There has been an increased interest in whether face-to-face marketing at shows produces a return. Maybe it was due to the recession or simply because exhibit managers looking at the escalating exhibition budgets began asking the right questions.
Most often marketers look for a return on investment (ROI). Corporations rely heavily of the ROI calculation as a means of convincing the decision makers that the investment was worth the cost. ROI is a calculation of the profitability of the investment. The problem with using ROI exclusively in an event and exhibit scenario is that often actual sales are not realized immediately. Also, exhibit objectives are often "soft" and outside the scope of a reasonable ROI calculation. This does not mean that a ROI calculation is not achievable but it is often based on assumptions such as the success ratio of leads to sales, the matching of sales and buying cycles and so on.
The other disadvantage of ROI is how it's used. The most common result of a ROI calculation is that it becomes the basis for reducing costs or increasing profits. If you could measure exhibit results the way you would of the purchase of a new machine, then this would be well and good. But they are not.
Exhibiting is part of the marketing process and doesn't always lend itself easily to comparing dollars received against dollars spent. Marketing looks at other issues such as branding, generating leads, customer engagement and so on and whether these tasks have been completed successfully determines the success of the marketing exercise.
There are other measurements besides ROI: Return on Equity (ROE), Return on Assets (ROA), Return on Time (ROT), Return on Relationships (ROR), and Return on Objectives (ROO). Each calculation has its pros and cons but the measurement most often embraced by exhibit marketers is Return on Objective.
The first step in ROO measurement is to clearly articulate the exhibit objective. For example if the objective is to reinforce the brand you first need to ask, what is are brand message? You should be able to articulate your brand message in two or three clear and concise key messages.
Next you need to answer the question, "Which attendees will be most likely to find value in my messages?" In most situations you don't want to talk to each visitor at the trade show. What you need to do is to create a profile. While you may think you know the end buyer or user or your product, you might not know the people who can influence that buyer?
With this information you are in a good position to create a measureable objective. You might say "I want meet 47 people at the trade show who fit closely into my profile and am able to introduce them to my three key messages. "
Now there is one more step. In order to know if you are achieving your objective you need to build into your measurement strategy a testing mechanism. Testing indicates whether the key messages you are conveying in fact were understood and are of value. Testing can be as simple as looking for spikes in web-traffic to exit surveys. It all depends on the sophistication you are looking for and the resources you have at your disposal.
The beauty of exhibit marketing is in the quality of traffic shows attract. Measuring ROO then, puts you in a superb position to measure the quality of contacts rather than the quantity.
And, at the end of the day what's more important?