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Saving Event Marketing with Data-Driven ROI Analysis

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Recently, the CMO Council published a report that suggested that events were failing in terms of measurability and insight into return on investment (ROI).

Here is how Vahe Habeshian puts it in his MarketingProfs article:

“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."

That report shouldn’t have surprised anyone that is paying attention. Of course, events are falling behind. We’ve seen that coming for years.

Even as the rest of our marketing tools become more and more data-driven, events remain lazily mired in 1995. As we’ll see, they’re only just now evolving to meet the modern age. Paper business cards and hardware scanners still rule the day, while other marketing channels surge forward with more and more visibility into data.

A Look at Some Examples

First, consider content marketing. Using Marketo or a variety of other marketing automation tools, I can slap a white paper up on my website behind a web form. Once a potential customer fills out the form, I can track and score every single web and email touch with that lead until I’m comfortable they are ready for a sales call.

It’s total and complete visibility from first touch-point to Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).

And what about Pay-Per Click (PPC)? Software like Kenshoo will not only tell me which PPC campaigns are resulting in SQL conversions but will even help me give proper credit to the PPC campaign even if the user comes back three weeks after clicking on the ad.

Again, it’s total and complete visibility as leads flow through the top of the funnel.

And Then There's Event Marketing

Let’s contrast this with what we have in event marketing. In a conference or tradeshow environment, the two lead states are unknown and scanned. That’s it.

Not only are leads being left on the table (how many budget-wielding execs are walking around an expo floor to get scanned?), but there is zero visibility into the development of a lead.

And it’s not like that lead progression is absent from an event setting. Attendees are meeting your salespeople on the show floor, listening to your executives’ keynotes, exploring your company’s profile, and reading your paper collateral---but we just don’t know about it.

It’s as if we have a website with no tracking turned on.

Segmentation is also lacking among leads that we are actually able to scan. At the booth itself, we can’t tell the difference between the senior manager looking to spend $3M before fiscal year-end and the senior manager just wanting the free T-shirt for her kid.

Again, we are running almost entirely blind.

Events Still Remain Valuable (Somehow)

Amazingly, despite all of these shortcomings, events are so valuable, so big in terms of lead potential, and so irreplaceable by other channels, that even in their current, data-challenged format, we know that there is value there.

It’s just a matter of turning on the tracking.

The good news is that the world has changed. Now, virtually everyone on the show floor is walking around with a powerful, sensor-laden computer, capable of signaling various levels of interest in content, exhibitors, speakers, and every other element of an event. We’re talking, of course, about smartphones and tablets.

These signals should be a game-changer for event marketing, with an impact as large as what web analytics did for SEM.

In fact, the web analytics analogy holds at a number of levels. All those same signals that we rely on in digital marketing to qualify a lead--- taps, forms, collateral downloads, video views, and engagement are now available in a live event setting via custom-made mobile event applications.

When combined with other data sources like social media profiles, event registration data, and historical data, event marketers can begin to get the whole picture and properly estimate ROI.

With a complete view of the data, perceived ROI will undoubtedly rise dramatically, increasing the size of the pie of the overall live event space.

To put it bluntly, event marketers have no excuse to run blind for one more day. The devices are in place, the content sits safely in the cloud, and the mighty consumer social networks have trained our attendees in how to interact with their smartphones.

It’s time to bring event marketing out of the data dark ages.

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Lawrence Coburn is the CEO and co-founder of DoubleDutch. DoubleDutch offers the only mobile conference application in the events industry designed to engage attendees, surface leads, and capture actionable data from your event.

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  • by K.F. Thu May 30, 2013 via blog

    What are your recommendations for mobile event applications?

  • by Colby Smith Tue Jun 11, 2013 via blog

    I would love to see a follow up article with specific digital tools and how to use them. It seems to me that we know about a few of these tools but could use step by step ways to integrate them into our trade shows.

    Thanks for a good foundation, how about some recommendations.

  • by Bob James Wed Jun 19, 2013 via blog

    Tools to engage, qualify and track prospects at events are available in abundant supply. (My company is on the forefront of supplying them to exhibitors and event producers, in fact).

    What's lacking among event professionals is overall awareness of those tools and a sense for how they can be used effectively.

    We work to overcome those barriers by educating clients one by one about event lead engagement and qualification. It's not rocket science, so the education comes quickly.

    Our flavor of lead capture, qualification and engagement relies for data exchange on NFC (near-field communication). We deploy NFC to attendees via their badges, and to exhibitors and producers via smartphones and tablets running our apps.

    The technology makes the data exchange easy for everyone. But it doesn't, in itself, remove the challenge to exhibitors and producers to PLAN for collecting the analytics the CMO needs.

    It all begins and ends with an event marketing measurement plan.

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