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Digital Marketing Efforts Increase ROI for the Exhibition Industry

By / Aug 23, 2013 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Recently released cross-industry research highlights successful strategies and tactics when it comes to social media and digital marketing efforts within the exhibition industry.

Here’s something that probably won’t come as a surprise to you: Strategic use of social media and digital marketing is becoming more common in associations, and it often equals a greater return on investment when it comes to an organization’s programs, products, and services.

While there’s no set formula that applies to social media and digital that works for everyone, there are emerging standards and best practices all must know.

But does the same hold true for exhibitions and their digital marketing efforts?

That’s exactly what was examined as part of a recently released cross-industry research report called the Digital Playbook, which surveyed 480 exhibition and sponsorship decision-makers. The report not only outlines specific recommendations in three areas—revenue generation, attendee and customer engagement, and cost containment—but also gives senior marketers and exhibition-industry professionals a common framework to benchmark spending, understand where customer behavior is headed, and align investments to measurable business objectives.

The group behind the research includes the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, ASAE, Exhibitor Magazine, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, InXpo, and George P. Johnson Experience Marketing.

“While there’s no set formula that applies to social media and digital that works for everyone, there are emerging standards and best practices all must know,” said David Rich, Senior Vice President, Strategy + Planning/Worldwide at GPJ, in a press release.

To see how your exhibition marketing efforts compare, here’s a look at some of the survey’s findings and the researchers’ recommendations:

1. Revenue generation is a priority.

The exhibition industry is adopting social media and digital-marketing efforts in an effort to strengthen sales and drive revenue. More than 56 percent of the survey’s respondents are moving from traditional marketing tactics to digital tactics. And the good news is that it seems to be working: 48 percent say that digital and social marketing are valuable or highly valuable for driving revenue, and 69 percent anticipate revenue from digital tactics to increase over the next several years. In addition, one out of 10 respondents attributes 26 to 50 percent of their current total revenue to digital tactics.

2. Formal strategy is a must-have.

One way that organizations are ensuring revenue growth is by having a formal digital strategy in place. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said their organization currently has one. And while 29 percent said they currently do not have one, 21 percent of this group plan to define one within six months to a year. “It would seem that strategy is viewed as a solid foundation for improving the ROI of social media and digital marketing, as well as experimentation with new tactics,” said the report. The research found that those with a strategy are twice as likely to supplement most-established tactics like email marketing with new technology, such as mobile apps and content sharing, than those without a strategy.

3. Email is the go-to.

The majority of both brand marketers and meeting organizers prioritize email. Organizers also say it’s their number-one tool for revenue generation. Since email is so relied on, researchers say organizations “need to be able to handle customer data at the individual level more effectively and integrate with other social media, digital marketing, and technology systems.” Researchers recommend analyzing and segmenting target audiences in order to personalize communications across multiple channels and create an email campaign underpinned by rich data, which once again highlights the need for someone on your team to be skilled in managing and analyzing data.

4. Customer engagement is required.

Successful exhibitions create multiple, ever-deeper interactions with customers that occur over multiple channels and through different tactics. More than half of respondents say they do this by connecting with attendees throughout the event lifecycle, while another 40 percent keep these connections going year-round. (The latter presents similar reasoning to a blog post from earlier this summer, which looked at the feasibility of a year-round event app.) “Converting attendees to leads and leads to customers is not just the fortunate confluence of a great show experience and productive conversation with a brand representative—it is the product of an ongoing conversation enabled by social and digital technologies and supported by data that allows brands to have a more relevant, personalized discussion onsite and year-round,” wrote the researchers.

5. Digital efforts may reduce costs.

One original selling point of social media and digital marketing was the potential for cost savings, but is that really the case? While 53 percents of respondents say digital marketing tactics (e.g., email, social media, microsites, webinars) are valuable or highly valuable in driving cost containment, researchers do say that social media and digital are not necessarily cheap alternatives to traditional tactics, pointing out that organizations must keep in mind that content and time have hard costs that add up.

With 72 percent of respondents expecting increased spending on digital marketing tactics, and hopefully increased revenues as a result, prioritizing will be key. What are your top priorities when it comes to social media and digital-marketing efforts around your exhibitions? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is deputy editor of Associations Now. More »

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