Events remain a key form of marketing outreach for companies, and marketers view various forms of marketing automation as having great potential for realizing event ROI. But the deployment of marketing automation in support of event marketing is spotty, focusing primarily on email notifications before an event rather than managing and nurturing leads afterward, according to a new study from BtoB and marketing automation company Marketo Inc.
According to “The State of B2B Event Marketing,” 58% of marketers see determining event ROI as the key benefit of marketing automation, with the ability to personalize communications (47%), integrate automatically with a CRM system (46%) and drive attendance prior to an event (46%) also viewed as major benefits.
However, marketers generally are not well-equipped to measure event success after the fact or to take advantage of it. Half of all respondents said they use some form of marketing automation for event follow-up, but just 21% said they have automated lead scoring in place and only 19% employ a nurturing program. Only 48% of respondents reported having any kind of event ROI metric in place.
“The organizers of events are the ones really pushing for technology and automation,” said Skip Cox, CEO-president of event consultancy Exhibit Surveys. The reason is simple: Event managers want to prove the value of their shows.
Marketers, however, seem less willing or able to do the same. “There is some good automation out there,” Cox said. “The question becomes the adoption of it.”
The BtoB/Marketo survey found that marketing automation for events appeals to marketers primarily for its benefits prior to events rather than during or afterward.
When asked how automation contributes best to events, 65% of marketers cited the value of email invitation campaigns, followed by personal email invitations (53%) and event reminders (52%)—all activities intended to promote attendance and booth engagement.
“I think what's happening here is that marketers work their butts off for these events, but it can fall apart after that,” said Maria Pergolino, senior director-marketing at Marketo. “They know there's value on the floor. I feel we're entering a time when marketers will finally be able to prove their work on events is good.”
Pergolino said attributing event success to last touches—for example, that final handshake on an expo show floor—is giving way to more sophisticated nurturing technologies that help determine the things that influence prospects further down the funnel.
The primary goal of marketers when staging events is to generate leads, cited by 83% of respondents. Not far behind are improving customer engagement (72%) and building brands (72%).
Marketing automation is relied on to a somewhat greater extent for virtual events, such as webinars and virtual trade shows, compared with live events. Eighty-five percent of marketers surveyed said they rely on the statistics from web- inar production companies such as Cisco Systems' WebEx, Citrix Systems' GoToWebinar and ON24.
However, taking those results and feeding them into a nurturing program is rare. Just 24% of marketers said they use some form of marketing automation program for nurturing after a virtual event.
Why are marketers lagging in employing marketing automation with their events? According to the BtoB/Marketo survey, 67% cited budget constraints, followed by lack of resources (54%), low priority among management (46%) and lack of knowledge about event management (24%).
Some of this may be due to the demographics of the survey takers. Survey respondents came primarily from small and midsize companies: 53% reported annual revenue of less than $24 million. The largest vertical was the technology industry (28%), followed by manufacturing (15%) and financial services (7%).
“Yes, smaller companies aren't using some of the event marketing automation that larger companies are,” Cox said. “But there actually has been quite an advance in automation, whether in online planning tools, software for management budgets or follow-up. To me, that's part of the marketing process.”
Cox said on-site tools have gained greatly in sophistication beyond the “fish bowl” practice of simply collecting business cards. Large companies, he said, increasingly employ sophisticated scanning systems for lead processing during a show and follow-up.
Further, integration with company CRM systems can reveal more about booth visitors, such as previous contacts with the company.
“This can provide a lot of insight into opportunities,” Cox said. The problem, he said, is often lack of cooperation from sales reps, with leads often not finding their way into CRM systems.
Marketers recognize the need for such integration. Fifty-five percent of survey respondents said their ideal event marketing automation package would include deep integration with CRM systems.
The BtoB/Marketo study was based on an online survey conducted in June that generated 309 completed responses from marketers heavily invested in events. The respondents averaged about 28 events per year each, with a slight edge (16 to 12, on average) given to live events versus virtual ones.