Report: Trade Shows Need to Prove Value

By Beth Kormanik April 24, 2013, 4:20 PM EDT

A new report from the CMO Council calls on trade shows, conferences, and conventions to make a business case for their value.

Photo: Mitra Sorrells/BizBash

With more channels competing for marketing dollars, producers of trade shows, conferences, and conventions need to make a better case for the business value of their events, according to a new report from the CMO Council, in partnership with the Exhibit & Event Marketers Association.

Drawing on responses from more than 265 senior corporate marketers, the Customer Attainment From Event Engagement report showed that 45 percent of respondents struggle to make a case for attending or participating in shows. Yet they clearly value events, with nearly 90 percent saying they are important when targeting customers.

Proving that value is the challenge. Events are competing for budget dollars with email marketing, paid search, and other channels to reach customers, the report said, and “the reality is that while events are still number one, other channels are on the rise and may start to challenge and even rival events at the top of the demand-generating heap. ... So while events are still number one for marketers, the real question is: for how long?”

Liz Miller, a vice president at the CMO Council, called on trade show organizers to deliver marketers better analytics. Marketing executives use data to evaluate their social media, public relations, and other efforts, Miller said, but events haven’t gone through the same process. That makes them more vulnerable to budget cuts, especially when the cost of participating keeps rising.

“Events absolutely have a place in the marketing mix, and marketers are saying that, but unless there is some type of evolution here we will keep having the struggle, and it's always going to come down to budget,” she said.

Better data goes beyond giving out attendee contact information. For instance, if a company secures a speaking spot, Miller said it should be able to find out how many people saw the speech, how many people asked questions, whether audience members provided feedback through a post-event survey, and what it said. Show producers can also use the data to sell relevant opportunities to marketers. If 90 percent of attendees the previous year used an event’s mobile app and downloaded white papers, then companies may see value in contributing a white paper.

Marketers also have a responsibility to make a show successful. Miller said one disappointment was that not enough marketers promoted events they were participating in through their own Web sites and social media channels. “It seems counterintuitive to everything else we're doing in marketing,” she said.

Companies also reported they already have started changing their event strategies. Forty percent said they were cutting back on big shows to focus on niche events. “Marketers are looking for the exact right audience, and they're willing to go more niche for it,” Miller said. “They're looking to hone in on the right level of executive, the right type of company, the right industry, the right geography and location. They're willing to spend more for that high-quality niche audience.”

A summary of the report is available here.

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