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Events industry gets strategic with digital

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Events organizers and marketers are changing their approach to digital marketing, according to “Digital Playbook,” a recent report from industry leaders including the Center for Exhibition Industry Research and George P. Johnson Experience Marketing. Practices once adopted to save money have been linked to revenue, driving the industry to push forward with a more strategic focus, said David Rich, senior VP-strategy and planning at GPJ. “You can't cut your way to growth,” Rich said. “It's great to use digital to contain costs, but on top of that we have to ensure that we're using digital to reach more people, to stay connected and engage more deeply, to provoke people to speak positively and become advocates.” More than two-thirds of 480 events organizers and marketers who responded to an online survey in June said they had a digital strategy. Those respondents attributed a greater share of revenue to digital tactics than did their peers who employed digital tactics without an overarching strategy. The performance gap can be substantial. The median revenue attributed to digital tactics among all respondents is 15% of total event revenue. But about 10% of respondents reported that digital tactics generated a much higher percentage—from about 25% to 50%—of total revenue. Almost 70% of respondents reported that they expect to see an increase in digital revenue over the next few years, and 56% are shifting from traditional tactics such as direct mail to digital tactics including social media. About 20% of respondents who said they did not have a digital strategy indicated they plan to develop one within the next year, according to the report. “We're seeing a shift to a more measured, strategic approach,” said Nancy Drapeau, director of research at CEIR. “Organizers and exhibitors who aren't jumping in are going to be left behind. If you have an approach in place you are more apt to succeed.” The report outlines practical strategic advances marketers can make. The key to pulling ahead lies in the development of best practices and a big-picture approach, Rich said. “It is not about making a decision to use [a tactic] and then figuring out the use,” he said. “It is about starting with a marketing strategy and then using those things that make the most sense.” Email marketing, for example, is a workhorse tactic seen as a top revenue generator by about 70% of both brand marketers and event organizers, according to the report. But marketers who have developed a digital strategy use segmentation and integration with other channels to improve return. Lynda Thomas, VP-marketing communications at life-sciences company Thermo Fisher Scientific, segments her email lists and supports messages through social applications and PR. Thomas is developing digital guidelines with a core principle: “We should not segment trade show activity into a different way of doing our marketing,” she said. “It is all connected, and the most successful marketers will have an integrated approach.” GPJ and CEIR partnered with the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, American Society of Association Executives, Exhibitor Media Group and InXpo to produce the report.
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