Amid the profusion of digital marketing channels, there's still no experience as compelling as a prospective buyer and seller meeting face to face. Nearly three decades after the popularization of email and the launch of the worldwide web, events remain a thriving and growing marketing channel.
According to the Event Manager Blog, more than four out of five B2B marketers use in-person events in their marketing mix, and events are still viewed as "the most effective form of content marketing for B2B marketers."
G2 Crowd (no relation to G2Planet; apparently, they just liked our name :-)) notes that nearly two-thirds of brands see events and experiential programs as directly related to sales; more than half say event marketing drives more business value than other marketing channels; and CMOs typically allocate anywhere from 20% to 50% of total marketing budgets to live events.
ATN Even Staffing adds that 41% of marketers believe events are "the single-most effective marketing channel over digital advertising, email marketing, and content marketing."
Live events are a high-cost / high-return marketing channel, and as such should be both enthusiastically embraced and carefully scrutinized. The term encompasses a range of event types from hosted corporate events to hybrid regional events to industry exhibitions and trades shows, each with their own unique set of questions.
Here are key considerations for each type of event:
Large Corporate Events (How)
Many companies, particularly in the tech and consumer products sectors, host large annual gatherings of customers as well as sales kickoffs meetings for partners and employees. These tend to be regular annual events, so there isn't generally any question of whether or not a company will do these. Rather, the questions for these types of events tend to be how questions, such as:
- How do we price our customer conference to maximize attendance yet produce a return on our investment?
- How do we choose a venue that meets multiple objectives: easy to get (fly in) to, large enough, able to accommodate our technical and other requirements, within our budget, etc.?
- How do we most effectively promote the event?
- How do we choose the best content, speakers, and sessions?
- How do make the format more engaging, especially for Millennial professionals who bring different expectations to the event?
- How do we measure success?
Though financial metrics and soft benefits certainly matter, the focus is typically on operational metrics: how did we do, and how can we do better?
Regional Events (What)
This category covers a wide range of event types, from small industry-focused conferences and company-hosted road shows to partner events and multi-vendor sponsored breakfast, happy hour, and dinner events.
The most common types of questions are what events do we take part in: are road shows feasible and worth the investment of time, money, and effort? Are conferences and partner events productive? Do "influencer" morning or evening events attract the right audience?
Regional events can draw larger buying groups from each attending company than would typically attend a national show, and costs are generally lower, so they can be a wise marketing investment. The key is choosing what type of events will most cost-effectively meet company objectives.
Industry Exhibitions and Trade Shows (Which)
Most companies, particularly on the B2B side, exhibit at trade shows. Very small companies may reserve floor space at only one or two events per year, and it's probably not terribly difficult to figure out which shows are most critical.
But for midsize and large enterprises that must evaluate dozens or even hundreds of events globally each year for possible participation, the question of which expos to participate in can have a significant impact on overall marketing spend, lead flow, and ROI.
For companies that manage busy event calendars across multiple locations and business units, and evaluate a large number of exhibition opportunities, a multi-event management platform can help by enabling the firm to evaluate different events on a consistent basis, and coordinate resources among the events chosen.
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) recently released the first two reports in a new multi-report series providing insights from marketing leadership that sheds interesting light on how enterprises evaluate which expos to attend. The data are interesting for both exhibition organizers and exhibiting companies.
Among the key findings in 2019 Head of Marketing Insights Series Part One are:
1) Experience matters. The chief marketing officers (CMOs) and other marketing executives at companies that are most active in live event marketing have the most positive image of the channel. The most negative views come from marketing leaders that do little or no event marketing, and are based largely on past experience, second-hand knowledge, or lack of awareness.
2) Expectations are changing, generationally. According to concierge.com, "78% of Americans agree with the statement, 'If a company invited me to be a VIP at an event, I’d be a customer for life.' But that number increases to 88% among millennials. The same goes for a host of other stats, including how likely a consumer is to recommend a brand’s products or services after attending one of their events (30% overall, 45% among millennials)."
The CEIR report likewise notes that younger B2B professionals expect a more consumer-like buying experience, noting that, "57 percent (of Millennials) placed importance on engaging with exhibitors at the moment of purchase." Of course, not every B2B product or service is suitable for an immediate, in-booth sales transaction. The point is to make the buying process as frictionless as possible.
3) Different channels, same goals. As with most marketing channels, online or off, B2B marketers say their top two objectives at live events are increasing brand awareness (81%), and lead generation (pretty much 100%).
4) That's nice, but it's expensive. In CEIR's research, more than two-thirds of marketing leaders agreed that face-to-face meetings are highly effective for:
- meeting with existing customers;
- relationship selling efforts;
- promoting new products;
- engaging prospects with our products;
- generating sales leads; and
- building brand awareness.
However, only slightly more than half (54%) agreed that, "the cost of exhibiting is in line with the value of exhibiting." The message here for exhibit organizers: be prepared to show ROI. And for exhibiting companies: negotiate hard.
CEIR's follow-up report, 2019 Head of Marketing Insights Series Part Two, added several additional, interesting findings:
1) Marketing does the work, but business units pay the bills. The "need to involve multiple players is affirmed when looking at who makes the decision to pay for exhibiting; no one business function dominates, and it is not necessarily marketing that covers the cost. Though when it comes to executing the decision to exhibit and handling the logistics of exhibiting, marketing is a dominant force." Again, this is where a multi-event management platform really provides value.
2) We've always done it that way. 60% of respondents in CEIR's research agreed with the statement, "We exhibit at some exhibitions every year, we just budget for them, there is no process." This is great for exhibit organizers. Exhibiting vendors, on the other hand, would be best served by measuring event ROI using a consistent set of metrics for operational, soft benefit, and hard financial results. This lets them compare all event opportunities each year and choose the most promising trade shows (regardless of what they did last year).
3) Exhibiting meets important objectives. Marketing leaders say that B2B exhibitions help them meet their high-priority objectives across three key areas:
Lead generation—live events are effective for generating:
- new leads in general (81%)
- leads in a new region (82%)
- leads in a new business sector (74%).
Branding efforts—live events are effective at:
- building/expanding brand awareness (84%).
- targeted business sector promotions (82%).
- reinforcing brand awareness (80%).
Relationship management—live events are effective for connecting with:
- existing customers (72%).
- key accounts (80%).
- new prospects (80%).
You can find many more insights in CEIR's reports.
The bottom line for corporate marketing teams is that live events are highly effective for achieving important marketing objectives, but they are also costly. And not all B2B trade shows offer the same level of opportunity. So, it's vital to have a measurement system in place, both to assure the company is investing in the best portfolio of events, and to demonstrate the return on event marketing to corporate leaders.