April 7, 2017

Matt Coyne

Matt Coyne is a Technology Engagement Architect at GES EMEA. He has worked in the events and exhibitions industry for over 10 years and has extensive experience ranging from organizing and design to websites, registration and intelligent data services.

Everyone has an opinion. In our industry, one of the most talked about subjects today is lead generation and ROI. There are a lot of posts, blogs and commentary about the subject that have been doing the rounds with a large proportion of those people adamant that their way is right.

Here’s my way …

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Event Tech Talks panel discussion titled Lead Generation 2.0 and ROI. I really enjoyed the session and I think because everyone has their own (strong) opinion on the subject, you could literally talk about it for hours. 

I don’t think any definitive answers came from this session, but based on feedback from some of our industry colleagues, there was some great knowledge shared and new ideas taken away … great!


Before one can weigh in on the subject of ROI, one should define what ROI means to oneself, so that everyone understands where you’re coming from. Is it proving return on investment? Or objectives? Or perceived value? Or something else entirely? Who are you trying to prove ROI to – visitors, exhibitors, organizers, suppliers?

Once people know from what angle you’re coming from, you can have a healthy debate about the subject.

For me, and this covers any media, not just events and exhibitions, I think it’s almost impossible to prove ROI in the monetary sense of the word, with any media. Yes, you can track a lead back to where they initially interacted with you, but that might be three years down the line and the platform you garnered the lead from is already defunct, so what do you do? Ask the developers to reload MySpace so you can get one more lead in another three years? You would have already finished your 2014 report on marketing spend versus return on investment, so where does this lead sit? Just a bit of a bonus in 2017? 

This is where I think the term ROI is a bit of a misdemeanor. In my opinion, it’s all about measurement. You should be able to capture and measure all interactions that occur around your event. And you should be able to tell prospects and customers the type of engagement they could expect at your next event, not just that 5,000 people came through the front doors. 

(Hopefully), you’re not telling them that they can do $2.5 million worth of business from your show, because their proposition may be entirely different than the person next to them, but you should be able to tell them approximate numbers and demographic types that they’d expect to meet. Of course, you will have some case studies of people that have done it well, but will your entire exhibitor base expect that kind of return? 

Think of it like Google AdWords or a Facebook campaign. If you’re going to spend over $6,000 or even $60 on a new campaign, they pretty much calculate the audience type you’re going to reach and estimate the number of leads they’ll generate. Great. You can see a return on investment straight away...oh wait, no you can’t. 

You can see how many leads will be generated but not what the qualified value of those leads will be – that’s up to you to convert! I need to caveat this: if you’re selling goods off of these adverts you hopefully could see clearly the sales of items versus the ad spend and therefore you can see the ROI. I’m talking B2B products or services. And it’s why there has been a lot of coverage about major brands pulling out of this very sort of campaign in the last few weeks. 

I’ve not even covered the digital lead gen opportunities such as using social or A.I. networking and so on, but they will for sure play a part in additional leads, or rather more qualified leads and conversations. 

Why is lead gen and ROI linked then?

All of this “engagement” technology enables us to measure more of what is happening on the show floor. It’s not just about lead gen, or not in the traditional exhibitor sense of the word.

So, lead gen 2.0 is about empowering anyone that enters your show with smart technology to enable them to have a better experience and putting them in control of their own leads, be they exhibitor products, content sessions and so on. It’s their own little digital show briefcase of everything and everyone they interacted with. Visitors, exhibitors, sponsors – they’re all covered in this.

And the link between the two? In its broad undefined sense (IMHO), it isn’t ROI, but it is measurement. Measurement of interaction. Engagement with sessions. Real-time surveys. Product display sections. The list can go on and on and....

I think the future of these smart event technologies is about capturing and measuring behavioral data. And this is where the similarities of events and the retail sector are so closely aligned or should be, but we only host our events for 2-5 days a year.

Some context...Retail. They need to understand the buying behavior of their customers to sell more efficiently and are starting to do it well – look at Target as one example I’ve mentioned before. They understand every transaction and who has transacted (via club cards for example) so they can piece together behavioral patterns and then churn out relevant sales and marketing material to convert even more sales. Excellent. 

What do you do?

It needs to be understood what behavioral information you could gather from your event and what it’s used or useful for. Or what are you trying to find out, prove or measure? Once you understand that, you’re tapping into a real gold mine of information that your customers will be scrambling over to see.

I’m no data scientist so I couldn’t begin to tell you complex algorithms behind data sets and how they match up and work. I could tell you the sort of information I would like to see, but in the meantime, maybe you should start to employ one (a data scientist) to map out what you could be doing with your event data and understanding what information you could be giving to help your customers achieve great things at your next event.

ROI, ROO, Abcde, whatever you decide to call it, if you want to keep the marketing spend in our sector when the next downturn comes, get on it. Start using tools that will enable you to prove the value of your events to your customers. Otherwise, you may just be left behind.

If you want to see the full Event Tech Talk panel debate, you can watch it here.

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