Events central to direct marketers as marketing automation surges

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While the fast-concluding year has been focused on all-things digital, one element of direct marketing has remained central: events—and an increased drive to manage events with marketing automation.

First, the statistics: The trade show industry posted its fifth consecutive quarter of growth in the third quarter, according to the CEIR Index released this month by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. The CEIR Index, which tracks attendees, exhibitors, revenue and net square feet, increased 2.6% in the third quarter compared with the year-earlier period.

The number of trade show attendees jumped 3.7% in the third quarter, and the number of exhibitors (3.6%) and inflation-adjusted revenue (1.4%) both increased. Net square footage grew 1.9%.

“The total index results were stronger than anticipated and are also stronger than the year-on-year real GDP growth,” said CEIR economist Allen Shaw, who is also chief economist for Global Economic Consulting Associates.

In addition, according to the American Express study, “2012 Meetings Forecast," which was released in November, 60% of meeting suppliers around the world expect the number of meetings planned to increase next year.

And in a webinar conducted by BtoB last week, “The State of B2B Event Marketing,” a poll of about 150 attendees indicated that 62% of marketers are either increasing or maintaining their event-marketing budgets.

“The future of event marketing just may be a future many do not expect,” said John DiStefano, research director at BtoB. “When you look at the state of b-to-b events, there's a definite upward curve for both virtual and live events.”

For those who claim that the future of events is entirely digital, a recent study by Exhibitor Media Group has an answer: Virtual events are unlikely to replace face-to-face meetings anytime soon, according to the company's “2011 Virtual Events Survey.”

In the exhibition consultancy's report, 70% of respondents currently are not allocating a single cent of their marketing budgets to virtual events. Among the marketers who have already dipped their toes in virtual territory, only 28% percent claim those efforts “met” or “exceeded” their expectations. And 68% of respondents who have participated in virtual events say they'd rather host a live event because “attendees seemed less engaged during virtual events.”

(It should also be said that nearly half of respondents who have used virtual events cited an increase their brand awareness, while 36% reported attracting attendees who did not engage live trade shows and events.)

“At the end of the day, marketing isn't just where you want to market; you have to go where the prospects are,” said Maria Pergolino, senior director-marketing at Marketo, a marketing automation company, about live trade shows in particular. “People are attending because they need training, and to make sure they know what's happening with changing technology.”

BtoB's own study, conducted in June with 309 b-to-b marketers responding, indicated that marketing automation is becoming increasingly useful in linking live events with further marketing needs, such as automated follow-ups and sales-lead nurturing.

“Every event will be different, but with analytics you can compare all people at an event versus just those at the booth,” Pergolino said. “For example, say you're at an event with doctors and nurses, but just nurses come to your booth. Maybe that's where your product sells better, so your first follow-up calls are to nurses. Looking at the data can help you understand these things.”

During the BtoB webinar, attendees were asked about how likely they were to use marketing automation tools to facilitate event marketing. Of those polled, 79% said they were highly or very highly likely to use marketing automation.

“This is a sleeping giant,” DiStefano said.

Further BtoB's survey indicated that marketing automation lends itself best to events by recording a return on investment, driving attendance and integrating with CRM software.

“You usually don't expect marketing automation to show up as a key events tool,” Pergolino said. “But I think this is changing. Automation is helping speed up the process, cloning and repeating key fields for future events, automating the things that take up the most time.

“Also, marketers want to spend time developing the fun part of events, spending more time on strategy and event execution, and less time on follow-ups,” she said. “This also is driving marketers toward event-marketing technology.”

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