Tactics and tools to deliver exhibitor ROI

By Denzil Rankine, Executive Chairman, AMR International

Two speakers at Transform USA reinforced AMR’s view that customer-centric strategies are critical to moving beyond space sales and delivering exhibitor return on investment (ROI).

For many years, exhibitors were comfortable with the intangible returns on investment from exhibiting—increasing brand awareness or being seen as a market leader or making the sales staff happy. That has changed as companies, schooled in the ways of digital-marketing practices, have become more explicit in their demands for similar metrics from face-to-face marketing.

Many event organizers are keenly aware of this requirement from exhibitors, but struggle to align the data they collect from attendees with the metrics that exhibitors seek. Most have only recently begun experimenting with the digital technologies equipped to deliver these metrics and exhibitors themselves aren’t exactly clear either on how to utilize the technology made available to and for them.

A data-driven strategy for exhibitor ROI

Jean Foster, Vice President Marketing at the Consumer Technology Association, describes herself as “the last person you want on this stage,” because of her track record of cutting events from the marketing budget at previous employers. She began to think differently when she discovered that organizers already have much of the data that exhibitors want, they simply lack a strategy for converting it into the analytics that makes sense to a Chief Marketing Officer.

Following is Foster’s six-step strategy to deliver exhibitor ROI:

Step 1Learn what companies want. “Ask them,” Foster says, “What are their drivers? What are their goals? What keeps them up at night?” How they measure success is crucial “to give them the information in the format that they need.”

Step 2Gain an understanding of the data already collected—types of records, where they’re stored (with vendors or in the customer relationship management platform, for example) and the legal and contractual obligations associated with security and privacy.

Step 3Establish a roadmap that identifies the time frame, data points, tools, skills and talent required across the whole organization (IT, marketing, sales, etc.). Doing so can help organizers convert the data they have into exhibitor insights. “Start with the low-hanging fruit,” she advises.

Step 4Collect data from attendees before, during and after the event, not only to understand them more deeply but also to begin shaping their experiences through making suggestions, personalizing messages, and addressing needs.

Step 5Leverage technology. Event technology and up-and-coming technology from outside the industry, including artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, voice recognition, and smart sensors are the key to engaging with audiences and getting better data, Foster explains.

Step 6Once the data is in a format that exhibitors can use, organizers must share it with their exhibitors. “Help them make a case for the return on investment,” she says.

On-the-ground tactical assistance for ROI-seeking exhibitors

Megan Tanel, Senior Vice President of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), spoke about “really helping to show exhibitors how to find ROI” by “drilling down to the people that matter, the ones who are paying the bills,” she says.

To make good on its word, AEM transitioned a staff member from her existing position to a new role leading the Exhibitor Engagement department. Her focus is to work as closely as possible with exhibitors (2,500 of which participate in the association’s large CONEXPO-CON/AGG exhibition) “to embrace the technology that is available to them,” Tanel explains.

One of the solutions that the group invested heavily in was proximity-beacon technology. In preparation for the show, they held focus groups with exhibitors to learn what their specific data needs were and explain how the beacon technology would help meet those requirements. They also shared the feedback from exhibitors with the beacon-solution provider.

During the exhibition, organizers invested $400,000 to provide every exhibitor that purchased a basic lead-retrieval package with an upgrade (at no additional charge) to the beacon-technology solution. To remove any barriers to usage, AEM provided training on the system and instituted a text-based communication system to allow exhibitors to receive assistance from the exhibitor engagement team housed in the “hub,” AEM’s real-time communication nerve center based in the convention center.

After the show, AEM shared insights they received from all the technology and programs instituted at the show with exhibitors. “The biggest thing is everything we learn from the show we need to take back to our exhibitors and create this feedback loop because they learned a lot too,” Tanel says.

One of the strongest messages to come across from presenters and participants of Transform USA was that digital technology provides both solutions and challenges for event organizers. It was only the beginning of a tactical discussion on exhibitor ROI that will continue to evolve in years to come.

What’s coming up?

  • AMR will be hosting the Transform Europe conference in London on 6 December 2017. Registrations are now open.
  • AMR will present the next Transform USA  conference in Washington DC on Thursday July 19, 2018. More details coming soon!

For more information about how AMR supports organizers to develop and execute customer centric strategies, including data, analytics and digital, please contact: