Posted by: Garrett French
The average event marketing opportunity costs a business between $500 and $1,000 to attend, and that doesn’t include labor, booth setup, or promotional items. For small business owners and marketing departments working on a budget, those are big numbers. To justify that level of investment, most owners and marketers are looking for ways to ensure it will be worth the expense.
The good news is, though the numbers may seem daunting, it’s actually not difficult to achieve a positive return on your event marketing investment. In fact, event marketing is one of the most effective marketing channels most businesses have never tried! By attracting more buyers and fewer “window-shoppers,” companies who participate in events make more sales from fewer leads. Furthermore, local event participation can build local search visibility and deliver even more revenue by boosting your position in online search results.
As if that weren’t reason enough to head over to ZipSprout’s local sponsorship finder tool and start searching for opportunities, there’s more. Not only are events one of the most effective ways to use your marketing dollars to generate new business and build relationships with prospective clients, they offer more abstract benefits, like increased brand awareness and recognition. Sponsorships exhibit a commitment to community, a factor 87 percent of consumers think is important. They can even provide boosts in hard-to-measure categories, like positivity, trust, and loyalty.
That’s why, in this guide, we’re gonna show you why and how you should be investing in experiential marketing. We’ll talk specifically about the concrete indicators you can use to measure your return on investment (ROI), including reach, engagement, and lead generation. Moreover, we’ll discuss what you can do to positively impact each of these metrics and further increase your event marketing success.
Table of Contents
- Reach, Impressions, and Frequency
- Customer Acquisition and Revenue
- Calculating Event ROI
- One, Big Caveat
- Assess the Opportunity
- Invest in Giveaways
- Give Away What You’re Selling
- Encourage Referrals and Sharing
- Be Useful and Relevant
- Unbranded Experiences
- Pursue Partnerships
- Other Strategies
The biggest reason event sponsorships have such great marketing potential is because they are chock-full of individual marketing elements you can use to generate interest in who you are and what you’re selling. Here’s a list of the most common benefits we see, compiled from more than 60,000 sponsorship opportunities in the ZipSprout database and provided by our COO Claudia Cruz:
- Ads – In a print directory, online, or in the event’s mobile app
- Blog posts – A feature article on the event blog or a guest post on the organization blog
- Event presence – A booth, tent, or table at the event
- Naming rights – Event, building, or other item named for a sponsor
- Links – In email newsletters, on the website, or via social media
- Mentions – Inclusion in publicity materials, press releases, email newsletters, and social media posts or verbal recognition
- Logo placements – On signage, website, event t-shirt or other swag, including merchandise in goodie bags
- Self-promotion – Attending networking events with other sponsors and attendees, speaking at the event, or a social media takeover that allows you to engage directly with the audience
- Discounts – Free or discounted tickets to the event for employees and/or clients, coupons or discounts on related products or services
- Media spots – On television and radio or in the newspaper
As you can see, the benefits are as varied as they are valuable. However, they can generally be split into a few separate categories for the purpose of metrics and analytics. Of course, some of these perks fit into more than one category and, therefore, can be measured in multiple ways. Below, we’ve provided some insight into each metric as it applies to event marketing specifically. We’ve also given some examples. What we haven’t done is make an assessment about how successful each of these (mostly fictional) scenarios might be or calculate the exact ROI. There are just too many variables and details we don’t have the time or space to discuss here. You should feel free to fill in any missing information and estimate that for yourself, though.
Reach, Impressions, and Frequency
If you are familiar with the “Rule of 7” that says a prospective client needs to hear from you at least 7 times before they buy, then you already know why reach, impressions, and frequency are important. The more people who see you more times and in more ways, the more likely you are to reach someone who wants what you’re selling. Not only that, each impression is a chance to begin building a relationship with those who are not ready, willing, or able to buy right away. Print features like ads, logo placements, and mentions all get your name in front of the event audience. Digital components like links, blog posts, and media spots reach even further, exposing fans and followers as well.
A digital marketing firm invests $1,500 to sponsor a three-day small business conference. With their sponsorship, they receive a logo placement on the back cover of the event guide, which will be distributed to every attendee. They also get a free half-page ad in the same guide and verbal recognition each day at the opening and closing of the event. If 1,000 people attend the event, they’ll reach an audience of that many unique individuals at a cost of $1.50 each. If everyone at the event sees their logo and ad and hears their six mentions, they’ll receive 8,000 impressions at a cost of about $0.19 each, with a frequency of eight impressions per person.
When maximizing ROI is the goal, engineering personal interactions with prospects and figuring out how to convert them into sales is job number one. Event presence and self-promotion opportunities are examples of tactics that promote client engagement. Whether you’re taking over a social media platform online or meeting attendees at a booth, the conversations that ensue can help you sell on the spot, collect contact information, and tag people for later follow-up. When the number of people you are able to personally interact with goes way up, so does your ability to understand and pitch to their unique needs.
A web designer pays $500 for a booth at a photography marketing seminar. In addition to her presence at the event, she gets to do a one-hour live presentation about web design tips for photographers in the event’s private Facebook group. Out of the seminars’ 250 attendees, she speaks personally with 40 and collects contact information for an additional 80 in response to an offer for a free ebook. During her live presentation, she replies to questions and comments from 30 unique contacts and receives 10 more requests via Messenger for more information about her services. Out of the 160 people who engaged with the designer at an investment of approximately $3.13 each, it will be interesting to see how many purchase one of her off-the-shelf templates and/or turn into custom clients.
Customer Acquisition and Revenue
If you have a physical item to sell, a service to sign people up for right away, or another way to get revenue or clients immediately, the right event can pay back your investment immediately. Over time, it’s possible for your ROI to continue to grow as you follow up with leads and gain repeat customers. This is also where your secondary and tertiary revenue from referrals and upsells will come into play.
A personal development coach invests $10,000 (including her airfare, hotel, and other expenses) to be a presenter at the national conference for a popular multilevel marketing company. As part of the package, she is allowed to set up a table where she can sell her books and share information about her online mastermind group for entrepreneurs. There is also an after-hours networking event for top achievers where she can get to know the most profitable independent consultants. She sells 125 books at the event for $19 each, $12 of which is profit. She also signs 12 new clients up for her mastermind group, which bills at $199 per month with a year-long commitment. The cost per client to run the mastermind for an entire year also happens to be $199, all of which is invested immediately to provide a welcome package with materials for the whole year. At the event itself, she collects $4,763 in revenue. Of that amount, only $1,500 is profit. However, after the first year, she will have collected $31,031, increasing her total profit to $27,768 and giving her a positive return on her investment. This, of course, does not count any attendees who buy books or become clients later. It also excludes any secondary business from word-of-mouth referrals by these clients, which is how she gets most of her new clients.
It’s no secret that you have to make more money than you spend to have a sustainable business model. The better your return on investment (ROI,) the more profitable you are. That’s why ROI is (arguably) the most important metric when it comes to evaluating your marketing efforts — including events.
In an ideal world where you have unlimited resources, any amount of positive ROI would make any marketing effort worthwhile. In the real world, however, resources are rarely unlimited. So, it makes sense that you should spend your time and money on the activities that generate the best ROI, not just any ROI at all. Simply put, smart marketers use the metric to determine how they can get the most bang for their buck.
Calculating Event ROI
To know your return on investment, you have to know how to calculate it. In this section, we’ll talk about your ROI as it applies to events and sponsorships specifically, but you can obviously translate it to any marketing or advertising tactic you employ.
ROI = (Revenue – Investment) ÷ Investment
In this case, revenue includes any and all income an event generates. You should include sales made at the event, as well as deals closed afterwards, in this number. Your investment is also all-inclusive, so it should include the price of sponsoring the event, as well as marketing materials, labor to work the booth, and any other costs associated with the event itself.
Seems simple enough, right? As it turns out, 87 percent of marketers are less than confident in their ability to measure ROI. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you. After all, how many of us really think in formulas and equations? To make this concept more tangible, consider thinking of it in the business terms you use every day: sales and clients.
How many sales do you need to make or prospects do you need to convert into clients before you recoup your investment? If you offer a single product or service, and you charge every client the same price, the math is easy. But when you start to account for secondary and tertiary returns, like referrals, upsells, and the lifetime value of a customer, it can get a little more complicated.
A residential pest control company spends $1000 to sponsor a home and garden event. If they profit $59 on each treatment, they need to sell 17 treatments at the event to achieve a positive ROI. Those sales can come in the form of 17 one-time treatments, two yearly packages of 12 treatments, or a combination of the two. However, if the lifetime value of a customer is approximately $2,500, a single sale more than covers it.
However, some scenarios are less cut and dry. If you sell different products at varying price points and profit margins, you may want to utilize averages or number of leads generated instead.
A wedding caterer pays $3,000 to sponsor a wedding expo. They know their average client spends $1,000 on a catering package, yielding $500 in profit. So, they need to book at least six jobs. But a catering package is not something you just sign up for at first glance. It takes a tasting, a phone call, and at least a half-dozen emails to close a deal. On top of that, only two out of five leads convert to customers. Given that information, the caterer needs to generate a total of 15 leads at their event.
If you don’t already know how many leads it takes to make a sale, sponsored events are a great place to figure it out. Combining data from multiple sources will always be more reliable, but simply keeping track of your leads and conversions for a single event will give you a basic idea. Event sponsorships are also a great way to test new marketing programs to see how they compare to existing strategies.
No matter what metrics you are starting with, knowing what it will take to achieve a positive ROI going into an event allows you to establish expectations and set goals going in. Either way, you’ll always need to calculate your actual sales after the event.
One, Big Caveat
Not everything is easily measurable. That’s not to say that there isn’t value in sponsoring for the sake of supporting your community, because you support a cause, or even for the tax write-off, when that’s an option. There is unquantifiable value there, including building relationships and generating goodwill. After all, it’s no secret that brand recognition is a powerful way to build trust, create association, and increase brand value. Moreover, these are all factors that can exponentially increase the success of your other marketing efforts.
Practical Ways to Increase ROI
While it may not be possible for you to sell your product or service on the spot or assign a value to the brand recognition you’ve built, there is one thing that any vendor in any industry at any event can do to increase their return on investment: generate more good leads. By increasing the quantity of quality prospects you spend your resources attracting and pursuing, you can also increase your revenue and your ROI. Here’s how…
Assess the Opportunity
When determining whether a sponsorship opportunity is a good fit, you should ask yourself two things. First, is the audience at this event comprised of members of my target market? Generally speaking, do they look like the clients I have now or the ones I want to attract? If the answer is no, the likelihood of the event generating a positive ROI for you decrease dramatically. You can probably stop here.
If the answer is yes, and the market looks promising, move on to the second question. Will there be ample opportunities to generate leads? In other words, look for benefits that allow you to interact directly with potential clients. If the benefits are all passive, in that they require the prospect to take all the action to get in touch with you, you’re less likely to convert. As a result, your ROI will suffer.
A local advocacy group for affordable housing approaches a real estate agent to the affluent about sponsoring a charity 5K. Participants will run right past his real estate office, and the list of perks include his name and logo on all of the signage, his card in the swag bag, and a combined dozen mentions online, in the media, and at the event. However, there is no opportunity for the real estate agent to speak directly with any of the participants, and the roster includes mostly millennials, a market he doesn’t usually serve. In this case, he should look for more lucrative sponsorship opportunities.
Don’t be afraid to think a little outside the box when it comes to the types of events you choose to sponsor, either. Even if you just want to test out a new market or geography or product offering, there are plenty of advantages to doing something different, including knowing what doesn’t work. So, as long as you can justify the expenditure with reasonable expectations, go for it.
An attorney who specializes in family law and estate management is looking for sponsorship opportunities near him. He sees an advertisement online for a vendor show for expectant parents one town over. The companies they are promoting on the event website, complete with a link back to their own sites, include a furniture retailer, a high-end baby boutique across from the attorney’s office, and an eco-friendly kids clothing brand. He remembers an article he read from Kiplinger about how first-time parents need a living will, a power of attorney, and guardianship documents. Those are his specialties, but this would be an entirely new market for him. A quick Google search confirms that 78 percent of people ages 18-36 don’t have wills, and the demographics in the area revealed that the same group had been steadily on the rise for the past decade. So, he decides to sign up for a table for $1,000. After all, at that price, he only needs two new clients to recoup his investment.
Invest in Giveaways
If your focus is to leave the event with as many qualified leads as possible, your top priority should be collecting prospects’ info. Once you have a name, email, and phone number, you can take control of building the relationship and making the sale. Branded giveaways and raffle items are tried and true when it comes to attracting people to your booth at an event and convincing them to leave you with their contact information, but they can do more. A good giveaway can also help qualify your leads, promote sharing and referrals, and make it easy for a prospect to remember you later, when they need your product or service.
Give Away What You’re Selling
To better qualify your leads, try giving away what you’re selling. For instance, a business coach may give away a free consultation or guide and raffle off a copy of their book or a free month of consulting. There will always be a few folks who will take every freebie they’re offered and sign up for every drawing they can find, regardless of whether they need, want, or can afford what you’re selling. Inevitably, more of the people you attract and the leads you get will be interested in your offering as well.
A dentist is looking for new patients, and he’s excited to be an exhibitor at an upcoming wellness expo. He makes the most money from clients who need major dental work, like root canals, bridges, and implants. However, he acquires most of those clients from preventive care and basic services, like routine cleanings and fillings. In the past, he has given away hundreds of toothbrushes to attendees and held a raffle for an expensive, electric toothbrush. Unfortunately, most of the leads he received didn’t actually want his services when he followed up after the event. This year, he has decided to change his strategy to try and gain more contact information from people who actually need what he’s selling. He is giving away 50% off coupons for a routine dental cleaning, which cost him nothing unless they’re redeemed, to everyone who stops by his booth. He is using the money he saves to raffle off a free major service. He gives away fewer coupons than he did toothbrushes and gets fewer leads overall. He now plans to call every person to follow up individually.
Encourage Referrals and Sharing
If you want to generate a buzz around your business and product offering, consider giving away something that encourages event attendees to share or refer, in real life or online. A wedding photographer may set up a photo booth where brides, grooms, and bridesmaids can take photos to announce their wedding date or hashtag on social media. Ask each participant to share their photo on Facebook and Instagram and tag your business for a chance to win a free engagement session. Offer extra entries if they tag another bride to be. In addition to being able to contact each person through Messenger (which is actually more effective than most other forms of marketing communication these days), you’ll increase your reach, impressions, and hopefully engagement beyond the event itself.
A backyard mosquito control franchise is setting up a table at a local farmer’s market. They want to spread the word that they perform their service as to minimally impact the environment, including beneficial insects. To attract people to their table, they will be giving away flower seeds so attendees can start their own bee gardens at home. Each seed packet is branded, and homeowners are encouraged to post photos of their bee garden online using a special hashtag. If they tag the mosquito control company, they will be entered to win a free season of mosquito control treatments. The mosquito control company will share every bee garden post on their own social, and they’ll contact each person who tags them to offer them a free trial treatment, even if they didn’t win the grand prize, because they know that allowing a client to experience their service is the best way to convert them to a paying customer.
Be Useful and Relevant
Another solid giveaway strategy is offering event participants something that is truly useful and relevant to what you do — something they’ll keep in their homes, cars, or purses. Examples of inexpensive items that fit the bill are refrigerator magnets (with useful information on them,) cell phone grips, lip balm, travel size bug spray, and small lint sticks. Don’t underestimate the brand recognition and goodwill you can passively build each time the item holds up a piece of their kids’ artwork, prevents them from dropping their phone, protects their lips or skin, or keeps them from showing up for a meeting covered in dog hair. As an added bonus, when they finally need you, your contact information will be within arm’s reach.
A dermatologist is presenting about sun safety at a local women’s health summit. At her accompanying booth, she gives away travel-size sunscreens branded with her info, as well as a refrigerator magnet with photos of moles and information about skin cancer. During her talk, she will talk about how important it is to wear sunscreen, suggest carrying some at all times, and direct them to her table for a free tube. She will do the same for skin cancer awareness and mole checks. By not only presenting the information, but also providing a truly useful, relevant, and lasting solution, she is conveying to the women how much she truly cares about their skin health.
It’s not always easy to follow these rules, of course. This is especially true if you have a high-dollar offering or if you are one of many businesses in the same category just trying to stand out. In these cases, you can always stand out by offering something coveted and attaching it to a trial or other sale. Think: timeshare providers offering free vacations in exchange for sitting through a half-day sales presentation. And, if all else fails, have something for the kids or pets. If your product is for parents, grandparents, or pet parents, offering a kid- or pet-friendly giveaway or activity can be a great way to get the caregivers into your booth.
A manufacturer of home security systems attends a family fair. Knowing there will be a lot of kids and pets at the event, which takes place in the summer, the team has decided to give away water to people and pets passing by their booth. They’ll also offer children the chance to spin a prize wheel for a chance to win one of many “prize box” toys from the local discount store. They also have a table with coloring pages and crayons where kids can take a break from walking. While the dogs hydrate and the kids spin, choose a prize, and color, team members will talk to parents. They will focus on asking them questions about their family and home to determine if one of their products or services is a good fit.
Another way to maximize leads from an event is to turn your eyes from attendees to your fellow exhibitors. They are there because they are pursuing the same market you are. That means their customer list is probably chock-full of your potential customers. So, why not share?
Pursuing joint ventures with complementary, non-competing exhibitors is a great way to acquire multiple leads with just one pitch. Just be sure to offer your fellow business owners something that will truly benefit them and their customers, i.e. something that will make them look good. A compelling example of this strategy comes, once again, from the residential mosquito control industry. Years of research has shown that a free mosquito control treatment is the most effective way to convert prospects into paying customers. Therefore, it makes sense to offer pool companies, patio builders, and non-competing lawn care companies a free service for each of their customers. By positioning the treatment as a gift from the company to their clients, everybody wins.
A handyman service has a booth at a senior expo. They chose this event because many of their clients are elderly homeowners who need help with home repair and maintenance projects on a recurring basis. The booth is manned by the company’s in-house marketing manager, who spends breaks and meal times getting to know his fellow exhibitors. By the end of the two-day event, he has established a joint venture relationship with a medical equipment company and an in-home caregiver service. The handyman service will provide a coupon for a free “quick fix” — small repairs that take an average of 15 minutes to complete — as a thank you gift from each respective business to their existing customers. The handyman marketing team will mail out the coupons to the clients on behalf of the other companies and follow up via a phone call to schedule a free repair, if the client wants it. The handyman company has used the strategy of providing a free service before with other joint venture partners, so they know that an average of 50 percent of clients take them up on the free offer. They also know that 40 percent of those people will schedule a future service. This is how they earn a positive ROI on their investment.
The possibilities really are endless here. These are some of the most basic strategies, but there are also a few “above-and-beyond” strategies you may want to try, if you have the resources and bandwidth, like local blog engagement (Here’s a guide.) And you should always be maximizing the value of each lead with a customized lead-nurturing strategy. (More on that here.)
Whether you’re a small business owner who wears many hats or a seasoned marketing pro with the lone goal of generating business, events and sponsorships — and the price tags that come with them — can be intimidating. However, if you focus on finding the right target audience, maximizing included benefits, and facilitating client engagement, it’s nearly impossible not to generate a positive return on your investment. Not only that, with a little practice and a few tweaks, you just may find that event marketing is one of the best marketing tactics in your entire tool kit.