1. Lessons In Leadership
  2. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

ROI and Relationships

Organizers and exhibitors should focus on attendee-driven objectives.

When I was a younger person discovering everything possible in the events industry, the game-changing technology that rocked my world was the use of scannable name badges at registration. Technically, they were “swipeable,” relying on handheld devices to read a magnetic strip. The data on the badge could include the attendee’s name, company, and contact information. Back in the ‘90s, it was a mind-blowing innovation. If you are my age, this will bring a smile of recollection. If you are younger, you will probably laugh that we thought this was such a big deal, especially now that artificial intelligence has exploded our old data precepts.

What’s interesting to me is the paradox this reveals regarding event technology. The means and methods have changed radically, but the ultimate goal has not. We still want to leverage data in order to simplify, amplify, and monetize the event experience. But where this used to mean accurately reporting the number of attendees at an event (to help show positive ROI), today the relevant metrics relate to meeting strategic objectives. Event organizers can achieve a win-win (for exhibitors and attendees) by facilitating a shift from an ROI focus to ROO — Return on Objective.

Our most recent Freeman Trends Report (Exhibitor/Sponsor Intent and Behavior Q2 2023) points to a gap between exhibitors’ objectives and attendees’ objectives. While most exhibitors and sponsors plan to keep their budgets and show schedule intact, only 50% reported being satisfied that their primary objective — to meet new customers — was met. At the same time, the new generation of event attendees is focused on career advancement, discovering unique experiences, and making meaningful connections. They are looking for something they can’t find elsewhere. Event organizers can step into this gap by creating opportunities to help their exhibitor partners attract attendees with compelling experiences on the show floor and new opportunities for growth. Further, organizers can follow up by providing metrics that help their partners better pinpoint what is working (or not working). Ultimately, it’s all about aligning objectives.

While 9 out of 10 exhibitors plan to use the same amount of space or more compared to 2019, our research shows that it’s not so much the size of the exhibit footprint that matters, but what happens in that space. Exhibitors who design the experience to anticipate the attendees’ objectives will find themselves further along in meeting their own goals.

I think about it in terms of dating. The event organizer acts like a Tinder app to help like-minded people find each other in a space that feels safe and has a good vibe. It’s then up to exhibitors to use this space graciously by putting the needs of their “blind date” (attendees) first. The worst thing a person on a blind date can do is talk about themselves all night. Even the most romantic French restaurant won’t offset boring blather or rude advances. Things go so much better when we take time to learn about our date’s interests and steer the dialogue accordingly. We all know that data can help us personalize the event experience. But whether we use swipe cards, chat bots, or whatever unicorn comes next, aligned ROO is table stakes for earning ROI. Romance begins with respect.

Follow me on LinkedIn.