By David Preston, Director Active Network.
With all aspects of marketing under ever closer scrutiny from the finance department, event marketers must work harder than ever to demonstrate that events can deliver a realistic return on investment.
Marketing disciplines that are not able to measure their activities are at a disadvantage compared to those that can. Advertisers can, direct marketers can.
The events industry has always struggled to do so and has fallen behind other disciplines, now it the time for the industry to raise its game to ensure companies continue to invest in events rather than spending their budget on other, traditionally more measurable, marketing tools.
But what to measure? And how?
Acronyms such as ROI (return on investment), ROO (return on objectives), ROMI (return on marketing investment) have crept inexorably into contemporary marketing lexicon and, although most of us appreciate the intrinsic meaning of each acronym, not everyone understands how best to make use of these truncated little devils.
One of the key factors behind a growing awareness by the events industry on the topic of ROI is its inability to set industry wide evaluation standards. Surely the best way to help the industry win a greater share of the marketing pot would be to develop and agree measurable standards across the industry.
To date, the events industry has not been able to do this and it is a problem. The industry does not understand the importance of good, everyday, event evaluation, measuring results at different levels. With increased scrutiny on budgets, this lack of measurement forces organisations to question how to justify the level of expense.
Marketing is an easy target and, within that, events are an even easier target unless you can demonstrate and prove the impact on sales. We need to stop being obsessed with ROI and just look at good measurement of event effectiveness instead.
The events industry can no longer rely on ‘hygiene’ factors – what people think or feel – as its measure of success. Hygiene factors have little to do with business and do not count for nearly as much as most event operators presume. They are givens in the industry and should not be used to compare one event against the other.
For every event, marketers must make sure they have a list of specific and measurable actions that they want participants to carry out as a direct result of attending. This is the only known mechanism for creating value from any kind of event.
Different lists will probably be required for different categories of attendees but if you can’t make up the list, you do not even have a basis of how the event is going to return value to its stake holders.
But applying the ROI methodology to an event is simple. First, have a set number of relevant and measurable objectives, then use standard (and proven) methods to collect data to see if the objectives were met.
Here’s a list of suggested event objectives
- Business Impact – how do you want the event to impact key business measures, such as sales or profit?
- Behaviour – what specific actions do you want participants to take as a result of attending e.g. visit a website, sign up to a mailing list?
- Learning – cognitive change always has to precede behavioural change to change behaviour i.e. participants have to ‘learn’ something – be it information, skills, attitudes and relationships. All aspects of every event will support at least one of these categories of learning
When we have set these objectives and planned and executed the event accordingly, we can measure results along the chain of impact:
- Did we create a good learning environment?
- Did they learn something?
- Did they apply what they learned?
- And what was the business impact of their behaviour?
By comparing the monetary value of the Business Impact with the cost of the event, we may calculate the event profit, which is the same as ROI. ROI is the net value created by the event as a percentage of the event cost.
Using technology to put the marketing back into event marketing
Technology is playing an increasingly important role to help event organisers measure and manage events to greater potential.
IT can develop and deepen event attendee relationships over far longer periods than previously, as well as handling all the practical elements of events such as online registration, online communications and onsite networking.
Event ‘intelligence’ is just as important (if not more important) than event administration. Technology allows event organisers to capture key data from events, tracing each delegate’s unique journey before, during and after each event that can be passed to sales and used to drive measurable results.
Instead of guessing what people are interested in, we know and can create a specific action plan that’s individualised and targeted. Essentially we are putting the marketing back into event marketing.
ROI may not necessarily be monetary but could be anything from a returning attendee, to a sales confirmation, to increased product and services knowledge.
Yet, while we’re being encouraged not to over-stress about ROI and to examine other peripheral factors, it still plays a crucial role in contributing to stakeholder profits, delivering more value than it costs.
By using technology in a more strategic way, event organisers can generate better quality metrics and measurement data that can, in turn, be used to justify investment decisions that could see companies devoting a greater share of the marketing budget towards events than ever before. Now that would be something!
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