Event ROI is the most misunderstood, misused, and manipulated metric in modern marketing investments.
Trade shows, conferences, and industry meetings - they’re all key components of a company's annual marketing calendar, yet demonstrating their true return presents a complex set of challenges.
Event data is often muddied by vanity metrics, misalignment with company objectives, or lack of real connection to the sales funnel. A study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services found that while 93% of global companies place a high priority on their event programs, 55% of enterprise marketers admit they don't know how to calculate the ROI of an event.
If your organization invests in events, it's critical to prove those programs are working. If events aren't directly and positively affecting your company's bottom line, how can you justify the effort and expense, much less get buy-in to expand your event program even further?
When the pandemic forced events to migrate to a virtual platform last year, all event activity — like guest attendance, engagement, and event outcomes — suddenly took place in a digital environment. Precise numbers could be captured, evaluated, and analyzed in near-real time. While technology can make it much easier to measure the ROI of a virtual event, it's important you know how to collect and use all event data effectively and learn how to avoid pitfalls that have so frequently muddled the process in the past.
Aligning on Company Objectives and Defining Event Success
Before you even begin collecting and analyzing data, ensure your goals align with overall company objectives. You can't determine if the event was a success if you haven't already determined what success means to your team and company. As you go into the planning stage, knowing which metrics are important to your executive team or board will make the process much easier.
Measuring What Matters: Avoid Vanity Metrics
Too often, attempts at calculating event ROI are distorted by vanity metrics. You might have impressive event page views or a significant increase in social media mentions. Those are undeniably positive, but they don't help paint a meaningful picture of whether or not you've reached your program goals or how the event is affecting your organization's bottom line.
Partnering with your organization's sales team will ensure you develop a plan to capture, collect, clean up, and analyze event data in a meaningful way when it becomes available. Your sales team already specializes in measuring success by the numbers, making them an ideal resource to prove your event's worth.
Some examples of metrics that have a tangible effect on ROI include:
• Registration-to-attendee attrition rates
• C-level or decision-maker attendees
• Number of attendees from target accounts
• Average event ROI from ticketed events
• Funnel velocity/acceleration
• Win rate improvements
• Number of net-new qualified contacts added to your database
• The ratio of net-new to existing contacts
• Net-new leads generated
• Demos/meetings held at or after the event
• Net-new qualified leads (or MQLs)
Using the Right Combination of Virtual and In-Person Event Tech to Maximize Real Business Outcomes
When virtual events became the norm, much of the data gathered around attendance and engagement was, in a sense, "pre-digitized." Attendance was automatically logged, session engagement became accessible to time and measure, and attendees' interactions could be easily tracked. Feedback could be solicited with a swipe or click, and all that information and raw data could be fed directly into your CRM system.
Now that in-person events are resuming and hybrid events are replacing virtual-only formats, those data types become a bit more complex to gather — but it's still possible to create that same level of integration. Companies wanting to measure the ROI of in-person and hybrid events as thoroughly as they have for their virtual event programs will need to invest in event management tools designed with CRM integration in mind. A platform that automatically collects event data and shares it with a CRM system like Salesforce allows marketers to connect event activity directly to revenue generation. These are the measurements that matter and allow event teams to attribute ROI accurately.
While event marketers and professionals continue adjusting their programs as in-person events return, the benefits gleaned from a year of virtual events will shape how companies plan and evaluate their events. By measuring what matters, having the right event technology in place, integrating with CRM systems and aligning on expectations, event marketers can confidently demonstrate their events' ROI and make strategic adjustments to maximize the value of events to their companies’ bottom lines.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Holmen is the Chief Executive Officer of Splash, a next-generation event marketing platform that provides event marketers and field marketing teams with the tools they need to design, create, and execute virtual, in-person, and hybrid event programs that create memorable experiences, engage attendees, and drive business value. He is an expert in marketing technology and digitally-enabled engagement and connection, holding leadership positions in several notable experience technology companies, including most recently at Airship. In his two-decade marketing career, Eric has managed and led all aspects of events, from executing and hosting to implementing enterprise-level event tech platforms, leading to his current role as CEO of Splash.