How (Not) To Measure Event Marketing ROI | Event Marketing Trends 2015, Part II

Part of a weeklong series looking at the trends driving event, experiential, and face-to-face marketing. Read Part I.

ROI remains a critical component of any event marketing program, and as we discussed in Part I companies are seeing a dramatic rise in overall event budgets, including directly from corporate spend. The research, however, becomes a bit more confusing when you start to look at how brands measure success of these programs.

According to the fantastic EventTrack 2015 report, 79% of brands are measuring event and experiential programs, up from 78% last year and 71% in 2013. That’s good, you have to measure to understand. The confusion sets in when you look at WHAT they define by success:

Interesting, no? While you can’t even start to measure ROI without attendees (so we’ll just put that to the side), simply getting a “Like’ or social media mention does not translate back into an actual return, and the fact that only 58% considered leads a barometer of success is concerning at best. But if you dive more deeply into the numbers it becomes even more odd. According to the report:

The survey asked specifically: What ROI do you expect from events? Forty-eight percent of brands realize a ROI of between 3:1 to 5:1, and 29% indicated their return is over 10:1. Twelve percent say their ROI is 20:1 or higher.

Firstly, those data points don’t really answer the question, but putting that aside the numbers are misleading when you consider that 61% of brands considered a Facebook ‘Like’ a measure of ROI. In that world a 10:1 ROI ration is completely achievable…but it’s still not true ROI since you aren’t measuring it against the total cost of the event itself.

Now, before you get all up in my marketing face I do realize that some events are about brand awareness and exposure, but that doesn’t mean you can’t alter your measurement to define a true ROI. The capabilities are there to track direct revenue through an event, even when it goes from offline to online via social media. And it is obvious that event marketers are confused by all of this measurement simply by the next chart in the report:

This is, of course, the more granular version of the first graph where we see attendance, social, and leads as the top three…but look who is bringing up the fourth spot, SALES! And, in fact, it’s only 1% lower than leads. But wait, look at how the percentage fluctuates year-over-year. In 2012 it was 46%, growing to 49% and then a huge leap to 66% in 2014. Yet in 2015 it has started to recede to 57%. That’s a big drop off and one must wonder why. Although the report doesn’t analyze this it might have to do with the meteoric rise of the influence of social in determining event marketing ROI. It also is more confusing when you notice the other line item of ‘Gross sales related to the event’. If you take both of these into consideration would sales be above social? No.

Why? Well, it’s easier to measure. Facebook and Twitter come out of the book with decent analytics, and if you use a third-party system you are getting even more granular data. It is also easier to accomplish in today’s environment where anyone will ‘Like’ you if you give them a free t-shirt. And this has, in many ways, created a perception of event marketing driven more for overall awareness and less for cold-hard cash. But like all marketing programs before it the pendulum will swing, especially with event budgets increasing, and marketers must be ready to measure ROI directly back to sales.

Technology Enables Event Marketing ROI

One of the reasons this should be easier is the rise of better, more comprehensive, and easier to use event marketing management software. In just the past year we have seen tremendous growth in this market as traditional marketing automation players have struggled to provide event management as a capability. The reason is simple, big brands are, like with any IT purchase, more interested in best-of-breed over comprehensive platforms.

If we take the analysis in this report at face value (and I do for the most part) we know budgets are increasing for event marketing, which will mean the leaders of these programs need better tools in which to manage events. These solutions must have the ability to measure ROI, and that will only come when you can manage the entire lifecycle of an event attendee. From the pre-event emailers and registration, to onsite check-in and collaboration, through to post-event communication and data integration into your CRM, this is the data fingerprint that can be used to measure true ROI.

Technology is not only an enabler to measure event marketing ROI, when used correctly, but can also help establish a brand presence at an event and drive those attendees. In Part III we look at some of the trends event marketers are using to drive a better attendee experience, and that folds in with Part IV and what technologies they use to track the attendee lifecycle. I’ll leave you with this quote from Errol Ahearn, VP of Global Design at GES in their annual trends research report:

“Everybody is sharpening their swords, getting better and better with the help of technology, whether it’s their pull-through strategy or booth rep engagement; it’s rare now to see anyone displaying a stagnant design year over year.”

About the Author: Kyle Flaherty is an award-winning marketing and brand executive, craft beer connoisseur, and devout Boston sports fanatic. He currently runs his own marketing agency and works with the team at Captix (consider yourselves disclosed).