In an era of measurement and targets, it is unlikely that any marketing discipline would be able to escape rigorous examination of its value. Live Events are no different and although the reasons for an exhibitor paying through the nose to have a stand at a large show may have as much to do with brand presence as it does increased business, nevertheless the measuring must still be done.
In fact, fairly sophisticated technology has been used to capture details of visitors to shows and stands for some time – but the analysis and further use of this data has not been quite as rigorous.
Ken Clayton, director of specialist badging company RefTech Services, says the classic method of collecting data about people attending an event has been from each visitor’s badge. The options include ID barcodes, magnetic stripes, 2D barcodes and most recently, and controversially, radio frequency identification (RFID) which allows long-range readers at exhibition entrances to read the badge at a distance of up to a metre while exhibitors will use hand-held, short-range readers that need to be within a few millimetres of the badge.
Clayton says: “There is a great deal of misinformation around RFID, especially relating to what can be read and how. In the US, this has reached the point where there are moves to have RFID badges enclosed in badge holders that make it impossible to interrogate the RFID chip. This is because of concerns that you could be added to an exhibitor’s contact database merely by walking past their stand. However, putting the badge into a holder of this type defeats the purpose of an RFID badge.
“With all of these systems, one of the issues is the way in which a balance can be struck between fast registration and having contact details on a badge.”
But like any data, the accumulation is pointless unless it is mined. Clayton continues: “The key to all this is the use to which the exhibitors put the data. Most of us have had our badge scanned by an exhibitor or have handed over a business card only to find that no contact is made after the show. If exhibitors do nothing with the data they gather then obviously the exercise has been a waste of time.”
However, Clayton says a growing number of exhibitors are measuring the return on investment from the exhibition activities. “We do this ourselves by using Microsoft’s CRM programme, which allows us to track orders back to their source. We exhibit at about seven shows each year and we know how much business has been won as a direct result of enquiries received at each. We also know how many enquiries we gathered and what proportion were converted into orders.
“As a result, we know what level of return we can expect from each of these shows and, if the return falls below expectation we can investigate the reasons for this.”
But for many, measuring exhibition impact still remains an imprecise science, largely due to the nature of the medium. Gary Fox, managing director of event company 2heads, says: “The impact of exhibitions on a company’s sales or in changing the perception of the brand does not lend itself to scientific measurement and, unless you set clear objectives beforehand, you will not be able to gauge the success of your exhibition stand.
“Live events, as with many other marketing disciplines, suffer greatly from bespoke ROI measurements that do not stand up to scientific measurement. Quite simply, industry bodies are not driving ROI as a subject and, as a result, there is no uniformity which in turn is confusing clients.”
Fox believes this has led to a plethora of measurement tools that are only of any use if the data retained is used intelligently.
“We place a great deal of emphasis on post-event communication, which is where many companies let their clients down. If this process is handled in the correct manner then this can be seen as an effective form of customer relationship management, but done badly the client can often see this as intrusive correspondence,” adds Fox.
But even if organisers or exhibitors have an effective data capture strategy and use in mind, the quality of that data is also crucial. Rory Sloan, head of production at experiential agency RPM, says: “Although it is possible to track people’s movement at exhibitions and events, this information is potentially useless if you don’t have a profile of the person you’re tracking. To do this, companies as well as organisers need to start their data capture at a very early stage before an event, and this process needs to be integrated into the overall planning strategy for that event.
“But it’s not enough simply to bombard people with questions, we have to be creative. Instead of a tick list or feedback form we can use technology to present and gather our information in a playful way that doesn’t feel as if it’s taking time away from the consumer or client.
“Rather than asking someone what type of bread they like, touchscreen technology allows us to ask people to create their dream sandwich – a more pleasurable experience for them, and thus increasing the likelihood of being used and ultimately we get a deeper understanding of their needs. But this doesn’t mean that technology is always the best way of capturing data. At a live event, brand ambassadors can be just as effective.”
And what happens before the exhibition can have a real impact on the quality of the data obtained. Trevor Foley, group chief executive of the Event Industry Alliance, says: “After signing on the dotted line, an exhibitor’s first exposure might be to the show’s website. Increasingly sophisticated, uploading their own contact details, logos, product brochures, press releases, photos and even video is now pretty much the norm and has dramatically reduced repetitive administrative processes for organisers.
For example, web provider ASP has a Visitor Meeting Service that allows exhibitors contact pre-registered visitors before the event using a tracking system that enables pre and post-event leads, received via the website, to be monitored by exhibitors as well as organisers.”
The issue of ROI is not going to go away. Increasingly, organisers and exhibitors are going to need to prove that the money being spent is worth it. Just being there is not enough any more.
Clayton says: “One of the consequences will be that switched-on organisers will be more interested in helping exhibitors to gain more benefit from their stands. A major factor in achieving that is to follow up on leads quickly and I think it’s important for more exhibition organisers to explain this fact to exhibitors. After all, exhibitors who fail to follow up are likely to decide that the show delivered a lot of traffic but not business. The challenge for organisers is to find ways to get this message through to exhibitors.”
But despite the growing impetus of the ROI argument, Clayton agrees with Fox from 2heads that many exhibitors are not making the effort to find out whether having a presence at an event has an impact on the bottom line.
He says, “The key point in measuring exhibition impact is that people have to want to do it. Judging by the number of times we all leave business cards on exhibition stands and hear nothing from the exhibitors, a significant proportion of companies just aren’t interested in measuring the value of their exhibition activities.”