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How to Prove the ROI of an Event

  |  January 22, 2014   |  Comments

20 ways to measure the success, or failure, of an event.

It's been exactly one year since I began writing this column. At the outset, my goal was to discuss marketing and media trends and offer actionable tips and insights for readers to take advantage of them. Over the past 12 months, I hope you felt I've done just that. We've covered digital marketing basics, checklists for successful content marketing, and best practices for webinars, PowerPoints, and B2B websites (the number four most-popular article on ClickZ last year -- thanks for reading, everyone!).

As we move into the new year, I wanted to take a moment to address a distinctly un-digital marketing tactic: in-person events. Recent reports show that content marketing remains the top focus for marketers, ahead of SEO, email, and even social media. But when you dig a bit deeper into the data, an unusual finding emerges: despite the buzz around native ads, viral videos, and social media, B2B and B2C marketers cite in-person events as their most effective content marketing tactic.

There's a great irony here: we're digital marketers, but face-to-face contact is still how business gets done. While this tactic may be the most effective, the majority of marketers I speak with say it's nearly impossible to measure their success. Of course, this paradox is based in truth: We know intuitively that events are effective, but due to long sales cycles, multiple customer touchpoints, and diffuse attribution models, quantifying the success of an event can be challenging.

Our holy grail is attributable revenue: What sales did the event drive? Here is an easy way to do it. But we often fall far short of those metrics, instead relying on sporadic, anecdotal feedback to prove our events' value. Here, I offer another way to measure an event's success. In fact, here are 20 --taken in sum, they can help you triangulate the ROI of your events in the absence of -- or in addition to -- straight revenue figures.

1. Number of Leads/Business Cards Collected: This is the no-brainer. Especially if you're attending a trade show or industry event, the number of business cards collected is a great place to start.

Expert Tip: After networking with each prospect, jot down a personal note (his son plays violin) and a professional note (he's interested in RTB on private exchanges) on the back of each card. This will make it easier for you -- or your team -- to follow up, and help you stand out from the pack from the generic follow-ups.

2. Number of Attendees. How many people were there? How does that figure compare to your goal?

3. Attendee Composition. Are you reaching the right people? Calculate the percentage of attendees who were in your target audience (e.g., media buyers, account directors, college students, moms, etc.) -- if it's 70 percent or higher, you've done well.

Expert Tip: Small events can be extremely impactful if the right people are in the room.

4. Revenue. Put all the attendees into Salesforce (or whatever system your company uses) and tag them as attendees for this event. Do a baseline pull after the event, then subsequent pulls three, six, and nine months later to see how revenue among those accounts grew above forecast -- it's not enough just to show absolute growth.

5. Revenue Touched. Sales cycles are long. While you're waiting to do Salesforce pulls to track revenue lift among attendees, calculate the revenue you touched: How much budget/spend do the people in the room control?

6. New Departments/Accounts Touched. Even if an attendee is familiar with your brand, successful events can help decision makers see potential for using your solution for other clients, business units, divisions, or use cases. For agency attendees, ask them what accounts they're currently covering. Track the number of "net new" opportunities and the potential revenue they represent.

7. Satisfaction -- Two Times. The feedback you get right at the end of an event is different from what you'll hear once attendees have gone home, mulled over what they heard, discussed it with coworkers, and crystallized their thinking. So field a questionnaire card during the event, and send a follow-up via email two days later. Keep both surveys short -- no more than five to seven rating scale questions -- and ask about overall satisfaction with the event, favorite sessions, and least favorite sessions.

Expert Tip: We all know the average open rate on an email is 10 percent to 20 percent, and the average completion of a survey is about the same, so consider offering an incentive for completing the questionnaire. At the live event, make questionnaire completion a prerequisite for getting a gift bag.

8. Awareness/Perception. The best events have "one red thread" that weaves throughout the event's content. Include questions in your survey that test whether the red thread resonated with attendees (e.g., "What was the one thing you learned at the event?," "What product would you most want to learn more about?," "Did the event change your perception of Company X? If so, how?") Not only will the data quantify perception shifts, it will also help inform your sales teams what they should be pitching these clients in the future.

9. Stay-on Rate. Just as with webinars, you'll want to look at drop-off rate as a proxy for engagement. If everyone showed up for the first session but ducked out at the coffee break, or after your celebrity guest left the stage, your event was not a success.

10. Meetings Booked. Unless you're hosting a party, chances are if someone was invited and showed up, they're probably already somewhat familiar with your brand. Look beyond attendee counts to track the number of follow-up meetings your sales teams are able to secure in the 30 days after the event.

Expert Tip: Your Operations lead likely has an Average Close Rate  percentage for your business unit. For a quick ROI estimate, multiply this figure by the number of meetings generated and the average sales as a proxy for ultimate expected revenue.

11. Featured Product Revenue. Most events showcase a new offering -- a new product, feature, pricing plan, etc. Track how sales of that product grow over three, six, and nine months among the attendees and the lift over forecast.

12. Vanity URL Visits. Your event probably had a splash page. Drive attendees back to that page to see recap videos and access content to share with their teams. Track visits to the page pre- and post-event.

13. Downloads, Views, and Shares. You've taken the time to create content for your event -- help it live on digitally on your website. Then track presentation downloads, video views, and shares of your content.

Expert Tip: If you shared original research at your event, gate the download for that study download and track additional leads.

14. Internal Downloads, Views, and Shares. Much of an event's value is in getting your own teams trained and telling the same story. (For example, at a recent event my firm helped execute, the chief executive delivered a new core pitch that the whole team now uses.) Track the downloads and usage of the materials you created for the event.

15. Press Mentions. How many publications covered your event? What were the earned impressions? If no press came (or they weren't invited), reach out the day after the event with photos and highlights from the event, making your execs available for interviews and perhaps one or two of the attendees who gave you high marks on your survey.

Expert Tip: Bizbash.com is a great publication for event photos if you did something special.

16. Tweets, Posts, and Likes. Measure your earned media impressions with HootSuite and Facebook analytics.

Expert Tip: Create a Facebook gallery for your event. Upload photos live at the event (there are great photo booth companies that make this a seamless experience) or that night, then friend and tag attendees and encourage them to share the posts. Count the shares!

17. Increased Engagement Rates. On your survey, ask users (or pre-check the box) to be added to receive email communications from your brand. Track the bump in your open rate, click-through rate, website visits, and share rates after the event.

18. Sales Feedback. This one's dangerous, depending on your company's culture! In my experience, it's better to ask than to wonder, so send a survey to your internal attendees: How did the event meet/exceed/fall below their expectations? What did they like the most? What did they think attendees likes the most? The data will help bolster or provide a counterpoint to the survey feedback you receive directly from attendees, and help your team execute even stronger events in the future.

19. Anecdotal Client Feedback and Testimonials. Arm your sellers with an email to send to their client attendees and prospects the day after the event. Ask them to forward any responses. Send a weekly check-in to your sales leaders asking how the follow-up meetings went. Compile that anecdotal evidence.

Expert tip: Wordle makes beautiful word clouds of this feedback.

20. Repeat Attendance. We vote with our wallets and with our time. How many of your attendees come to your next event?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristin Kovner

Kristin Kovner is a digital marketing, technology, and media industry veteran. Her firm, K-SQUARED STRATEGIES, helps high-growth media and tech companies develop and execute best-in-class marketing strategies. Prior to opening her own consultancy, Kristin served as the Vice President of Marketing Strategy at AOL, where she managed the AOL and AOL Advertising brands and set and executed the go-to-market strategy for AOL's owned and operated websites, including AOL.com, Moviefone, MapQuest, Engadget, and The Huffington Post.

Prior to joining AOL, Kristin served as the Head of Industry Marketing for YouTube and held various roles on Google's marketing team. Kristin has also worked as a journalist for Newsweek and SmartMoney, The Wall Street Journal's magazine, and as an economic consultant at Bates White LLC.

Kristin graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude from Yale College and currently lives in New York City.

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