provides valuable data for planners and other event stakeholders. And with virtual demonstrating the value of robust data, the possibilities afforded by this technology may be difficult to ignore.