Return on investment (ROI) is, at best, a misleading metric for evaluating event-marketing performance.

Let's start with a straightforward definition for ROI: how much money was made, compared with how much was spent.

But determining what an event costs can get really complicated, really fast. Do you include the hard costs of a venue or exhibit space? The fabrication of event elements? Event staff time and T&E? What about the investment of time (or agency fees) to develop the design, the content, and other programmatic elements? And how do you factor in the hours spent in countless stakeholder meetings and reviews?

And how much revenue an event drives is no easier to decipher. Unless your company is selling products at a B2B event (which does happen in some industries), it's difficult, if not impossible, to attribute a converted sale to the event. Many touchpoints contribute to a sale. The event is important, but it's just one touchpoint. Also, it's likely that a person attending a company's event or visiting its booth may already be more inclined to buy its products, which makes it even more complicated to determine the event's role in driving a purchase.

The Metrics That Matter

To help wade through such murky waters, GES (where I work) has developed event metrics that are measurable (unlike ROI), recognizing that most B2B events are way more than just selling opportunities.

Events can contribute to pipeline, yes, but they should also build brand affinity and strengthen customer loyalty—all important contributors to a business's success.

With that in mind, let's look at four metrics that matter to event marketing:

  1. Anticipated pipeline. The key word here is "anticipated." Rather than evaluating an event by converted sales (which is usually impossible), you should evaluate the impact on a prospect's likelihood to purchase, and the potential revenue the event is driving. The result is a much more honest look at the role of events as pipeline contributors.
  2. Brand impact. Marketing industry research has demonstrated that positive brand perceptions influence purchasing decisions. This metric looks at changes in perception tied to unique dimensions of a brand. For example, if thought leadership is an important dimension of the brand, one would hope that the event had a positive impact on perceptions of the brand as a thought leader. If, instead, a brand aims to be approachable, one should evaluate perception changes around that dimension. Usually, there are multiple dimensions to review.
  3. Customer retention. Many events and exhibits attract current customers. These folks may not represent immediate sales or cross-selling opportunities, but event marketers understand that treating existing customers well is still important. Events can and should have an impact on a customer's loyalty to the company; that type of relationship is a real value driver (because losing customers can be so costly). This metric evaluates the impact of the event on customer retention rates.
  4. Perceived quality of the experience. Though this metric is not directly correlated to business outcomes, providing a high-value experience for attendees is a worthwhile goal. This metric looks at crucial attributes of an event (e.g., staff interactions, educational content) and determines whether attendees perceive them as being of high value. The resulting insights from analysis of this metric help event marketers continuously improve their events.

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image of Dax Callner

Dax Callner is chief strategy officer at GES Events, a global full-service provider for corporate events.

LinkedIn: Dax Callner

Twitter: @Daxdax