Return on investment (ROI) can mean a lot of things in the trade show and event marketing world. While traditionally thought of in terms of dollars and cents, ROI essentially examines what you got for what you spent.

Your “return” can take on many definitions depending on your goals. Your reasons for exhibiting may be to generate buzz, build connections, or simply close deals and make sales. But how do you know what your ROI objectives should be?

Consider your audience.

Context is everything. Sure, closing hundreds of deals and seeing immediate profit sounds like fun, but what happens when your event or trade show audience isn’t full of eager customers with deep pockets, or when your customer journey is longer than a five-minute sales pitch?

That’s why it’s important to know your audience when determining what kind of ROI you should evaluate. Consider the following about your trade show audience:

  • Who will be at the event?
  • Why are they at the event?
  • What do they want or need from you?
  • What do you want or need from them?
  • What are they willing to give you? (e.g. phone number, money, badge scan, attention)
  • How do they want to be engaged?

To get to the bottom of who your trade show audience really is, consider conducting internal or external research or engaging a strategic partner. Additionally, conference planners may be willing to share demographic information on projected or past attendees, so you’ll know what you’re getting into.

With this information, you can build a tailored, engaging experience specific to your audience, while setting realistic goals about what kind of ROI metrics can accurately measure your success.

Define your metrics.

If sales do not end up being your primary trade show goal, there are plenty of other ways to measure and achieve success with your event marketing.

If your goal is awareness, you can measure foot traffic, number of conversations, subsequent website visits or social media growth, or even conduct a pre- and post-show survey to measure brand awareness, perception, and lift.

If you’re in search of resources or connections, you can measure success by totaling how many high-value connections (potential suppliers, investors, influencers, or prospective employees) you connect with at an event — anyone that has the potential to make your business better but isn’t a customer.

If making sales is your ultimate goal, it may not happen overnight. You’ll likely leave an event with a few thousand leads, or potential customers you can follow up with to initiate the sales process. If your product or service offering requires a longer customer journey, tracking sales that come in immediately after a trade show doesn’t account for the sales success you may have later on as a result of your event. In this case, evaluating ROI in terms of your investment per lead will help you measure success and even predict potential revenue.

Bring your team along for the ride.

Quarterbacks don’t win games alone. If you and your teammates aren’t on the same page about where the end zone is, it’s unlikely you’ll score often.

That’s why it’s important to engage your entire team — from your C-suite to your sales staff — to determine goals and metrics for an upcoming show or event.

Your trade show sales team is the boots on the ground of your event marketing strategy. Use their expertise to get a granular understanding of what trade show interactions are really like. Here are some questions to start important conversations:

  • What do attendees ask you about? What excites them?
  • How willing are attendees to give up contact information, a badge scan, or more personal information like business goals and needs?
  • What do most trade shows or events have in common that we can measure long term?

Once you have an understanding of the conversations that happen inside your exhibit, take your perspective from the showroom to the board room. It’s important that your metrics and goals align with your overall business strategy as well as your exhibit strategy.

True alignment requires engagement from top to bottom, including key conversations with company leaders and executives. After all, the more you’re working toward the same goal, the more support you’ll get for your event marketing strategy.

Make it happen.

You may have opened this blog hoping for us to tell you exactly what metrics you should use when figuring ROI. But as it turns out, your true meaning of ROI is within yourself, your customers, and your team.

Determining metrics and setting goals for success doesn’t have to rest all on your shoulders — an outside partner with a fresh perspective and broad experience can help you zoom in, zoom out, and build a plan for success.

With more than 70 years’ experience in everything exhibit solutions, Hamilton Exhibits is an industry leader in event marketing. We’ll start with strategy and end with a final product you and your customers will love — with the ROI to show for it. We’re full service, so we can bring your strategy to life through immersive, memorable brand spaces and experiences.

Learn more about how Hamilton’s Strategic Services can help you measure and maximize your event marketing success.