Understanding the success of exhibiting is key for businesses wanting to make the most of their events strategy. Accurate reporting illustrates ROI (return on investment) and ROO (return on objective), and gives crucial insight in how you can improve for next time.
To do that, you need a clear sense of your goals, a set of measurable metrics that directly relate to them, and a plan for learning from your results - preferably one that you can implement before the event, conference or congress is even over. This simple three-part framework is all you need to understand, demonstrate and guarantee return on investment.
1. Understand your goals up-front
Our planning process customarily starts with the why - as in why are you exhibiting? For ROI purposes, it can be even more useful to start with the what - as in what do we gain from this?
Answering this question helps you assess your event marketing activity in the context of the wider marketing strategy, and align your event presence with a specific gain for your business.
Maybe you want people to engage with your brand, discussing your products and services before, during and after the event. Maybe you’re trying to build awareness of your brand, or convert awareness into new contacts. Maybe your goal is to launch a product or service; or maybe it’s simply generating revenue.
Whatever the goal is, you’ll need to keep it in mind throughout the process.
2. Finding meaningful metrics
Metrics are the key to measuring success in concrete terms, so that your outcomes can be matched against the equally concrete upfront cost of putting your exhibition presence together. If you know your goals early in the process, you can select appropriate metrics that prove you achieved them - rather than relying on ‘vanity metrics’, i.e. numbers that look good but don’t matter. 5,000 visitors to your stand may sound impressive, but if your goal is leads, the only thing that matters is how many of those 5,000 were relevant and gave you their contact details.
Your goal may simply be to capture attention and raise brand awareness. Putting a monetary return against awareness is tricky, so in some instances it pays to think about goals in terms of return on objectives as opposed to return on investment.
If you are focused on awareness, you might measure your social media presence, or signups for newsletters and competitions. If your goal is more geared towards collecting contacts, data collection is also key, but it’s worth tiering these into those who’ve signed up for newsletters and those who are already keen on further meetings.
If your goal is engagement, your key metrics will be things like social media conversation, particularly uses of brand-specific hashtags you’ve designed (as that shows people have paid attention to your messaging and used the terms you chose). Responses to active experiences you designed for the stand - games, apps or surveys - are also key.
If the role of your stand is to launch a product you want to specifically track mentions or signups related to the new product, and clearly separate them from general brand awareness or other aspects of the launch process, such as PR. Revenue, by contrast, is the simplest of all - sales at the event, or later sales tracked back to the event. In this instance, ROI is clearly relevant.
Some metrics are easy to track with a little integrated tech. iBeacons and smart badges that improve flow at the stand by automating registrations and signups also provide data on dwell times and movement around the event, helping you understand what caught visitors’ eye and what course your experience set them off on - in short, what you made them think and feel.
Some metrics are always worth tracking. Pre-event surveys and post-event feedback from visitors help you qualify your perspective by understanding what they think worked well. If there’s an aspect of your stand that draws universal praise from attendees, use that feedback to establish why it worked so well - and when you come to design the next, look for ways to press the same emotional and intellectual buttons.
3. Learning from your results
The last and most important thing your event plan needs is a means of reporting.
Event reporting serves two purposes. Firstly, it’s how you demonstrate ROI or ROO to the business as a whole. Secondly, it’s how you improve your stand’s operations.
A good team is agile enough to respond to feedback during the event, on a shift by shift basis. If you’re falling short on one metric, you can push it in the next shift - remind visitors to use the decided hashtag, ask them about the app game, introduce the mailing list a third time.
To get a full picture of the stand’s success, it will help to know how many people attended the event. This gives context to your own visitor figures: what percentage of event attendees found their way to your stand?
It’s also worth tracking how long it takes visitors to reach the call to action, and how your team have ensured they get there. If you’re selling, identify any discounts they’ve had to offer; if promoting, look for the features they’ve been asked about. The goal here is to improve your team’s technique, and to make minor design changes that address frequently asked questions or highlight features of high interest. If changing one canvas panel means answering an FAQ up front, improving visitor experience and freeing up time for your staff at the next event, it’s definitely worth considering.
You’ll need the logistics. How did the space work - could visitors keep moving? Did the stand’s story flow in practical terms - were visitors experiencing the right things in the right order? How long did the stand take to set up and take down?
Finally, don’t rule out qualitative feedback. Discussions with delegates, speakers and exhibitors can often yield insights that you couldn’t measure in strict metrical terms, or specific suggestions for future topics, speakers or format changes.
Event success cannot happen by accident. Succeeding - and understanding the means and measure of your success - starts at the planning stage. Know your goal; pick the right metric; build a structured process for learning from your exhibition stand performance to make your next stand even better.
If you’ve found this useful, look up our advice on aesthetic and experiential design, or on choosing the right build approach and options for the stand itself.