Most marketers will be more than familiar with the Four Ps of the Marketing Mix – latterly increased to Six Ps or even Seven. So as a former CMO myself, I like it when concepts can be pinned to one letter of the alphabet. It doesn’t always work, and you find yourself shoe-horning things in or coming up with fictional words to make it stick, but in this case it fits quite nicely.
May I present to you the “Four Rs of Event Return on Investment.”
But first, a bit of background.
Why care about Event ROI?
I run a MarTech company focused on live events (primarily corporate), but before that I spent twelve years running B2B marketing teams. In just over a decade I saw the general business perception of marketing change from promotion and parties, to being data-driven and strategic.
Yet, one thing that didn’t change in that time was the importance of events and conferences in the B2B marketer’s armoury of options to build brand and drive and convert qualified leads. In fact, they still make up the largest part of a typical marketing budget (Forrester research puts it at nearly a quarter of the overall B2B budget).
Yet while the remaining 75% of marketing spend (allocated to digital, SEO, PPC, PR, etc.) can now be measured with a huge amount of accuracy, events still tend to be assessed on attendee numbers, primitive paper feedback forms or ineffective surveys, and (worst of all) gut-feel.
Whilst this might be enough to keep the funds flowing into your events programme in the good times (perhaps buoyed by the support of a sales team keep to retain its annual jaunt to Cannes, Barcelona or Las Vegas) the lack of hard data makes it a big target when your CFO is looking to strip out costs or cut headcount.
Events and conferences need to be measured with the same detailed, quantitative and systematic methodology that you apply to the rest of your marketing activity.
So how do you begin to think about ROI measurement at your events?
The starting point, as ever, must always be your overall marketing or communications objectives, and how they feed into your event objectives. Assuming you’ve got these pinned down (otherwise why run or attend the event in the first place?) you can probably bracket them into four broad areas.
Here’s where the ‘Four Rs’ come in. They are four different ‘Returns’ you are looking to get from your ‘Investment’ in events, and you may be targeting one or a combination of these:
- If you’re seeking face-to-face interaction with prospective customers to explain and sell your product, your Return, ‘R’, is Revenue.
- If you’re running events or sponsoring and attending key industry conferences with the goals of increasing the strength of your company or personal brand, your R is Reputation.
- If you’re creating or participating in a live experience where people are forming and improving their networks or personal connections, your R is Relationships.
- If you’re bringing together teams of employees, customers or suppliers to educate, train and (permanently) improve their knowledge of a subject, your R is Recall.
Measuring your Return
This is the tricky part.
It’s tricky because it’s different for every business and often for every event. Events are, by their nature, unique. You can apply a model or formula, but it will always need a bit of tweaking to best capture your situation – your event objectives and the opportunities to measure success. It’s not just a case of plugging in a bit of tech or an algorithm and letting it do it’s thing.
It’s also hard because once you’ve pinpointed the right metrics, you’ve then got to put in place the processes to gather the data and information to determine performance against those metrics. Often it’s a case of gathering the right data, rather than just more data – with so many tools and technologies out there at your disposal – you’re just as likely to drown in the numbers, as you are to starve.
The secret is to keep it simple (stupid). Be clear on which of the Four Rs you are measuring, and come up with a few very specific metrics that determine success.
Then make it as easy as possible to collect the data, then collect it consistently and accurately, and analyse it thoroughly. Technology can help this – but remember people need a nudge in the right direction, and often a reward helps incentivise them to feed back the data you need.
Measuring Revenue for Event ROI
This is very common, and often the easiest to get at least some sort of measurement of, but it yields its own challenges. It’s relatively easy to measure since most organisations will have data on sales revenues and a CRM system that attributes them to individual customers or accounts. These can then be matched to event attendees.
make these connections happen, rather than leaving it to serendipity, through speed networking (or at the very least ensuring the social lubrication of alcohol is provided).
Where’s it’s less easy to control is in the measurement of these connections that are happening. The advantage of speed networking (other than being a lot cheaper than a free bar) is that organisers have a pretty good handle on the meetings they’ve made happen, and with a simple scorecard for attendees can measure the perceived usefulness of those meetings.
Ultimately, if an event has networking and relationships as one of its core business objectives, and delegates are spending time (and often money) to attend for this opportunity, marketers and event planners have every right to ask whether this has been achieved.
In fact, I take the view that, when it comes to networking, delegates should be asked before, during and after the event:
- Pre-Event: Who are you most keen to meet at this event? Ask for specific people, personas, or prospects. Anyone who is paying to attend your event will be desperate to provide this information if it increases their chances of a successful contact.
- During the Event: Who have you met and was it useful? Apps or audience response technology make this easy – and this is your best chance to use the data to create meaningful introductions on the day.
- Post-Event: Did you meet the right people and was it effective? Event organisers and marketers may also have data from booth visits, location tracking and much more to gauge this in significant detail.
Measuring Recall for Event ROI
Finally, events that focus on education and training have a well-established means of measuring whether they’ve delivered on this objective – they just tend not to package it up in the most appealing way.
Many events will have a learning component, not least because it helps justify the less academic pursuits of selling, branding and networking. Meanwhile, expert presenters are being paid to teach delegates beyond the myriad of information that is now available online, in the form of written content, infographics and YouTube videos.
Increasingly, if people are going to pay with money, or at least their previous time, to attend events in order to learn, you’re going to want to prove that you delivered on that objective. This applies to conference organisers, corporates running their own CPD seminars, and trainers, as much as it does in the classroom.
And so we borrow the measurement approaches from the education system: testing. Queue a collective groan from at least half of your delegates, and perhaps many blog readers clicking away.
For me, this is simply a perception problem – a deep-rooted psychological dislike of tests, no doubt from our schooldays.
So, instead, call them ‘quizzes’. Refer to ‘competitions’. Or in modern Marketing 2.0 parlance, just say you are ‘gamifying’ the event.
It’s all the same thing really. Creating opportunities to participate, to engage, and at the same time to evidence learning. You can do it old-school, with raised hands, or use technology to lean upon our continued addiction to smartphones, giving the instant gratification of a point for a right answer, or a reward (even if it’s just in the form of a new electronic ‘badge’ – the modern CPD certificate…)
Measuring learning right there and then can, in itself, improve the event experience and deliver those crucial metrics that evidence the spend was worthwhile. For a true ‘recall’ measure, this might need to be backed up with some post-event measurement as well (to check all new learning was not lost as soon as your audience stepped out the venue).
As a marketer who has wrestled with the challenges of measuring Event ROI for years, and proving the success of a significant part of my marketing spend, this is just a brief summary of my experience so far. It’s by no means complete, and I’m keen to hear of how others are solving this problem.
What it does represent is an effort to push this issue front and centre for marketers who are using a tremendous armoury of tools and techniques to prove the value of other forms of marketing, but neglecting events and conferences. It’s these challenges – the peculiarities and uniqueness of live events – combined with their continued presence at the top of the B2B marketing budget – that make it so fascinating.
Michael Piddock is the founder of Glisser, a leading Event Return On Investment and audience engagement firm based in London, New York, and Seattle. To read more of his musings around this subject, and learn more about live event ROI measurements, follow Glisser on LinkedIn