The Virtual Measurement Question: Some Thoughts to Ponder

by

The struggle is real! For years, corporate event managers have adopted one methodology after another to calculate the return on the investment (ROI) in their exhibit spend. How many event professionals have heard leadership quote Peter Drucker: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”? (And having said this, they exited the room for another meeting, leaving you, the person responsible for one of the largest items in the marketing budget, wondering what to measure and how you’re going to demonstrate the success of your program.)

This year, you are probably looking back to those days with a certain fondness. There were always things to measure in the face-to-face environment. You could measure how many visitors came to your exhibit. You could measure the number of qualified leads you collected. You could measure how many existing customers you talked to. You could measure the number of attendees who responded to your pre-show email. You could measure the number of customers who participated in your targeted activity—and whether this activity either educated them or changed their buying or prescribing preference. You could measure the number of attendees who showed up to hear your thought leader’s presentation.

Even better, you could set measurable objectives for each and every one of these items. You could base those objectives on your past history at the show—or the show audit from previous years. If the show changed location each year, you could tell from the audit how location or venue affected attendance from a particular region. You could develop specific targets and assign quantifiable objectives to each of them. You could aim for a number of press mentions or social media posts. And when the show was over, you could match your actuals to your objectives. We weren’t operating in a perfect world, but these were tried and true ways to measure your ROI. And if you were able to sell at the show or to develop a method of tracking closed leads, the contribution to revenue is a success story all on its own.

But that was in the days of live events, and for the most part, COVID has brought the curtain down on them. While some events early on were unequivocally canceled, many now embrace one digital platform or another, and we appear to have a plethora of virtual events in the works.

Two burning questions keep event professionals awake these nights: what is the best platform for me to use? And how do I assess my ROI?

The answer to the best platform question changes regularly, almost daily. The platform segment has become highly competitive, with many players entering the field. The issue is too elusive to consider.

But the measurement question? You can’t measure the elements that are present in a live environment, so what do you measure? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Have you ever registered for a webinar or a virtual event and then not attended? Don’t feel guilty: you’re not the only one. The first thing you can measure is the number of actual attendees that participated in the event, and then compare that to the registrants that the show organizer should supply. You might find you have to adjust your objectives.
  • How long did visitors spend in your virtual exhibit? Although some anticipate that visitors will opt for more extended stays with fewer distractions than when they visit the live show floor, the virtual exhibit is still in its infancy—and creating a compelling virtual exhibit is still a challenge.
  • Does your user experience (UX) include a way to gather information about your exhibit visitors? You can gauge visitor interest as well as buying intentions and elicit answers to other relevant questions—not unlike you would ordinarily do on the show floor, except that there is no direct human interface here. You can gather data with interactivity, helping you find out who is interested in a particular product or service. Have you considered gamification? Incorporating some fun yet educational component can be effective in qualifying visitors.
  • You can gather budget information and buying intentions. The relative anonymity of the virtual space, at this point, seems to be less intrusive to exhibit visitors, and they will share more information with you.
  • Your event strategy, just as with a live event, should include pre-show promotion and a call-to-action (CTA) that gets attendees to commit to visiting your exhibit. Don’t be afraid to use multiple delivery systems for your promotion: email, social media—even postcards. The response to your CTA is an excellent barometer of how well your program worked or is working.
  • What are some of the non-linear ways of collecting attendee information and creating a compelling UX? Are you providing downloads of white papers or product sheets? Are you incorporating a chat feature and encouraging conversations? Are you building your social media following while you have exhibit visitors? How about surveys or user polls?

With these thoughts in mind, think about creating and designing your virtual ‘show floor’ presence. Budgeting has become a significant consideration as we enter the virtual realm, and the design of the UX to fit the needs of your entire program needs to be scalable if you are to have a decent ROI. One budget item that appears to be on a par with actual floor space is the cost of ‘space’ on the virtual exhibit floor. Get that number first to calculate what is available for you to plan your virtual exhibit. You want to have something more than a link to your website as an exhibit. Share your budget with your exhibit partner so that together you can work toward creating a virtual presence that delivers results.

There is a fairly widespread consensus in the exhibit and event industry that the next iteration of events will be hybrid, allowing a combination of live and virtual. In the best of all possible worlds, this will expand the reach of your program. Measuring and managing your virtual program now will give you additional data to append to that which you have always collected on a live show floor—in which case, your ROI gets even better.

New call-to-action