Katherine Sheen
Katherine Sheen 15 March 2018

When it Comes to B2B Events: Avoid the Measurement Trap

When it comes to the analysis of B2B events, there seem to be two strands of narrative around event marketing for larger B2B brands. One story seems to indicate B2B brands love events, while the other believes they offer a confluence of marketers' biggest challenges. So which one comes out on top?

There are two stories about event marketing for larger B2B brands.

One story, supported by sources like Marketo and event tech company Bizzabo, shows that confidence in B2B events is steady or growing year on year. B2B marketers love events. 85% of B2B marketers say events are ‘CRITICAL’ or ‘VERY IMPORTANT’[1]. More events, please. Can’t get enough of ‘em. Pass me a lanyard!

The other story, more likely to be heard in face-to-face conversations (rants) with B2B marketers, is that events are a nightmarish confluence of their biggest challenges. Huge fixed costs, an escalation in the number of events to cover globally, and a weak position from which to challenge the sales team’s declaration that events, and lots of them, are essential to the lifeblood of the sales operation… despite little tangible evidence.

This story means that, in reality, event marketing budgets go in cycles. Wild spending peaks raise flags higher up in the brand organisation, which then trigger a process of scrutiny, which doesn’t find the proof of value for which it’s looking. The event budget is slashed. The dread scenarios of “fewer but better”, “just using what we have already”, or “having a walking presence[2] only” get thrown about. As a result of de-investing in event marketing, the sales team feels they’re left twisting in the wind. The development of customer and prospect relationships starts to wobble… and in time the budget pendulum swings back. Events re-assert themselves as the most meaningful tactic to engage the target audience – mainly due to the absence of a viable alternative.

In both stories, the conversation about B2B events always gravitates to the question of ROI – how to measure value. Annual Google searches for ‘B2B event marketing’, presumably by professionals increasingly desperate for some kind of practical answer, have increased 148% in the last few years[3] - it’s on everybody’s minds.

If you’re cynical, you may notice that our first story above is pushed heavily by entities that make money from brands’ B2B event marketing budgets – specifically entities that promise to make event ROI calculation easier (usually through digitised onsite data capture and pre- and post-event email nurturing). However, the promise of improving ROI through these techniques alone is misleading. Making events richer, more interactive and engaging through the use of smart marketing activities is a valuable goal, but it doesn’t solve the attribution conundrum. Unless event marketing engagement data is synthesised with lead status and lead value information (which of course is as simple to obtain from the sales team as their kidneys are), it remains a selection of marketing KPIs, not a measurement of the commercial impact of events. It’s a seductive trap that’s easy to fall into.

If the value of B2B events is truly about facilitation of sales and better customer relationships, the challenge to marketers is how to capture and quantify the impact of their activity on those metrics. Which, of course, is actually the challenge for marketers to build more transparent and collaborative relationships with their sales organisations.

In fact, the immortal B2B event ROI measurement conundrum, the fertile sire of thousands of marketing blogs and gated ‘thought leadership’ content, is really a distraction from the core issue. Which is that unless a detailed and continuous measurement process exists for all marketing activities, with active input from the sales team to tie marketing effort to commercial outcomes, then it’s pretty unlikely that there can be any sensible calculation of marketing value at all – never mind for events.

Which is a bit of a downer to end a blog with, really, so let’s re-distract ourselves and enjoy the fact that someone has written and published a book (a BOOK!) on choosing promotional items for trade shows. Surely some kind of nadir of event marketing advice content? Hot new take: maybe we’re all missing the point, and the TRUE VALUE of B2B events is the opportunity to hand out a branded power adapter. We all love a bit of swag, in the end.


[2] The practice of not staging an exhibit stand, but instead sending a company representative to ‘walk the halls’ (or, more likely in reality, stand awkwardly at one of those tall metal table things you only ever see near sandwich shops at trade shows)

[3] Google Trends

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