By Marilyn Cox | Marketing Principal – Industry Center of Excellence

In my years as a marketer, I’ve found no topic stirs up more debate and emotion like “events”.  Events and trade shows are a hotly contested investment for many organizations.  Some believe that events offer organizations the opportunity to engage in a large number of face-to-face conversations over a matter of days.  Others believe that the cost per conversation is dramatically higher than the day-to-day sales engagement.  Some believe that marketing should invest in more events, while others argue that fewer events should be attended and the money saved should be invested in a larger presence at selected events and shows.

And what about the consequences of not participating in an event?  As an industry focused marketer, I know there are some industry events that you have to participate in, in order to demonstrate your commitment to an industry space.  For example, by participating in life science, health science, or financial service events the industry awareness of the Oracle Marketing Cloud and our commitment to those vertical spaces is demonstrated.  If we were to stop participating and sponsoring, the industry would assume we pulled out of the space.  I’m sure this is true with many companies.

No matter their opinion, people just want to see the company invest in those channels that will deliver the greatest return.

At the root of this discord is the ROI metric.  Because events require measurement across online and offline activity, it can be difficult to understand lead generation and holistic activity for individuals and accounts. And for those organizations with long sales cycles it can be challenging to determine revenue resulting from particular events by the time budgeting and commitment for the next fiscal year occurs.
So how can you demonstrate the value of events when not tied directly to revenue and leads? Below are questions to consider as you plan for future event investment

  1. Where are your competitors? If your competitors are at a high profile event then perhaps you should attend as well.  If there’s an opportunity to sponsor or speak that’s money well spent. If it’s a smaller event and you’re competing for limited mindshare, then you may be better served sponsoring an event where you’re the single market niche representative.
  1. If you are presenting, what does attendance to your sessions look like? Are you fielding questions during or after your presentation? Are you collecting and measuring real-time session ratings? Is there an increase in traffic to your booth, and do the conversations shift to prospect use cases, after your sessions? Do people visit because of what you have to share, as opposed to what you’re giving away?
  1. Do you see the same attendees from one event to the next? Are your in-person conversations progressing? Have you seen a shift in conversation at your booth from “who are you?”, “what do you do?”, or “I didn’t know you played in this space” to “we met at the last event”, “I liked your presentation”, “I’ve spoken with so-and-so”, and “I recently read about you…” ? Have you created the opportunity to interact, connect, and build relationships with attendees and speakers?
  2. Do you make tradeshow and event content available on your website afterwards, and are people engaging with it? Do you provide content associated with topics covered at the event?  Are you providing varying content types like articles, blogs, reports, white papers, infographics, and video?  Are you noticing patterned spikes in web traffic, downloads, or webcast attendance?  Do you allow for selection of subscription preferences, or opt-outs?
  3. When using the conference hashtag or tweeting about the event, what does your social engagement look like? Are people commenting, sharing, and liking your posts?  Do you notice an increase in followers?  Are you being added to thought leader Twitter lists?  Are you too pushy and promotional, or are you creating conversations and the ability to interact by recommending sessions and relevant content
  4. What does engagement and demand generation look like compared to other marketing tactics?  And not just the number of new names added to a list, but are tradeshow leads accelerating through your sales
    cycle at a faster rate than other opportunities? Are you entering prospects into follow-up campaigns from the event floor?  Are you tracking the velocity of these contacts as they move through the funnel?

The value of events and trade shows can’t be boiled down to a single metric. As much as we’d like to point to a number, or as much as we’re being asked to, we can’t. The questions above must be discussed during event planning, and reviewed during postmortems. Given the money invested in this channel it’s only fair that we invest the time and effort in understanding the true value these activities deliver.