With hybrid events on the horizon and trade shows in recovery, many corporate event planners have to determine the return on investment (ROI) of participating in physical exhibitions compared to doubling down on their own hybrid event strategy. What data should they look at and where can they find it?
While everyone is eager to head back onsite, the current reality is that in-person events are only possible in some locations, and their long-term future is still somewhat uncertain. Most event planners are banking on a heavy virtual component within their 2021 and 2022 hybrid event strategy given the potential risk of onsite cancellation or low attendance.
According to a recent EventMB survey of event planners, 67.4 percent said they will make a digital strategy part of live events going forward, indicating strong confidence in the hybrid future. Half of the respondents said that the use of virtual events during the pandemic enabled them to achieve increased attendance, while another 14.6 percent said virtual technology enabled them to at least maintain the attendance level of live events.
And they’re getting better at it! A combination of better tools and smarter strategies has gradually lifted the success rate of virtual events, per EventMB’s most recent data. Over half of the planners (51.8 percent) said they were comfortable with virtual technology, while an additional 17.8 percent rated themselves as “savvy” practitioners.
The pandemic also appears to have played a role in boosting comfort levels. When asked about the effect the pandemic has had on their tech proficiency, 55.4 percent of planners said they were more proficient than they were prior to the pandemic and 24 percent said they were much more so.
4 Questions You Need to Ask When Proving Virtual ROI
As many associations push exhibitions forward, corporate marketers and event planners now have to evaluate (and prove) the material ROI of investing in physical trade shows compared to planning their own (likely virtual) events. Realistically, there are pros and cons to each, and a strong corporate event and marketing program for the year will likely include both virtual and onsite components.
When proving the ROI of your virtual events and hybrid event components, there are four questions you need to ask:
Is my audience qualified?
The potential of virtual trade shows rests in part on reach. Per EventMB’s State of the Event Industry research, reach is consistently cited as the #1 benefit of virtual engagement by a significant margin. But reach is a top-of-funnel mechanism that only amounts to something if the audience is qualified and converts into revenue.
Platforms like Hubilo address this challenge by contextualizing registration data based on qualifying criteria and attendee behavior. Demographic factors like geography and gender can help corporate event planners and event marketers determine buyer personas, and in turn figure out if their registrant pool matches up with the personas they identified.
Over time, demographic data can be combined with attendee engagement, behavior and activity data. Engagement data like the number of attendees who actually logged in for the event and daily attendance figures are qualifying in the sense that they indicate interest in your event’s content. For corporate events trying their hand at editorial content, it’s not a direct indicator of lead qualification, but it does indicate that attendees weren’t turned off by the idea of watching branded content.
Indirectly qualifying data can be a reasonably good indicator of an audience’s disposition to buy. Tracking which device attendees are using to connect to the event, for example, can give you valuable information about their interest in new technology and their purchasing habits. Are they tech savvy? Are they using the latest smartphones and tablets or legacy devices, and how might this impact their purchasing decisions?
But some platforms will also collate data from event to event in order to consolidate behavior and activity data to provide more directly qualifying insights, like the number of past events attendees attended and even their spend at those events, as well as the number of past interactions with sessions and booths.
All of this data points directly to how qualified an audience is, as well as how to design your event to attract the most qualified audience. If you’re in a region that permits you to associate it with personally identifiable information about the attendees (or they’ve granted you permission upon registration), you could even theoretically build a virtual audience throughout your annual event program, which shores up the ROI for each subsequent event as the list of reliable, spend-happy attendees grows.
Not sure how to set yourself up to qualify your virtual audience? Contact Hubilo for help.
Is my audience sufficiently engaged with my brand?
Engagement is consistently the most cited challenge with virtual events. Getting yourself in front of a qualified audience doesn’t amount to anything if you don’t do anything to keep their attention once you get there.
But while engagement may be a challenge for virtual events, engagement data is not — and using it correctly can help you solve the former. An event platform ready for the post-Covid reality of hybrid events should offer a spectrum of metrics:
Sessions: Data about which sessions drew the most registration, views, note-taking, chats and Q&A engagement can tell you which of your sessions resonated with your audience, and thus, where to double down.
Bonus Tip: Session data can also help you test the correlation between your session-specific marketing efforts (e.g. getting speakers to promote their own sessions on their social media) and attendee turnout.
Speakers. Similarly, which speakers were the highest rated by attendees, and which sessions were downloaded the most often, can help you determine who your audience wants to hear from and which types of speakers to use for future events.
Virtual Event Feed. These metrics examine the social feed section of virtual event platforms, providing data on the count and the type of posts made per day, as well as the number of likes and comments they received. These can provide early insights into the audience engagement level at virtual events. The higher the numbers, the higher the level of engagement.
Tracking your event feed may also help you to identify the most active participants in the social feed, potentially leading you to relevant clients and helping you identify influencers you may want to engage in a program to help promote your product or services outside of the event. Another capability is creating a feed word cloud, a technique that involves running content through a tool that generates a word cloud of the most used terms in the social feed — a potential goldmine of insights.
Virtual Networking Areas. Engagement metrics from the virtual networking space can also be an effective way to measure event success. Metrics provide profile views, including the total number of views, most viewed attendee profile and attendees who viewed the most profiles. There are also analytics on bookmarks, the number of notes taken during meetings and the number of messages exchanged.
Meetings. Knowing how many meetings are initiated during an event is an important indicator of networking engagement. This metric tracks the number of meetings, meeting requests sent, and meetings accepted and rejected.
Analytics around private and group networking opportunities fundamentally show whether or not your attendees were able to make the connections they came to make, which is important as networking is a major factor that sets virtual events apart from glorified webinars.
Having trouble figuring out which engagement analytics you need to make a case to your corporate stakeholders? Hubilo’s support team is ready to help.
Is this engagement making the impact I want?
Unfortunately, not all publicity is good publicity. You want to make sure you’re keeping their attention for the right reasons. How can you tell if what you’re doing is perceived as valuable to your audience?
There are a number of metrics for assessing audience sentiment and approval. Among these are polling capabilities. Polling not only helps keep audiences engaged during virtual events, but is also a quick, easy way to assess understanding and reaction.
Post-session surveys and rating systems are common on both virtual event platforms and mobile event technology for onsite components. While the response rate is often low, attendees who’ve had either a really good or really bad experience are likely to submit something, which makes the metric extremely useful for gauging sentiment and identifying issues.
Session replays and on-demand downloads are other useful proxies for satisfaction. Social sharing is another, as people generally like to spread valuable content within their own networks. An event hashtag makes it easy to follow mentions on Twitter, but if the virtual event platform has a mechanism for sharing sessions, it likely tracks that social traction automatically.
Many platforms also take a page from social media by enabling ‘likes’ and ‘reactions’ to session content, which is a clear indicator of what content attendees enjoyed and found valuable.
Does this impact lead to sales?
Abstract value is great, but your event end-goals probably don’t hinge on creating abstract value. How can you tell if your virtual event components are delivering value that specifically motivates the audience to join your community and purchase your products?
EVENT TECH OR A CRM TOOL?
One of the reasons virtual event ROI can be tough to track down the sales funnel is that most event tech platforms are not designed to be used as a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Typically, the farthest they go in this direction is integrating with a mainstream tool like Salesforce.
This fact may require corporate event planners and marketers to rejig their event program KPIs to align more closely with digital marketing objectives — but not always.
The secret is in the user journey. In theory, the beauty of a digital event space is that each attendee can be tracked individually from registration through all their points of engagement to their eventual exit from the event — and in many cases, you can do this if you’ve established the necessary permission to gather that personally identifiable information as part of a data privacy/anti-spam/GDPR-compliant consent to contact process. If that’s the case for your event, determining the percentage of your attendees that resulted in closed-won sales should be pretty straightforward.
SEGMENTATION AND THE FUNNEL BEYOND THE EVENT
However, if your event program is designed to trade more pragmatic, unbiased value for your virtual audience’s attention, there is a good chance they’re not registering for the event in order to be sold to. In that case, it’s likely that your event staff or sales support will want to quickly identify who the most qualified attendees are at the event so they can form connections on the spot.
If you can count on a good turnout, it’s a good idea to customize your registration data with some qualifying criteria that will help your event team home in on those higher value prospects. Platforms like Hubilo will actually take that information and create suggested connections within the virtual event experience itself to help interested parties find one another.
If you’d rather not create friction at the registration stage, paying attention to the engagement markers mentioned above can also help. After the event, all of this data can be used to segment your audience and create targeted follow-up campaigns that increase the probability of converting each conversation into a business opportunity.
POST-EVENT ANALYTICS SUPPORT
Your event tech provider most likely has the benefit of working with 100s of events like yours. Rather than reinventing the wheel when it comes to collating all the data from their technology, user-friendly event tech platforms will packaged that data into intelligible reports for you.
Event tech companies like Hubilo will also connect you with their customer success department to help you drill into the data and understand the metrics for qualifying prospects.
Comparing Onsite ROI to Virtual ROI
The primary challenge here is that, in most cases, you’re getting siloed data from disparate sources: data from your own event tech stack supporting your corporate event program, and data supplied from trade show organizers based on whatever event tech they’re using. That means it’s up to you to track and reconcile everything.
Using a single platform that can accommodate virtual and onsite lead generation and tracking is advisable. Granted, your control over the event technology chosen by a trade show organizer is limited, but if your event tech partner has onsite lead retrieval capabilities and it’s not against the rules, it might be worthwhile for your event or sales team on the trade show floor to use that. Using the same system to track the leads from each event type will ensure that the data you’re collecting is standardized and easy to compare.
Each question points to a specific metric that is connected through your attendee journey, and is a crucial stage in proving the corporate event ROI of your virtual events — but you also need to be able to rely on the data coming from onsite and put yourself in a good position for comparing the success rate of both formats. That’s why you need a tech partner that spans the full spectrum of hybrid formats. Contact Hubilo for a demo and other additional information.