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Measuring Success in Today's Trade Show Environment
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times! "How was the trade show? Was it a big success?" Every event manager knows to expect the V.P. of Marketing, or even the CEO, to ask those question as soon as the last show attendee exits the building.

In today's world, data is the Holy Grail. Companies are relentlessly acquiring and processing information. Those responsible for the planning, execution and results of a trade show program can no longer answer based on personal observations and gut-feel. "Our booth was packed the entire show," is just not an acceptable response.

Since the cost of a trade show program is typically a major portion of a company's marketing budget, a positive return on that investment (ROI) is critical if management is going to see the value in funding a program. Without the necessary management commitment and financial support, trade show programs languish or even worse, are eliminated altogether - neither of which is a satisfactory outcome for an event manager with creative ideas and solid ambition!

But measuring the ROI of a program is complex. First, "success" must be defined by setting clear objectives based on corporate goals. Then a measurement plan that translates objectives into key performance measures needs to be established.

Everyone accepts that trade shows must be on budget, on time and produce a high level of participation satisfaction. However, using data to measure results, event managers can go beyond the basics and demonstrate the profound impact a trade show program can have on an organization's overall success.

Implementing a Measurement Model

Most trade show events do present an excellent opportunity from a marketing perspective. At Exhibitus, we walk the show floor looking for companies that have good ideas and are working to make the most of the event. We also evaluate our clients' exhibit marketing performance in a more comprehensive manner using one of the most effective models in the industry.

Through this case study of a successful exhibit, we will show how it is possible to improve results and lower costs by adjusting your approach to each event.

It All Starts with Understanding Potential Audience

Before you can measure effectiveness, you have to know your potential. This starts with analyzing your audience.

Success begins with choosing an opportune show and understanding the potential of the audience that will attend. Most events are organized by trade associations that do a good job of providing the demographics of expected attendees.

The following performance summary presents the key elements of a perfectly sized, successful exhibit at an attractive show. We refer to these variables as Key Performance Measures. They detail the efficiency, effectiveness and business impact of a company's trade show marketing effort at this event.

Key Performance Measure 1 - Show Variables
Total Attendance20,697
Buyer Attendance11,383
Show Hours (Over four days. Last day is very low.)33
Average Hours a Visitor Spends at the Exhibition (estimated)10
Average Number of Exhibits Visited per Hour (20 mins. average exhibit visit) 3
Average Exhibit Size (estimated from total sq. ft. of exhibition)400
Average Budget / Exhibitor (estimated using cross industry benchmark data)$60,000

As you will see as we continue our example, the quality of the show is a critical to the level of success and payback of the event. You don't have any control over what a show offers, but you can choose appropriate events and then design your booth, messaging and activities based on the event's characteristics and the opportunity it offers your company and marketing program.

Key Performance Measure 2 - Visitor Variables
Total Visitor Hours (total visitors x average hours a visitor spends at the exhibition)206,970
Total Buyer Hours (total buyers x average hours a visitor spends at the exhibition)113,830
Average Visitor Hours per Exhibitor229.5
Average Exhibit Visitors for the Show (20 mins. average exhibit visit = 3 per hour)688.5
Cost per Visitor$87.16
Average Buyer Hours per Exhibitor126.2
Average Exhibit Buyers for the Show (20 mins. average exhibit visit, 3 per hour)378.6
Cost per Buyer Hour (for typical 400 sq. ft. exhibit) $475.44
Cost per Buyer Visit (for a typical 400 sq. ft. exhibit, 20 mins. per visit)$158.50

(Note: The variables above are based upon averages and assume an average level of visitor attraction.)

The variables above portray the opportunities and limitations of the show attendance. Combining this data with your own exhibit plans, it is possible to forecast your expected traffic before the event begins and to use that forecast to adjust or "right size" your exhibit size, layout, number of booth staff and cost.

Key Performance Measure 3 - Visitor Attraction and Engagement Variables
% Buyers Engaged (estimated from counts, observations and historical data)60.0%
Number of Engaged Buyers for the Show227.2
Cost per Engaged Buyer Hour$792.41
Cost per Engaged Buyer Visit$264.14

For these variables it is important to understand that all "buyers" are not necessarily qualified to buy your product. It is therefore necessary to estimate the number of buyers who become actively engaged with your staff or demos, using the logical assumption that most people who are actively engaged are likely to be qualified. These are the buyers you are paying to attract.

Key Performance Measure 4 - Qualified, Committed Leads Variables
% Engaged Buyers who commit to a follow-up step15%
Number of Actionable, Committed Leads34.1
Cost per Qualified, Committed Lead$1,760.91

Only a percentage of your engaged buyers will commit to a desired "next step." This number is derived from tracking your leads as a percentage of engaged buyers, show by show.

Key Performance Measure 5 - Exhibit Efficiency
Number of Staff Required (= Buyer hours / 33 hours x 0.6 engagement rate x 1.1)7.5
Sq. Ft. Required to Handle the Expected Traffic343.6

While looking at the number of visitors, it is useful to evaluate how well we sized our resources. We refer to this evaluation as "right-sizing."

Based on this example, let's look at the following factors:
  • Number of engaged buyers present/hr
  • An exhibit that has 55 percent available space for visitor activity (otherwise filled with exhibitry and equipment)
  • Using 9 sq. ft. per visitor to comfortably engage in the environment

Then the exhibit size required would be approximately 350 sq. ft.

Key Performance Measure 6 - Estimating the Sales Opportunity
Estimated Close Rate for Committed Leads (determined by sales team)10%
Estimated Value of a Sale (determined by sales team)$50,000
Sales Potential Estimate (34 leads x 0.10 close x $50,000 avg.)$170,000
Gross Profit Margin37%
Gross Profit on Sales Potential$62,900

Sales are the domain of the sales force. An important measure of success for a marketing event is to identify the "sales opportunity" it created for the company. To do so relies on a few essential elements:
  1) Leads must be tightly defined as only qualified buyers who are committed to take a "next step" defined by the sales team, at a certain level in the sales funnel.
  2) The sales team must indicate what the probability of sale is for the qualified prospects who take the designated "next step."
  3) The sales team must provide an estimate of sales value for the average deal.

Key Performance Measure 7 - Cost Savings / Cost Avoidance
Savings from Travel Avoidance through Show Activity$36,000
Savings from Reuse of Creative Assets, Collateral, Digital Assets, Properties, etc. in Future Events and for Other Purposes$8,500
Total Cost Savings$49,000

Events provide numerous ways to reduce the cost of doing business. Consider the savings from key areas such as future travel avoidance and business processes such as recruiting.

Key Performance Measure 8 - Promotion Value
Impressions through Direct Marketing16,000
Impressions through Media22,000
Impressions though On-Site Promotion100,000
Impressions through Exposure to Exhibit40,000
Total Impressions178,000
% Targeted Impressions55%
Targeted Impressions97,900
Gross Impressions80,100
Estimated Value of Gross and Targeted Impressions (average calculation using $ .05 per gross impression x 80,100 + $.60 per targeted impression x 97,900)$62,745

Events accomplish huge amounts of exposure for your company and products. Alternatives for accomplishing this exposure is advertising or direct marketing. Consider giving your program credit for at least the equivalent cost to create the same exposure through advertising.

Key Performance Measure 9 - Total Estimated Benefits and Payback on Show Marketing Activity
Gross Profit on Potential Sales$62,900
Total Cost Savings$49,500
Estimated Value of Gross & Targeted Impressions$62,745
Total Estimated Benefit$175,145
Show Budget$60,000
Payback Ratio$2.92 / $1.00 Spent

After considering all of the estimated benefits from all sources, this event provided a payback of almost $3.00 for each dollar invested.

Based on this example, we can conclude this was a highly successful event! Look at the qualifiers:
  • The approach was correct.
  • The exhibit and staff sizes were correct.
  • The necessary number of buyers were engaged.
  • Enough qualified leads were collected.
  • The results in sales opportunity, cost savings and promotion were all positive.

Most importantly, we can show our results to upper management in context of business improvement and return on investment. Not only will the program's value be evident, but the professional contribution of you and your team will be recognized and rewarded. And in some cases, we can even present a rational case for program growth!

To get the full white paper, click here to download: info.exhibitus.com/measurement-white-paper or contact Lynn Reves at Exhibitus' Result Division, 470.375.6039.

Brad Falberg, President

As Founder and President, Brad is the driving force behind the Exhibitus corporate philosophy: "DESIGN MATTERS." An award-winning custom exhibit house, the company specializes in 3-dimensional design for trade shows, corporate events, user conferences, permanent installations, museums and corporate interiors.

Brad's commitment to excellent design has led him to develop and champion a process that measures the link between design and trade show success. His expertise in consulting with clients and working with design teams from a clean sheet of paper to a final design guarantees beautiful, unique and relevant environments that engage audiences and create measurable success. Also, he has ensured Exhibitus' long-term success by investing in state-of-the art facilities, client-focused technology and the best people in the business.


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