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April 17, 2006

Measure for measure

As events become more high profile and procurement departments become increasing involved in the process, this marketing discipline that has traditionally lacked any formal measurement is being forced to make itself accountable and demonstrate its return on investment (ROI).

"No marketer worth their salt would neglect to build measurement into traditional advertising, direct marketing or online activity, yet it is amazing how frequently face-to-face activity goes unmeasured," says Ian Irving, marketing director of brand experience agency Sledge. "This is all the more remarkable given that conferences and events by their very nature give marketers direct access to the audience."

In a recent poll of 125 leading marketing decision-makers, conducted by MPI on behalf of global events company, The George P Johnson Company, 31% said they were committed to spending more money on events this year. Key to this increased spend is the ROI these marketers believe events deliver compared with other elements of the marketing mix. With 18% of the vote, events come second only to direct marketing (19%) in terms of delivering ROI.

However, measuring this ROI isn't easy.

"Advertising can simply ask 'did the message get across, did the phones ring and did sales spike as a result of the ad campaign?'" says Kim Myhre vice president and general manager at GPJ. "In contrast, an event's agenda may include a far more complex range of deliverables. These include getting established customers closer to the new product ranges; converting a range of prospects into first-time buyers; generating a number of qualified sales leads; reinforcing strategic partnerships, and so forth."

But that doesn't mean companies should be happy just to assess simple measures such as audience generation and attendee satisfaction with the venue. "While these diagnostic tools and measures are important in telling us if an event should be discontinued, changed or enhanced, they only paint in a very superficial part of the picture," continues Myhre. "They don't tell you if or how the event shifted customers through the nurturing cycle - moving them from awareness, through to interest, to desire and finally to action."

The first thing is to define is what it is that you wish to evaluate - is the activity intended to generate purchase consideration, trial, advocacy, or loyalty? If it is an internal event, is it intended to change behaviour, boost productivity or increase morale? Good measurement relies on good objective setting.

Building technology into the event can be hugely beneficial in terms of measurement. For example, interactive tools allow you to track the information people are accessing. "This approach has been successfully implemented by Sledge for the Department of Health. By integrating interactive pods into its exhibition stands, the government department is able to track the frequency and depth with which people are engaging with a given subject area," explains Irving.

Historically, events have been assessed on the diagnostics - namely how to improve an event's components. However, measurement needs to get more fundamental than this. It needs to assess an event's value in terms of delivering real marketing and business objectives. This means assessing the number of leads; the movement through conversion to a sale; the shift in the audience's perception of the brand, and behaviour changes.

Finally, you need to gauge what the event marketing strategy did for the business. This means looking at the later phase in the marketing cycle where leads are validated and converted. "At this point several elements in the marketing mix have all played a part, so you must be equipped to split out event marketing's unique contribution to this process," says Myhre. Leads for individual events have to be captured and lead response and management systems, which are probably used in other parts of the organisation, have to be integrated into your event measurement process.

"In these times of greater marketing accountability, proving the effectiveness of an event budget is essential and to fail to do otherwise amounts to marketing negligence," concludes Irving.
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