The ROI of your exhibition participation

‘What’s in it for me?’ is a question we often ask ourselves when it comes to taking part in an exhibition. And it’s a fair question, one which can be clearly answered with a little effort. Here’s how you can work out what an event will deliver while increasing returns in the process.

From brand familiarity to sales
Return on investment is actually a simple calculation: subtract the investment from the result and you have your ROI. It’s often easy to quantify the investment but how can you determine the value of the results?

It all starts with setting clear objectives, of which there are usually four for an exhibition participation: 
  • Building brand awareness
  • Networking
  • Generating leads
  • Selling


Generally, one of these objectives is leading. There are also additional options for which an event can be highly suitable such as PR and market research. 

To determine the ROI of event participation we first must find out what you hope to achieve. Armed with this information we can establish and measure KPIs and gain insight into the related costs and outcomes.

1. Brand awareness 
Brand awareness is generally an important reason for young companies and start-ups to participate in an exhibition. It quickly raises their visibility among a targeted audience and the often-present press. For more established companies, the event is often primarily used not to promote the brand itself but rather to host a new introduction which requires a boost in visibility. Events are also very suitable for introducing a specific product or launching a new brand. This enables the public (and the press) to easily see, feel, smell and try out something new. 

2. Networking
Networking can be defined as meeting new and maintaining existing contacts. A B2B exhibitor I recently spoke to saw the benefits very clearly, saying: “It’s more expensive to travel all over the country visiting my top 20 business relations than to talk to them all over two days at this event. Plus, here I can easily show them what it is that we’re actually doing.” Exhibitions do provide a pleasant backdrop. You also attract visitors who give their full attention to the topic at hand and are in the mood to consider new things rather than being distracted by the hectic pace of everyday operations in their company.
 
3. Generating leads
Generating leads is a more targeted objective than networking because exhibitors establish new contacts that may become clients in the future. Sales rarely occur during the exhibition itself at many events. If major investments are involved it can even take years for a lead to become a client. This is why it is difficult to determine the market value of such contacts via a CRM system. You would have to follow a contact over several years to find the one moment at the event which started it all. 

It is of course more difficult to make new contacts than meet existing ones. Here, too, organisers can achieve a lot with a good matchmaking system that matches visitor interests with exhibitor offers. You can also help exhibitors attract visitors to their stands, for instance by making it easy for them to pick up information or articles at stands, or to leave their details behind (the easiest way is having their visitor badge scanned). There are obviously many variations on this theme.

4. Sales!
Brand recognition, networking and lead generation ultimately have one goal – to generate sales. Depending on the organisation and the type of event, some deals can be closed on the exhibition floor. This applies especially to international trade exhibitions. Nonetheless, the primary goal is usually to generate leads and then carefully follow up with a view to a sale in the longer term. Direct sales are usually not the goal at consumer events either, even though they do happen: think of trial packages from a chocolate brand at a low price. Consumers try the product and then often proceed to buy it in the shops. 
 
PR and market research
The added value of many events are the opportunities for press attention and market research. Lots of companies choose to do a press presentation or launch a new initiative or product during an exhibition. The trade and general press are often present anyway, leading to better results. You can translate press attention into media value: What would equivalent advertising space have cost the exhibitor?

Another excellent option is to carry out market research: the public is already there anyway, so what's easier than asking them a few questions? Exhibitions in particular are the perfect opportunity for partners and exhibitors to engage in targeted conversations with visitors, for example in a roundtable discussion or a UX lab. This is easier and a lot cheaper than bringing in a consumer panel yourself. 

The added value of an event
By carefully considering your objectives and the related KPIs, and measuring them during and monitoring them after the exhibition, the ROI should become clear. This also immediately allows you to increase that ROI by considering alternative ways to boost revenue such as sponsored event components, communication campaigns, competitions, playful promotions, you name it. This enhances the overall event too: the more original elements it contains, the more interesting the exhibition is for visitors. This way, the entire community benefits. 

More insight in the ROI of your participation? We are working hard on developing tools for this. Would you like to gain more insights in your ROI, check out the ROITool we are developing>>

Joost van

Joost van Eupen

Customer Marketing Manager | RAI Amsterdam | LinkedIn | Curious | Enterprising |Boat enthusiast | Marketing | Cooking

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