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Where Do Conferences Make Their Money and Should Brands Invest?

Trade Show Marketing

We’re often amazed at the number of trade shows and industry conferences that occur across the country every day, and the number of new conferences that seem to pop up monthly. It seems there are more events than potential customers.

The sheer volume of available events makes it that much more difficult for businesses to plan event budgets or even choose which shows to participate in. When a decision has been made to participate, does the business sponsor the event or invest in exhibit spaces (supply and man a trade show booth)?

Event Revenue ShareAccording to a recent study by Exhibit Surveys and Lippman Connects, the event business is alive and well. 63% of trade show professionals surveyed indicated that they’ve tracked an increase in exhibit space sales; almost 50% have reported an increase in sponsorship sales.

Interestingly, event producers report that a majority of their revenue comes from the sale of exhibit space, not sponsorship sales. 50% of their revenue was attributed to exhibit space revenue, whereas sponsorships represented only 16% and attendee ticket sales made up the balance.

 Sponsor Satisfaction Seems to Run High

The increase in spending on trade shows would indicate confidence in the return on investment businesses are receiving from this spending. This assumption is confirmed in a study conducted by the Association of National Advertisers that reports 62% of client-side marketers are “satisfied with their ability to measure the return on investment (ROI) of sponsorship and event marketing initiatives.”  When asked about their satisfaction with their ability to measure return on objectives (ROO), 68% responded “at least somewhat satisfied.”

Of course, that does leave a rather significant percentage of marketers who are unsatisfied with the results of their event participation. 23% say they are not very satisfied with the ROI generated from trade show promotions and 32% state they’re dissatisfied with their ROO results.

What Are Marketers Measuring and Are They Happy?

All marketers have their own set of metrics, which they use to plan tactics and from which to report results. The ANA study determined a common set of metrics used to justify marketing expenditure which, surprisingly, was topped by “amount of media exposure generated and “social media buzz” (70% each).

 Trade Show ROI

What’s surprising to us here at Sensei is the fact that brand awareness and media exposure, not qualified leads generated or sales closed, were the top ranking qualifiers of success when it comes to reporting metrics.  “Leads generated” was 6th on the list (59%); however, we question what that percentage would have been if the metric listed was “qualified leads generated.”

Ironically, when asked what metrics marketers found most valuable in measuring the effectiveness of sponsorships/event marketing initiatives, the number-one answer was “product or service sales.”  This would indicate that marketers are still reporting media awareness as their success measure because they don’t know how or are not yet generating actual sales from these initiatives.

Quality leads are still the holy grail of trade show marketing, yet achieving themremains elusive to most. This might be the reason that almost half of all event producers in the Exhibit Surveys/Lippman Connects survey indicated that they were discounting sponsorship, advertising, and exhibition space fees (44%, 42%, and 39% respectively).  While exhibit and sponsorship revenues may be up for these events, at what cost is the increase achieved and to what end for the marketers?  What is your experience with trade show marketing?

Sensei Debates

What’s the value of sponsorship/event marketing: Sales or awareness?

Are sales a realistic measure of sponsorship/event marketing?

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego



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  1. […] 3. Where Do Conferences Make Their Money and Should Brands Invest? […]

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