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Events: Measuring Their Impact

January 01, 2017

Ask a group of marketing executives how they measure the return on their events, and you’ll get all sorts of interesting answers. They can tell you exactly how many people staffed the booth, how much the booth space cost, how many pens they ordered and how much they spent on travel. But press them on how the event helped them build reputation or create demand, and the answers usually are much less specific.

The difficulties with event measurement revolve around the facts that sales and marketing have not come together to create a set of metrics that impacts both functions, and have historically tended to focus much more on measuring costs – in order to justify cutting them – than results. In this brief, we discuss a core group of results-oriented metrics that we believe can be applied in different combinations depending on the event in question.

Event Measurement Principles

We have classified events into five categories including trade shows, live events (pre-sale), live events (post-sale), channel (hosted and attended), and sponsorships. Due to the cost, time commitment and personnel required for each of these event categories, pressure has grown significantly to demonstrate their benefits. Before we get to specific metrics, let’s first review three basic principles of event measurement:

  • You have to pay to play. When you’re budgeting and planning for an event, if you don’t include measurement as both a line item and a task with a distinct owner to be completed it will never happen. SiriusDecisions estimates that b-to-b organizations should allot between 3 percent and 5 percent of an event’s budget for measurement costs that can include lead processing and telephone followup, at-show or post-show surveys, and event audits.
  • Metrics depend entirely on the event’s planned goals. Determining the value of any event must be considered in the context of two categories – demand creation and reputation – that should be established before an event, not afterward. By communicating an event’s primary role, you can properly build expectations and sharpen your overall strategy, event-specific tactics and budgetary resources to match this role, as well as settle on an appropriate group of metrics.
  • Keep it simple, and remain consistent. You can literally choose hundreds of metrics to track for every event you attend; most of these will have little meaning to anyone outside of your function. As we have said before, organizations waste far too much time, money and human capital tracking “nice to knows” instead of focusing on metrics that will help them do business better. If the metric can’t help someone make a tangible, critical decision, it should move far down – if not off – your list. Also, by measuring consistently, you can build confidence in the metrics and weave them into the planning fabric of your organization.
     

Critical Event Metric Categories

Putting together a formula for event measurement is entirely dependent on choosing the right variables. We believe the following seven categories are the most powerful choices to determine whether an event has positively impacted reputation (R) demand creation (DC), or both:

  • Target audience quantity (R, DC). The first criteria for most events is to assess what its potential truly was; given your target market(s), how many of the attendees, exhibitors and/or press were actually legitimate targets for your demand creation or reputation efforts? By sizing the actual universe from both an individual and corporate perspective, you have a baseline to begin calculating a variety of conversion rates that determine not only efficacy, but whether you chose the right event to begin with. Consistently executed event audits can play a significant role in helping to determine which events should remain in your portfolio and which show producers deliver on their attendance claims. This concept also can be applied in the opposite direction by requiring field sales to estimate target audiences in order to justify the deployment of resources to a local proprietary event or regional trade show.
  • Inquiries (DC). Responses are the fuel that makes a demand creation effort run. In the case of events, these responses will usually consist of brief discussions and business cards collected; you will want to track inquiries for prospects and current customers.
  • Lead stage/quality (DC). The next measurement that is required is to determine the viability of the responses accumulated. Given your target market definitions, lead definitions/taxonomy and demand creation funnel definitions, which inquiries should not be acted on at all (out of target), which should be routed to marketing for further nurturing/qualification and which are hot enough to be considered sales-ready? Encouraging sales and marketers working events to try to complete focused “lead capsule worksheets” for each inquiry (a series of checkboxes that can be filled in quickly works best) provides a more objective manner in which to classify leads following the event, rather than trying to rely on memory or only using demographic categories that can be gathered from a business card.
  • Message effectiveness (R, DC). At each event you sponsor or attend, there should be set of messages you are looking to deliver to a range of audiences. These messages may revolve around trying to create buzz around a new product or service, to educate a group of raw prospects on why they should consider changing their current approach, or to gaining influencer mindshare. Before each event, set communications goals, and measure the achievement of these goals through pre- and post-event surveys with your target audience(s).
  • Audience satisfaction (R). For events that are primarily designed to deepen a relationship with current customers and identify their incremental revenue potential, and to push late-stage prospects across the buying line, audience satisfaction is a critical metric. Not only do you want attendees to assess the quality of the event itself through an on-site or followup survey, you want to understand over time how attendance at a series of events is moving the needle of an overall favorable impression of your organization. This can be particularly helpful in understanding the frequency with which you should interact with current customers in order to maintain a strong relationship or to strengthen one that is relatively weaker.
  • Press impact (R). Trade shows (and certain channel events and sponsorships depending on host and size) often attract influential analysts, editors and writers. This important component of your analyst/public relations efforts should be leveraged and measured in terms of both thought leadership impact and favorable impression. You will also want to track post-show activity from these audiences; for example, raw numbers of article placements, article quality, publication quality, proper juxtaposition against competitors and level of favorability against competitors are just a few examples.
  • Brand loyalty improvement (R). Over time, customer loyalty is certainly reinforced by the emotional/rational “bond” customers form with a brand. By uncovering the brand drivers in your category and measuring your performance against them before and after an event, brand loyalty can be measured and forecasted in a manner that often has a direct impact on company value. As an example, net promoter scores – a metric developed at Harvard Business School – provide insight into whether a respondent would recommend a specific organization to peers.

At a baseline, the event category will determine which of these metrics is more or less appropriate. When you overlay your own goals for these events, you can further refine the recommendations in our SiriusDecisions Event Measurement Matrix (see below), eliminating those metrics that are not appropriate given your event strategy.

The SiriusDecisions Event Measurement Matrix

 

The Sirius Decision

While it is certainly informative to report measurement statistics, only the utilization of those statistics to inform actionable strategy will result in a steadily increasing return. Performance measurement is only the first step in this direction and should be followed by more informed portfolio planning and the design of customer experiences that achieve the desired goals. At a time when squeezing more business from existing customers and doing more with less are critical, emphasis on measuring and comparing tactical marketing investments is becoming more important than ever.