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Can You Trust Historical Marketing Data?

Shannon asks, "Are there identifiable website trends / metrics for speakers? I did some analysis on my website traffic for the last three years… can I trust the historical data and try to replicate it to increase my number of incoming leads?"

As a fellow public speaker, you absolutely CANNOT build forecasts with any data about the speaking industry prior to the start of the pandemic. Period, end of story. Data from before the pandemic reflects a world, a reality that no longer exists. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, and speaking opportunities are radically different now. We’re on podcasts, we’re hosting digital events, we’re doing masterminds… anything except standing in front of a room of hundreds or thousands of people.

This is going to be the situation still for months to come. At the time of this writing, many projections show the pandemic slowly receding around mid-year, barring any selection pressure which forces a mutation that evades vaccines and immune responses, thus prolonging the pandemic.

Recent Marketing Data

So, what does this mean for professional public speakers? It means the "digital only" era is going to stick around for a while. Probably by Q4 2021, barring those mutations, we’ll start to see hybrid events – a combination of digital and physical – emerge, and there will be a call for speakers to show up in person.

In the meantime, we should be paying attention to recent data – data after April 1, 2020. That’s the data that reflects the world as it is. How different is that world? The number of people searching for keynote speakers is half of what it used to be at its peak before the pandemic.

Keynote speaker searches

Data sources: Google Trends and AHREFS. Chart shows average number of searches for keynote speaker terms by week for the past 5 years.

In fact, when you look at just the 2021 data thus far compared to 2020, the number of searches is down 15.2% year-over-year – and that’s compounded on top of double-digit declines the previous two years. Now, is there seasonality to the search trends? Yes. There’s clearly a very seasonal, very cyclical ebb and flow to the search terms, a seasonality that you can still use to predict relative interest. But in terms of absolute interest, it’s been on the decline for years and the pandemic has only made that worse.

If you were to extrapolate the current trends forward, you’d assume interest in keynote speakers would eventually go to zero. That’s not realistic, either. We don’t know what will happen with the events industry in the next two years, but whatever does happen, events will still need to have people presenting information at them in some fashion.

What’s a Keynote Speaker to Do?

If you’re in the speaking business, the time to diversify is now. Well, the time to diversify was a year ago, but there’s no time like the present. Search intent is down substantially, audiences have Zoom fatigue, and online events pay substantially less well than in-person events.

What kinds of things should we be looking at? New books. Webinars. Podcasts. Subscription models. Masterminds. You name it – anything you can do to leverage the power of your brand and derive revenue directly from the audience, because events aren’t willing or able to pay as well as they used to – and even after the pandemic, it’s a big question mark whether fees will rise to pre-pandemic levels quickly or slowly.

And get your vaccination as soon as you’re eligible. I foresee that it will be required by in-person events, at least to satisfy event insurance companies.

The Lessons for All Marketers

The most important lesson in all this is that your pre-pandemic data has to be taken with a large grain of salt for forecasting if your world has changed – which almost everyone’s has. Some businesses have flourished. Others have shuttered. No matter what your line of business, the fundamental changes in your audience have made pre-pandemic data unreliable for forecasting. Instead, be looking at recent data and discern your forecasts from that. Look for seasonality and cyclicality to provide a sense of when interest will ebb and flow, but glue your eyes to recent data, rather than looking at data from a world that’s gone.

If you’ve been negatively impacted by the pandemic, diversify as much and as quickly as practical. The world we once knew isn’t coming back any time soon – and even when the pandemic is over, there will be large, permanent changes as a consequence. What those are, it’s too soon to tell, but we know they will be there.


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