Marketers engaged in face-to-face events are, not surprisingly, most intent on acquiring leads and ultimately boosting sales as a result. But they also have mixed views on their ability to demonstrate event ROI and, in general, put the blame on sales, according to a new study from BtoB.
Gaining qualified leads is the key success metric for live events, according to 73% of respondents to “Measuring the Tangible and Intangible Value of Face-to-Face Events.” The study, co-sponsored by event marketing company Global Experience Specialists (GES), was based on an online survey of 247 b-to-b marketing professionals conducted in May and June.
Also mentioned as key success metrics were: conversion and sales, booth traffic, visitor interaction, customer satisfaction with the show and Web traffic.
Yet event success can be elusive, as 60% of respondents reported low-to-middling satisfaction in tying the considerable costs of exhibiting to actual revenue to provide an ROI assessment.
“Over the past several years, some channels—such as email, search engine marketing and search engine optimization—have shored up their support because of metrics,” said David Saef, exec VP-strategy and marketing at GES. “People continue to invest in face-to-face marketing events, but, because events require a significant expenditure, they're asking for greater scrutiny about marketing effectiveness.
“What we hear is that 6% of the event budget should be invested in measurement, but we observe it's often less. The good news is that people continue to measure quantifiable things at events. It's not the value of any one dimension that's important but rather the ability to take a series of event measurements and drive improvement. The trade show industry is showing continuing signs of health, according to the most recent CEIR Index from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. The first quarter of this year marked the seventh consecutive three-month period of industry growth, with professional attendance up 4.6% from the year-earlier period, the number of exhibitors up 1.5%, net square footage up 3.4% and revenue up 1.5%.
Despite some misgivings over the lack of hard numbers, marketers are doing what they feel will drive ROI. The most important activity, according to respondents to the BtoB/GES survey, is post-show follow-up. Other key tactics include conducting product demonstrations and having staff or customers as event speakers.
Pre-show promotions, hosted parties and networking events also were cited as ROI drivers.
In seeking a firmer grasp on event ROI, marketers acknowledged they're stymied by the lack of technology to collect and analyze data gleaned from the show floor.
But their harshest assessment was directed at sales.
Survey respondents cited in particular a lack of sales support and an inadequate supply of data from sales. This situation is made worse by poor sales follow-up, respondents said.
To address these concerns, Saef said, a committed and passionate sales leader is essential, one who understands marketing strategies. “A great indicator is the ability of the sales leader to show by example the importance of the event,” he said.
The fact that marketers value post-show follow-up as an ROI driver is an encouraging sign to Ruth P. Stevens, president of consultancy eMarketing Strategy.
“Pre-show is where the event becomes productive, but post-show is where the revenue happens,” said Stevens, author of “Trade Show & Event Marketing: Plan, Promote & Profit” (South-Western Educational Publishing, 2005).
Stevens said that having staff or company advocates participate on event panels can produce strong ROI because of the low investment required. But she sees the sales-marketing disconnect as a serious inhibitor of event success.
“Don't spend one penny on a trade show unless you have a lead-management process in place,” she said. “It's too easy to say, "Hey, there's a show and it's important to be there.' ”
Survey respondents were also asked about supporting channels for events. Email was the most popular (cited by 70% of respondents), followed by websites (57%), direct mail (51%), social media (40%), print ads (33%) and mobile marketing (20%).
“The important thing about [ROI] metrics is to focus on what you can control, not necessarily revenue,” Saef said. “Think about the two or three specific measures you want to achieve, and put your strongest effort there.
“And while measuring is key, it's what you do with it to change your events over time that is critical. Focus on your show-specific objectives, and adapt them for better results next time.”
Companies of various sizes were represented in the BtoB/GES study. Technology marketers made up the largest share of respondents (26%), with manufacturing (16%), financial services (15%), publishing/media (9%) and healthcare/pharmaceuticals (7%) also well represented.