Prove the true value of your events

Events are among the few opportunities where you (marketers) get to be face-to-face with your stakeholders. Whether helping your organization generate more leads, sales, or conversions or increasing brand awareness and boosting organizational reputation, their importance can’t be denied. Although events serve as one of the most valuable forms of marketing, few decision-makers will give you a larger events budget without understanding the return on investment.  

How do you prove ROI, let alone increase it? In this guide, you’ll find planning, event and post-event information about how to set objectives, leverage data to optimize results, set up results tracking, use mobile and wearable technology to customize your attendee experience and more.

The modern events landscape

People are craving more experiences than ever before and big brands and small organizations alike are taking notice. A recent study shows that 67 percent of B2B marketers think that events are their most effective marketing strategy. B2B marketers aren’t the only ones who feel this way. Constant Contact found that nearly 60 percent of marketers across industries consider events an integral part of their marketing strategy.

The key to unlocking the purse strings of your department’s budget is to prove you can increase ROI. Deciding where to begin can be daunting for any event marketer. Thankfully, technology has made it easier to cut down on marketing costs, optimizing performance, saving time and collecting data to improve the attendee experience.  

Before Your Event

Tip 1: Pick your objectives and focus on them.

This may seem like an obvious point, but how often have marketers put so much energy into implementing creative tactics only to realize their tactics didn’t help reach any organizational goals or objectives? Increase your ROI by saving time and resources by only identifying and executing marketing tactics that help you achieve your objectives.

For example, if you’re looking to increase awareness, some metrics to measure would include traffic to your event or registration page, as well as mentions on social media and in the press.

If you’re looking to generate more leads, you would look at how many people at the event signed up for a product demo or free trial. Include a strong call-to-action for each tactic to ensure you optimize your event marketing initiatives and increase conversions.

Measuring apples when you’re looking for oranges won’t do you any good in the long run. Identify what’s important to your organization and go directly from there. It will set the foundation for everything you do.

Tip 2: Use data to optimize your marketing.

Although big data has been the buzz term of the decade, a recent survey found 47 percent of marketers don’t know how to use it effectively. You can use data to increase your ROI by optimizing your marketing promotion, increasing your attendance at a lower cost.

To optimize your marketing promotion cycle, start by looking at past attendee data. Identify when the bulk of attendees have registered for your events and what drove that action.

Whether registration spikes are due to the announcement of a keynote speaker, an early-bird special, or securing some amazing press coverage, use this information to help you create your event promotion timeline. This will allow you to attract more attendees to your event and save time since you’re able to focus on what works.

Take a look at what marketing channels convert the most attendees. Don’t waste valuable time and money on tactics like LinkedIn ads if you find that didn’t get attendees in the door. Your goal is to leverage data to get more attendees or the same amount of attendees at a lower cost by allocating fewer hours of employee time and spending less money on unnecessary resources.

Geography is another important data point you can leverage to optimize your marketing. With Localist Metrics (below), you can get insight into how far attendees are willing to travel to your event and use this data for targeted marketing or for venue planning purposes.  

When it comes to data, don’t overlook the people who registered for your event but didn’t attend. Were the bulk of your no-shows people who registered early? Maybe they forgot about your event and needed a calendar invite, more nurturing and a few reminders as your event date drew closer. By increasing registrations and conversions, you can lower your cost per attendee.

Another great way to increase conversions is through your content. Identify, produce and promote the content that resonates with your audience to increase conversions.

Look at your data to determine:

  • Who attends your events?
  • Why do people typically come to your events?
  • How do they like to consume content?

After you answer these questions, create a content plan that addresses the answers. Consider having pre-teaser events such as webinars, live chats or sneak previews with exclusive video content from a celebrity, keynote speaker or special guest. Don’t forget to include a call to-action for people to register at the end of your content or within a follow-up email.

Tip 3: Set the foundation for measurement by using tracking urls.

Being able to track the attendee journey is a great foundation for measuring ROI. If you don’t know if your attendees registered because of your email newsletter, social media posts or the organic traffic from your event’s landing page, you risk wasting time and resources on the wrong channel.

Make sure every channel where you promote your event has a specialized url. You can use free tools like Google URL Builder (image to the right) or Bitly.

If you want to use Google’s tool, make sure your event marketing software is connected to Google Analytics. With Localist, you can easily connect your event pages with your GA account so you can see exactly what channels are driving website traffic in your GA dashboard. To enable tracking, make sure anyone who has a hand in promoting your event has the proper URL.

Get started by creating a campaign name so you can see all your data in one place. Then set your campaign structure, including source and  medium. Google campaign tracker will walk you through the process. Follow your structure, but don’t overthink it. There’s no rule that “Campaign Source” and “Campaign Medium” can’t be the same if that works for your system.

→ Bonus Tip: Keep it consistent. Capitalization matters when creating your URL. For example “Blog” and “blog” will be treated like two different channels.

If you don’t have Google Analytics, give Bitly a try. You can still create specialized links by creating a “Tag” for each medium and looking at its performance inside of Bitly’s platform.

Tip 4: Secure sponsorships.

A simple way to boost your ROI is to spend less money to get the same or better results. Sponsorships are a great way to do this. With sponsorship money added to your budget, you automatically decrease the cost of acquiring each attendee.

First, create a compelling case so businesses won’t be able to resist being a sponsor. Leverage your data, such as the registration and attendee sizes of the event (current or past information), demographic information such as age, gender and anything else you can find. Don’t forget small companies —they’re always looking to get their name in front of their local community.

Next, put together a sponsorship package on your website. You can organize by price or offering. For example, you can specify that you are looking for a sponsor to cover water or coffee breaks and you can put their logo on the signage. Look at other like-minded universities or companies with similar events for examples.

You’ll then need to get the word out. It’s not enough to simply post this information, research potential prospective companies – then send emails, make phone calls and even set-up in person appointments to make the pitch.

If budget is an issue for your prospective sponsors, consider donations or offerings outside of cash. Perhaps the bakery down the street would donate bagels for your event? You’ve just saved $500.

Tip 5: Host a registration contest.

Lower the cost per attendee and increase attendance by getting your brand advocates to do some of your work for you through a registration contest. Consider having a contest open to the general public or create an exclusive opportunity for prestigious members in your community. One of the benefits of using influencers is they have built-in credibility with their networks that can be transferred to your events.

Identify people who regularly praise your brand on social media, are regular attendees of your events or serve as influencers to your audience and invite them to participate in your contest. In addition to bringing credibility to your event, they spread awareness about your event beyond your network, increasing event attendance.

→ Bonus Tip: Find influencers by using tools like Buzzsumo.

To determine a winner, give each participant a unique event registration or landing page link to share with their network (you can create with Google URL Builder). If you want the contest to be visible, create a contest hashtag and encourage participants to share their URL on social media to increase their chances of winning. Award whoever drives the most registrations with free registration, a discount or a VIP upgrade. Feel free to supply them with digital collateral such as a digital flyer for social media sharing to ensure your branding is consistent.

Although you’ll spend money for the one winner, you’ll have several ambassadors driving attendance, easily covering your costs and increasing attendance beyond your team’s initial efforts.

During Your Event

Tip 6: Use technology to collect real-time data for crowdshaping.

Event technologies, such as Near Field Communication (NFC) and iBeacons, have made it easier than ever for event marketers to use real-time data to shape the attendee experience (also known as crowdshaping). You can boost your ROI with these technology tools in several ways such as increasing attendee engagement, enhancing the user experience and converting attendees into members, customers and subscribers.

Ensuring attendees are enjoying your event will decrease the chances of them leaving early and increase the chances of them viewing your brand positively and spreading the word about your brand and organization.

These tools also give event marketers the ability to see what their attendees interact with, read, where they lingered, thus helping you converting more attendees into customers. They can even help with crowd control, cutting down on your staffing costs.

Although NFCs and iBeacons have similar capabilities, there are some key differences.

Near Field Communication

NFCs are available in little stickers that can be attached to wristbands or phones. To collect the data, ensure you have readers. Since you only need to read the sticker, if your attendee’s phone dies, you can still collect data. Set up readers around your venue, such as near photo booths, sponsor tables, so you know exactly what interested your attendees.

The music festival Bonnaroo used NFCs as a form of crowd control and security for 80,000 attendees. Before the big event, Bonnaroo sent attendees NFC wristbands and encouraged them to connect them with their Facebook account. Based off of the ticket purchased, festival goers could scan their wristband and gain access to different performances and VIP entry.


iBeacons are a technology developed by Apple that can send and receive notifications to other iOS devices using Bluetooth technology (Eddystone is the Android equivalent.) They have a larger read range than NFCs, so people don’t need to be directly in front of a reader for you to collect data. You can also integrate iBeacons into your events mobile app.

You can use iBeacons to:

  • Push out event announcements, such as when the session starts, or where the coffee is located
  • Send surveys and polls, which you can customize based off where attendees are or if they’ve checked in with the app
  • Host giveaways or feature special product offers and discounts
  • See what attendees do and interact with

→ Bonus Tip: The key to success with using iBeacons is to avoid providing your attendees with an invasive experience. Use your data to send relevant information to you attendees and don’t over do it by sending too many messages. Focus on content that will enhance their experience, not interrupt it.

Here are some iBeacons to choose from:

Tip 7: Use gamification to boost audience participation.

Whether you want to reward the person who shares the best Instagram photo with your event hashtag or use iBeacons to have a scavenger hunt, when it comes to gamification, the sky’s the limit. The goal of gamification is to increase engagement among your attendees. Engaged attendees are more likely to share your event with their network, have positive feelings about your brand and less likely to leave your event early.

Some tools to explore:

  • EventMobi – This mobile app allows attendees to participate in fun challenges such as meeting someone new, finding the CEO or competing to have the most check-ins.
  • Zoomph – This software is great for displaying and ranking the top social media influencers at your events. You can also curate Instagram and Twitter messages and display them on monitors throughout your venue.
  • Mapdash – This mobile app is designed for scavenger hunts. You can easily create your own hunt and design engagement activities that enhance your event experience.

IBM used gamification to bridge online and in-person interactions. During their Connect event, attendees were given five points for tweeting using the event hashtag, 25 points for attending a book signing and 50 points for submitting a comment about an IBM product.  Attendees were even challenged to work in teams to build the biggest Lego tower.

It wasn’t a fluke that physical activities earned attendees more points at Connect. IBM wanted attendees to have strong personal connections, which they believed would be the foundation for creating larger online connections during and after the conference. Thanks to gamification, in addition to IBM getting valuable word-of-mouth marketing for their event and product feedback, attendees also formed genuine connections, which enhanced the overall attendee experience.

Tip 8: Use social listening to get real-time feedback.

Don’t wait until your post-event survey to learn what event goers are thinking. Social media is a great way to get real-time event feedback. The purpose of getting this feedback is so you can address problems and questions, enhancing the attendee experience, impacting your ROI.

Have a team devoted to monitoring your social media accounts, responding to complaints, questions and praises. Keep in mind that people may not mention you directly or use your hashtag, so add keywords, such your event name, to the list of things to monitor.

→ Bonus Tip: Include common misspellings of your hashtag and brand name to ensure you don’t miss conversations meant for you to hear.

Some tools to check out:

  • Mention – This software is widely considered the replacement for Google Alerts, curating all mentions across social media and the web.
  • TweetDeck – This tool may be an oldie but a goodie (with free plans), especially if your audience is most vocal on Twitter. With TweetDeck, you can watch conversations on Twitter unfold in real-time and respond to them.
  • Keyhole – If your audience is vocal across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, you can use this social search engine to track hashtag use.

Be on the lookout for fixable problems, such as slow Wi-Fi, confusion about where to check-in or sound issues. For harder to fix problems, such as boring or uninteresting sessions, incorporate that feedback into the planning of your next event. Make sure to respond to people’s comments accordingly so attendees feel like their voices are being heard.

Social media monitoring isn’t just about troubleshooting problems. Listen, document and respond to praises as well. Your qualitative data can serve as a great complement to your quantitative data, validate expenses and could help you secure a larger budget for future events.

After Your Event

Tip 9: Collect survey data.

Just because the event is over doesn’t mean there’s no longer an opportunity to increase your ROI. Surveys can highlight exactly where your event thrived or failed. You can also take that information and follow up accordingly with attendees, preserving or enhancing your organization’s relationship with them. This information will also serve you well when planning the next event.

Keep in mind that few people like taking surveys, so consider giving them incentives for completion. For example, you might offer a raffle for one lucky survey taker. When determining a prize, consider giving anything from free admission to your next event to an iPad. Simply do a little research on what your audience actually wants before you invest in a prize.

Remember, you’re not limited to only offering monetary incentives to get people to take your survey. You could also use it as a way for attendees to unlock content, such as speaker presentations, behind-the-scenes video or VIP content.

Don’t just wait until the end of the conference to get feedback! Get their opinion while your event experience is still fresh in their minds.

If you’re using iBeacon technology, you can send out surveys to your attendees. Many event apps will also allow you to send polls and surveys to attendees. If you don’t have the technology, you can always administer paper surveys during your event.

Tip 10: Personalize your follow ups.

Your event isn’t over when your last attendee leaves. Letting attendees dissipate without a personalized follow up is not only a missed opportunity, but can also diminish all the accomplishments your event marketing has achieved until this point. Personalized follow ups aren’t just a nice thing to do, they increase your return on investment by increasing conversion rates of your call-to-actions. The difference between sending a personalized follow up versus a generic one can be a new customer or a lost sale.

When the wedding planning site PaperStyle started sending more personalized emails to their prospects, their open rate increased by 244 percent, with a click-through rate increase of 161 percent. By increasing open rates and engagement, they were able to the opportunity reach more and convert more people.

Understandably, the larger the event, the harder it is to personalize your follow ups, but thanks to technology, it’s getting easier.

You can use the data you’ve collected from your NFCs, iBeacons or event mobile app communication based off what they’ve done or interacted with during the conference. For people who attended your VIP mixer, follow up with an offer from one of the event sponsors. If your attendees sat in a small business seminar, follow up with a corresponding white paper. Just make sure it’s relevant.

At the end of their music festival, Bonnaroo sent attendees a personalized story based off of the activities their attendees participated in, along with a Spotify playlist featuring artists that performed. This email could also serve as a teaser, complete with a call-to-action to sign up for updates for next year’s festival.

→ Bonus Tip: This is not a time to fake it until you make it. Don’t risk turning off people by saying untrue things, such as “it was great talking to you!” if you’ve never had a conversation with them.

For tradeshows, instead of having your sales team just blindly enter business cards into your customer relationship management system (CRM), have them take detailed notes about the people who stopped by your booth to include in their entries. That way, the follow up can be more personalized than a “Dear John” email, and increase the likelihood of a sale.