Event marketing is currently a very expensive and sloppy process in most firms because the relevant information is fragmented, difficult to assemble, and the “database” is often a pile of business cards. But it needn’t be that way. The means for more careful thinking about the big money you may already be spending is at your fingertips.
According to a report by the Convention Industry Council, about 225 million people attend more than 1.8 million events sponsored by companies and associations, including 270,000 conventions and 11,000 trade shows per year. In 2012, even in the midst of an anemic global economy and budget tightening at firms, the amount spent on these events worldwide was an estimated $565 billion. Hosting, attending, and exhibiting at events comprise a whopping 21% of corporate marketing budgets, and one analysis indicates that these meetings “contribute more to the [U.S.] GDP than the air transportation, motion picture, sound-recording, performing arts and spectator sport industries.”
But it’s far from moneyball when it comes to event marketing. Three of five marketers use no tools to measure event ROI, and most companies plan and execute events without specific business objectives. Yet, after sales force costs, events are the biggest line item in many marketing budgets, especially for B2B firms.
So consider what more productive event spending means for the bottom line. Technology to do this exists, and it has implications for what managers can do before, during, and after the events they sponsor or attend.
Before. There’s not just one rationale for events. Goals can range from lead generation or gaining access to decision makers to actually selling products or services — measured against the expense and opportunity cost of that event. But if you don’t know where you’re going or why, no road will take you there. No technology can help managers who are unable or unwilling to set goals.
Once goals are set, however, there are tools to track ROI milestones that are currently dark holes in most marketing budgets. Pre-event registration systems like Cvent or Eventbrite help organizers sell tickets,
the event, and measure responses beyond the number of registrations. They provide data, like campaign impressions and email opens, which can track the relative effectiveness of various event promotion activities.
The technology will also help you make a a core decision: is attending, sponsoring, or exhibiting at this event worth it?
Salesforce addresses this question with potential attendees at Dreamforce, its annual event. The Dreamforce 2014 homepage had a calculator that provided users with the projected ROI that their respective companies would gain from their presence at the conference. It also had a template letter with relevant data that prospective attendees could send with the data to their supervisors, justifying the expense, and, in the process, establishing accountable metrics for follow-up evaluation.
During. At the event, new technologies provide cost-reduction and revenue opportunities for all stakeholders. Mobile platforms accessed by apps on smart phones or tablets replace paper agenda, venue maps, and other standard documents, saving on printing and personnel costs while enhancing sponsorship opportunities. Trade groups such as the Georgia Economic Developers Association use an app that lowers the cost and distribution hassle of print material while generating enough incremental sponsorship revenue to pay for the app entirely.
The apps also make real the often-cited but rarely-delivered promise of “engagement” via social media. Attendees, speakers, and event managers can communicate, participate in surveys, polls, and contests, share reactions and insights, and broaden the event’s reach by allowing people to link with others they might not otherwise have met. Beacon (location based) technology allows exhibitors or sponsors to direct interested attendees to their product or booth. Software from firms like Glisser or sli.do create more interaction in sessions and enable ongoing dialogue beyond the meeting room.
These services help oft-distracted attendees participate via a smart phone or tablet. They also you to create communications and content that reflect the spirit of the event and your attendees, which is far better than generic materials prepared at headquarters.
Marketers can also quantify many traditionally amorphous goals. Networking can be done and tabulated via the app, allowing exhibitors to connect with prospects in a more targeted way. Lead generation is now more efficient and scalable with apps that provide an all-in-one lead scanner and note-taking platform which can be seamlessly uploaded to a CRM system for follow-up.
Remember that, when it comes to signaling interest in the topic of the event, attendees have already voted with their feet. So this is often more sales-ready data about buyers and their key concerns than the broad demographic data currently resident in most CRM systems.
After. The most common metrics for evaluating an event are the “smile sheets” distributed after a session or the ad hoc perceptions of people in the exhibitor’s booth. New technology goes further. Did the keynote speaker deliver? Find out based on the number of bookmarks, views, and comments as well as session ratings. Did sponsors get the level of exposure they hoped for? Impressions, click-throughs, and interaction with their content are relevant to this assessment. Did attendees find the event a good use of their time? That’s an important customer-satisfaction issue, and comments in the activity feed are often a better way to gauge that than polite comments during the cocktail reception.
Data also helps to close the loop. Event goals depend upon your objectives with current or potential customers. With current customers, your primary goal may be to maintain relationships, meet other decision makers or influencers, stimulate add-on sales, or get feedback about prototypes. With potential customers, your goal may involve making initial contact, establishing a brand presence, gathering competitive intelligence, or getting follow-up calls with relevant prospects. These goals have inherently different evaluation criteria. For account maintenance and enhancement, for example, cost per contact is less relevant than it is for acquiring new leads or post-event meetings with prospects.
Some companies are already using this type of event data to boost business. SAP, the global software firm, generates 60% of its revenues from events and uses app data to inform sales reps of prospects’ interests. In turn, this data allows the reps to tailor their conversations to those prospects’ interests and focus on the most appropriate bundle of products and services. SAP credits this approach with increasing sales by as much as 25% where it has been used.
The benefits of event marketing are undeniable. But too many firms tend to mismanage their business-development expenditures, treat their events like de facto perks, and they refuse to change their ways because “that’s the way they’ve always done it.” It’s shame, really. Because with current technologies, there’s little excuse for that.