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Virtual events and measuring ROI keys

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Kerry Smith is president of the Event Marketing Institute, a think tank that follows trends in event marketing through research, analysis and education. BtoB asked Smith to talk about expected developments in the events industry.

BtoB: What do you see as the biggest trends this year?

Smith: There's going to be a focus on a couple of things: First, experience mapping—recognition that when you're doing an event [you] understand who you are trying to engage. Often times, it's multiple people. How are you creating an experience around your event that will allow those people to find the appropriate channels to engage with you? You're going to talk differently to a CTO than to a CFO.

Another area is portfolio analysis. At company after company, they are looking across their entire spectrum of events, and cleaning out the closet [and asking] `Which ones are working for us, which ones are not, which ones are we not sure of?' They're going to start adjusting the dials accordingly.

And then there's this whole area of measuring everything—improving performance. There are no standards for measuring events, [and there are] different objectives for every company. As one marketer told us, `if I spent $10 million doing a couple of events, [the executives] will let me experiment. But now I want to spend $25 million, how will [I] justify it? What's the ROI? What results can we expect if we were to spend that money on traditional media?' With more money comes more scrutiny.

BtoB: Do you expect virtual events to continue to grow?

Smith: They are going to become increasingly popular. A marketer who spends $100 million a year on trade shows told me they're looking very closely at virtual events, not as a replacement but, [for example], when they're exhibiting at a trade show, they have only have one or two people from a company [attend]—they have to go back, tell the story and follow up. If they can do a virtual event, it allows all of the purchase influencers to be able to access information 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. [They] can disseminate information via an online interface. We're seeing marketers look at virtual events as a convenience and a constant presence.

BtoB: How are you feeling about the long-term direction of the industry?

Smith: Overall, feeling positive. We're just wrapping up a survey of over 1,000 marketers globally. One of the [questions] was: Which areas are going to receive increases in funding? The top two areas were Web and events—they're spending more in these areas for 2008. The top line is that's where they're increasing their investment, so it's a positive sign for people in that industry.

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