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The Importance and ROI of Events: Marketers Still Face Challenges

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Even as events remain a vital part of the marketing mix, and a key channel for direct one-to-one customer engagement, marketing executives—lacking visibility into the conversion pipeline—don't have sufficiently effective methods for measuring the impact of events and tradeshows on sales and revenue (and therefore can't prove ROI), a new study has found.

Nearly 9 in 10 surveyed brand marketers (89%) say events still hold some level of importance and value for their organization, with 31% considering them essential, according to the study, Customer Attainment From Event Engagement, issued by the CMO Council and conducted in partnership with the Exhibit & Event Marketers Association (E2MA).

However, just 6% of marketers say their company does extremely well in converting tradeshow leads into customer business, and only 8% say their companies are highly proficient at developing relationships, closing deals, and acquiring customer insights at events, the study found.

Below, additional findings from the CMO and E2MA study.

Marketers view events primarily as revenue-driving opportunities:

  • 64% look to source new prospects and business opportunities via events.
  • 63% hope to gather and cultivate leads.
  • 60% seek face-to-face meetings with clients and prospects.

When deciding which events to invest in, marketers' top criteria are the following:

  • Attendee mix and quality: 79%
  • Cost and potential return: 71%
  • Presence of customers, partners, or channels: 57%

Among the top challenges vis-à-vis events and tradeshows are making a business case for attending or participating in them (45%) and managing the escalated costs associated with them (39%). And about one-fifth (19%) essentially say their strategy to act on the leads they gather is lacking.

Asked what they would like to improve most regarding their event marketing...

  • 35% cited improved strategy, planning, and outcomes.
  • 32% said data collection.
  • 31% said taking advantage of speaking opportunities.
  • 30% cited post-event reporting and analytics.

Though Marketing still finds value in events, 40% are cutting back on big shows in favor of more targeted gatherings, and 44% are choosing to host their own customer-centric events.

"What this study demonstrates is that marketers' attention is shifting, and now is the time to begin moving down this road of defining and tracking the value of event and experiential marketing," said Liz Miller, vice-president of marketing programs and thought leadership for the CMO Council.

"The exhibit and event marketing medium needs to develop generally accepted practices for measuring outcomes from face-to-face marketing efforts," said Jim Wurm, executive director of the E2MA. "It is imperative for marketers to obtain and employ exhibit and event marketing analytics to inform the value of their spend and guide them on their future investments."

About the data: Customer Attainment From Event Engagement highlights qualitative and quantitative findings gathered from a survey of more than 260 brand marketers fielded during Q4 of 2012 and Q1 of 2013, as well as interviews with 21 senior brand marketers and 11 experts within the event and tradeshow industry.

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Vahe Habeshian is the director of publications at MarketingProfs and a long-time editor. Reach him via

Twitter: @habesh

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