The Ultimate Guide to Event Marketing ROI – 6 Steps to Success

Jim Ekstrand


The Ultimate Guide to Event Marketing ROI – 6 Steps to Success

Jim Ekstrand

The world of event marketing and experiential marketing will continue to grow and evolve as we move beyond 2021.

If you're an event marketer with a budget growing as fast as executive interest in your events, calculating return on investment rockets to the top of your priority list.

When planning and executing any event, you need to make sure the ROI is worth the investment. So, how do you measure the real return on investment for your event?

First, let's start with the basics.

Jim Ekstrand

Understand The Basics of Event Marketing ROI

No two events are created equal, but high-functioning event marketing teams should quickly gauge event marketing ROI from one event to the next regardless of format.

Focus on these critical areas:

  • Engagement: What does the traffic look like from this event? RSVPs vs. actual attendees? How many conversations (scheduled and otherwise) did your sales team have at the event? Gauge the overall engagement of attendees to understand how well your message and product were received. And in today's ever-evolving virtual world, track participation in the Zoom meeting.
  • Lead Generation: Now it's time to put names and numbers to those engagement metrics. Online registration pages are an excellent opportunity to capture important demographic information. And badge scans, booth sign-ups, and website downloads are all ways to capture tangible leads during an in-person event. For virtual events, consider sending attendees a follow-up survey or tracking social engagement and the use of designated hashtags.
  • Opportunities: So, you've had a great conversation and gotten the contact details for a new lead – great! Now it's time to work this lead into an opportunity. Your sales team should be able to seamlessly track touches through a CRM or lead management solution until the lead reaches an opportunity state – with the original lead source of the event is there for everyone to see.
  • Brand awareness: Events should first and foremost be a way to drive new business for your organization, but they are also an incredible way to get your name out there. You will want to track mentions and/or tags across social media, event press, and industry news to measure your brand awareness both before and after your event.

Budget: One of the golden rules of event marketing is to stick to your budget, no matter what happens. Everything from personnel travel to contractor invoices to collateral printing to expense reports should be included in your total budget.

Stop Settling for "Getting Our Name Out There"

More often than not, when we speak to marketers, they tell us, events are just something we do to get our name out there. If we had a dollar for every time we heard someone say they're just participating in events for exposure, we'd give that dollar right back to them and say, there's a better way.

Start by designing a comprehensive strategy and set specific marketing goals for every event. You'll also need to develop a measurement strategy as well to track performance against your goals. Without the tracking, it's hard to demonstrate the ROI.

The best time to make an event marketing plan is before you're hurtling a million miles a minute toward an upcoming event (though the right kinds of tools can make that a much better logistical ride). You can only track what you're set up to track, after all.

Taking a moment to nail down four key data points in advance of an event can make measuring ROI afterward a breeze and ultimately save you a boatload of time and energy in the long run.

Nothing is worse than realizing after the fact that you neglected to establish a baseline metric or forgot to give the prepared hashtag to your social media manager. #facepalm

Establish Your Goals

The goals you choose are secondary to having them in the first place. Your goals should exist in writing, and everyone who needs to agree on them should agree on them. Aim for 6-8 goals; 4 at minimum. These should be as concrete as possible; if there are questions or uncertainty from your team, you should take another pass with clarity in mind.

Your goals might be a compilation of any number of these:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Increase sales
  • Promote product knowledge
  • Customer education
  • New product launch
  • Lead generation
  • Media impressions and press coverage
  • Increase website traffic
  • Increase social media engagement
  • Develop influencers and brand ambassadors
  • Etc.

Design Your Measurement Strategy

If you put your goals on a hilltop (stay with us here...) and let them shine like a beacon, everything you do should be in service of cutting a clear and direct path to the top of that hill.

There will be peripheral concerns, of course, but your primary focus should be on the items that will get you closer to those goals at the top of the hill.

With that analogy in mind: make a list of all the data you need to gather and define how it ties back to your goals. It would help if you also started thinking about how you can accurately measure that data concerning your goals.

Here's a sampling of the types of data you might need:

  • Attendees
  • Leads
  • Qualified sales opportunities
  • Net promoter score
  • Registrations
  • Sales
  • Social mentions/likes
  • Survey responses
  • Event website referrals and conversions
  • Email clicks
  • Email opens
  • Search ad impressions and clicks
  • And so on

Determine Which Tools You Will Use for Acquisition Data Measurement

Your CRM, analytics tools, social UI data, and any survey platforms you utilize are good places to start when deciding which tools you will rely on to measure the data on your list.

You'll want to be mindful of how to assess the validity of your tools, the accuracy of the data they provide, and how they will integrate with your current systems (i.e., some platforms only show data for specific periods or only in certain formats).

It would help if you also took a moment to evaluate how you are acquiring your data. No shame, but it's officially time to move beyond clipboards full of paper forms for company reps to fill out in chicken scratch and forget in the hotel lobby! Or Excel spreadsheets full of leads that get lost on the company's Sharepoint.

Make life easier on yourself and everyone on your team by looking at some modern solutions that can increase efficiency and accuracy and make the overall process a lot less complicated.
Identifying a single event marketing platform with robust integrations might be a consideration to help streamline an active event calendar, manage your event tech stack, as well as vendors and budgets.

Post-event Follow-through

Phew - the event is over and was a screaming success! Now what? Chances are you either:

  • Breathe a sigh of relief and never think about that event again; or
  • Barely have time to breathe at all as you're swept up in planning for your next event that's somehow already around the corner.

But remember: there's a better way! If you've taken some time to set up a lil' savvy strategy beforehand, this is the moment to review event data, clarify your metrics and confidently determine your event's ROI.

Surveys + NPS

Many marketers use post-event surveys or interviews to help gather data for calculating ROI. Surveys are among the best ways to gather quantitative and qualitative info from participants, partners, and vendors. A mix of open- and closed-ended questions is best practice.

Don't miss your chance to ask how likely people would recommend your product or service to a friend or coworker on a scale of 0-10; your event Net Promoter Score (NPS) is one of the fastest ways to understand how to improve.

The Moment of Truth: Calculate the Event Marketing ROI

Once you have the fundamental metrics of an event, it's time to calculate the ROI. Looking at the cost of the event – your budget – compared to the outcomes of the event – engagement, leads, opportunities, and brand awareness – will give you your ROI.

Let's say your team hosts a product-focused webinar to promote a new feature. There were great questions from the attendees, multiple new leads attended, and a few even turned into viable opportunities. Plus, since your team hosted the webinar over your in-house platform, the startup costs were minimal. This kind of event would have a much higher ROI than a large-scale conference with plenty of passing conversations but no real meat.

You'll also need a few additional ingredients to calculate event ROI:

  • The baseline data you took before the event (related to those goals you set, remember?)
  • New data obtained after the event
  • The total and actual cost of hosting or attending the event

If you followed the plan, the first two should be quite straightforward. The third can be a little tricky.

A note on budgets: Costs get buried in many places, especially when you're planning for significant events or multiple events at a time. Did you buy a case of stickers and use them across ten events? Does the line item for shipping the promotional materials live in one spreadsheet, and the line item for renting the cheese truck live in another?

You'll need to configure your accounting software or use an event planning platform with the right features to keep all your costs in one place. This will allow you to trace all the costs back to the event and accurately calculate your ROI.

Virtual Marketing Event ROI

The new normal of virtual event marketing looks more than a little different than the past world of in-person gatherings. Instead of judging success on the number of booth conversations, event marketers have a plethora of new ways to track and measure engagement.

For marketing leaders, it's vital to have a clear path of understanding between these engagement metrics and how the bottom line (i.e., revenue, deals, etc.) is impacted.

Here are the several numbers every marketing leader should know when it comes to event marketing metrics:

  • Operating budget: How much did the event cost to host in the first place? For virtual events, this number includes everything from the cost of the event-hosting software to the expenses incurred by posting the event in industry publications or on paid ad sites or social media platforms.
  • Total event value: What was the return on the event? This metric is essentially an amalgamation of the dollar value derived from all the various event activities (leads, traffic, press, etc.) into an amount that is easy and accessible for executives to work with.
  • Cost per action: What is the breakdown of each identified activity? If your team strives to drive conversations, meetings, leads, or opportunities, an important metric to keep a close eye on is the cost per action. This number puts a "price" on each action (conversation, etc.) based on an event's total operating budget. Marketing teams tracking the cost per action can also build an overall view across all marketing events for a more holistic look at marketing operations.

Always track virtual marketing event ROI back to your original goals.


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