Proving Value of Digital Events

Times are tough for the event industry. Not only has COVID-19 put a strain on in-person events and new event investments, but it also has increased the need to justify spend and prove value. So as the event industry returns, event teams will need to educate leadership that events represent an investment that provides business value. If events are perceived as an expense, they will most likely be cut.

That is why collecting data to make data-based decisions is the key to delivering ROI and proving value. It starts with measuring what matters to each stakeholder group and audience. What are the key takeaways, learnings, and actions that people will remember and use post-event?  Measuring what people do with information and how it is used is what demonstrates business value and ROI.

“If people do nothing, it’s possible that you are in the entertainment business, But if we can measure learning and application takeaways, we can determine an event’s impact.”

Dr. Jack J. Phillips, Chairman of the ROI Institute

Because of this, there will be a greater need to collect data to justify investments. Leadership will be under more pressure to allocate funding to programs that deliver results. More than ever, we need to protect event investments and justify event spends by proving the value they bring.

You Have to Put the Right Data in to Get Reliable Data Out

There’s no need to re-invent how we prove value. However, there are several steps to take to get this right. Early on in the planning process, the following questions need to be addressed:

  • Why we are doing this event?
  • What does the audience need and how do they consume information (device, channel, type)?
  • What does success look like?
  • What needs to be measured and how it will be measured?

Defining success is a critical step that requires time to define what we measure, how we will measure it, and where we will get the data. Alignment with stakeholders will improve measurement success.

Why Are We Doing This Event – Is the Program Worth Doing?

Why are we doing this event? Behind every event is a business case. Before any event, planners must determine whether the program is worth doing and what business case we want to solve. Even if the event has been happening for years, it’s a good time to ask stakeholders whether it’s still relevant. Some reasons why you might do an event include:

  • Shortening the sales cycle
  • Growing organic sales
  • Increasing brand awareness
  • Increased conversion rates
  • Increasing demand generation
  • Enhancing customer service
  • Proving effectiveness of product training

Understanding Audience Needs – Is the Problem Worth Solving?

With a reason to host an event established, it’s time to determine if the problem is worth solving. It is important to understand your audience and how they consume information. Why does the target audience attend events? What are they hoping to get out of attending? What problems do they need to solve? Hopefully, these mesh with your reasons for holding an event.

Knowing your audience is a critical step. There are many demographic and psychographic variations to consider. Event strategists must know how to communicate information and produce content. They must reach audiences through channels that matter. They must allow for community discussions and engagement. You can’t set objectives, develop event logistics and marketing strategies, and measure effectiveness without understanding your audience.

Remember that your target audience may be diverse. A new sales manager, procurement officer, and VP of marketing may all attend the same event for entirely different reasons than would a senior sales executive or junior marketer. You need to know why they are attending, what their specific needs are, and how they will consume information prior, during, and after the event. When using the goals above, think about what to measure to ensure problems are addressed and solved, such as:

Training/Content Effectiveness
Key Takeaways/ Learnings used
Program relevance to target audience
Sessions Attended and Engagement
Types/Length of Engagement
Lead Quality/Ranking
Upsell/Cross sell Opportunities

What Does Success Look Like – Is the Opportunity Worth Pursuing?

At this point, we set measurable SMART objectives. But it’s not just about objectives; we need to get agreement from our stakeholders as to what we need to measure and how it will be measured.   

“If we don’t step up and define the data we want, we won’t be able to measure it,” Jack Phillips adds. “Understanding the extent that the event influenced attendee actions is what ultimately defines ROI.”

ROI Methodology

Dr. Phillips devised the “ROI methodology” a balanced approach to measurement that generates six levels of data:

Reaction and planned ActionWhat are the steps people should take?
LearningHow are you educating attendees?
Application an ImplementationWhat are the action steps and the timeframe to take action?
ImpactImpact on objectives
Return on InvestmentMathematical formula to determine ROI (ROI – Net Program benefits over program costs x 100
IntangiblesBenefits that cannot or chose not to be converted to financial gains

There is a lot to consider when developing an event strategy. Following this process will provide information to make data-based decisions. Do your homework. As a reminder, a negative ROI does not spell budget cuts. It should send a signal that something needs to be tweaked or changed. It becomes a learning experience where we overhaul or redesign to ensure we meet customer needs.

As the digital age of events has been thrusted upon us, event planners need to refocus into digital event strategists. We need to take charge and show leadership that virtual, hybrid and in-person events can support business objectives.

For so many organizations, the missing piece is tying ROI to purpose. Knowing your audience, what you need to measure, and how to define it is essential for ensuring that the money you invest in events is delivering. As a digital event strategist, I can help your event team reevaluate your event strategy and help you prove value for your events to justify the investment. Let’s talk about how Grow Your Events can help you. Get in touch.