5 Ways to Prove Event Marketing ROI to Senior Leadership

November 4, 2023
Lindsay McGuire
Lindsay McGuire
Associate Director of Content and Campaigns at Goldcast

Maximize Your Marketing ROI

Join 10,000 other marketers already getting the best tips on running engaging events that boost pipeline and create raving fans.

Event marketers are too often the unsung heroes of the marketing team, silently moving the needle on everything from net new leads to customer retention and upsells.

If you’re an event marketer looking to set yourself firmly on the CMO track, your unique exposure to product marketing, customer success, sales, and the customers themselves places you in an ideal position to add value.

But first, you need to know how to prove it.

Recent research from Demand Gen Report revealed that 52% of B2B buyers find digital events appealing—second only to short-form content.

The return on investment is solidly there for events. But we don’t have to tell you that.

While it might be clear to us that events are a worthwhile marketing strategy, proving event ROI can be a formidable quest. But it’s absolutely crucial for event marketers who want to secure buy-in and advance in their organizations.

💸 Want a quick ROI estimate? Check out our free calculator!

Proving the ROI of event marketing: A step-by-step guide

We can’t speak for all event marketers, but the way we see it at Goldcast, the “rise of digital events” is over. Digital events have officially risen, and they aren’t going anywhere. ✌🏽

Today, digital and hybrid events aren’t a novelty—they’re an essential element of most companies’ go-to-market strategies. Take it from Aurélien Lemasson-Théobald, CoachHub’s Head of Marketing France and 2023 Goldie award winner.

“Event managers should let go of mass market strategies and top down communications. With a proliferation of digital events, tailored experiences are absolutely key, aligning with attendees personas and challenges…. In this digital era, every event touchstep point becomes an opportunity for meaningful engagement and mutual growth.”

The following five steps to measuring event ROI apply to event strategies of all shapes and sizes, digital and hybrid. Let’s dive in.

5 ways event marketers can measure ROI

1. Clarify your event goal

Before they even get started, event marketers are always asked the same question: What are we going to get out of it?

‍As event people, we know instinctively how well events work. But getting clear on what your goal is and how you define ROI is fundamental to proving your impact.

‍“It's really important for teams to own a number, or else none of their programs are accountable. For teams to be successful, it all starts with clear goals,” says Kelly Cheng, Head of Marketing & Growth at Goldcast.

‍For many of us, return equates to cold hard revenue. 💵

‍But the reality is, some relationships might not convert to revenue until months after an event. The total return on your events can include many factors that play unique roles in revenue generation.

Here are some common event goals and objectives to help you understand an event’s impact on revenue:

  • Brand awareness
  • Attendee engagement
  • Partnership opportunities
  • Net new pipeline
  • Demos
  • Sales conversations
  • Net promoter score
  • Revenue

These objectives all tie back to ROI, directly or indirectly. For example, more partnership opportunities can mean future sponsorships, reducing event costs and increasing ROI.

More net new pipeline can lead to more deals down the line — but when those deals happen can be hard to predict.

Engagement scores can help you improve future events and narrow in your sales team’s post-event follow-up efforts.

‍There are varying models for how to calculate revenue-based ROI, but before you can even think about tying your events to revenue, you’ll need to know exactly what revenue goal you’re working toward and how you’ll track it back.

‍That’s where having a clear attribution model is key.

2. Define your attribution model

Event attribution is a common sticking point for marketing teams. How do events get the credit they deserve? And what’s the best model to track that?

‍Defining the right attribution model can be a challenge, but it’s worth the time and energy.

‍To understand how events are performing as a channel, establish a clear attribution framework that accounts for key goals within your campaigns, marketing ops, and sales teams.

‍While every company handles attribution in their own way, here are some common attribution models to think about.

First-touch attribution

📌 Definition: Credits the initial marketing channel the customer interacted with

☝🏽 Example: At Goldcast, we use first-touch attribution to answer the question, “Where was the lead sourced?” We pinpoint the very first touchpoint each customer had with the brand — attended an event, downloaded a resource, clicked on an ad — so no one has to wonder who brought in the lead.

Last-touch attribution

📌 Definition: Credits the last touchpoint before the prospect converts

☝🏽 Example: Maybe you understand that your buyer’s journey involves many touchpoints, but you want to know which touchpoint brough them over the finish line. You’ll love last-touch attribution. E-commerce brands often use this model to find out which tactics lead to the final sale.

Multi-touch attribution

📌 Definition: Credit is distributed to multiple predefined touchpoints across the prospect’s journey

☝🏽 Example: For complex and longer buying cycles (in other words, most B2B customer journeys), a multi-touch attribution model gives the most clarity on what brought a customer from awareness to conversion. A prospect might have found your resource via organic search, signed up for your newsletter, attended your thought leadership event, talked to a rep — all these touchpoints influenced the revenue they ultimately brought in.

Whichever approach you choose, the key to proving your impact is to make sure everyone is aligned on your attribution model and the KPIs you’ll use to track the role of events.

‍While getting this initial buy-in may seem like an uphill battle, the trust you’ll build with sales by starting this conversation will help pave the path toward sales and marketing alignment and more effective sales follow-ups.

‍Be a part of the conversation, get visibility and learn what's important for sales so you can make sure marketing is aligned,” advises Goldcast’s Head of Events & Community, Belinda Joseph.

A note on attribution and evolving privacy regulations

By now, you’ve probably heard about third-party cookie deprecation. Browsers are phasing out support for these cookies, which are currently a big part of many attribution models.

At the same time, the most common browsers are also decreasing first-party cookie duration limits, meaning brands will have a shorter window of time to recognize that a user has returned to their site.

All this increased privacy is great for users, but it does muddy the attribution waters. Going forward, experts like analytics consulting firm InfoTrust recommend shifting from detailed attribution analysis to more general models that use aggregate data.

3. Select your KPIs

If you’re not sure which attribution route to take, start by letting your colleagues in sales know how you’re working to bring more leads and revenue to the table.

The value of events differs from department to department, which is why it’s important to align sales and marketing around a shared goal.

“Engaging sales early and often is the key to success—there's no such thing as too much communication, just keep it brief and concise,” explains Veronika Zatulovskaya, Director, Integrated Campaigns and Field Marketing at Handshake and 2023 Goldie award winner.

‍At Goldcast, pipeline is the goal that both marketing and sales share, and that's how we align our teams. We think of pipeline as the sales team’s early indicator and marketing team’s late indicator. We then break the goal down into inbound and outbound pipelines, with inbound owned by marketing.

‍Once you’re clear on how revenue will be attributed across teams and how events fit in, you’re ready to select your event key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success at a practical level.

‍For a classic way to drill down into which KPIs will move you closer to your goal, use the SMART goal setting framework:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

‍Here are a few examples to get you started:

‍Goal #1: Improve lead-to-launch time by X days within the next three months

Example KPI: Number of account level insights generated

‍Goal #2: Increase in-event engagement by X% across the next three events

Example KPI: Number of attendee touchpoints (polls answered, questions submitted, messages sent, etc.).

‍Goal #3: Increase revenue by X% by mm/dd/yy

Example KPI: Closed-won revenue

‍Once again, the individual event KPIs you choose to track will always depend on your shared goals with sales.

‍Here’s a more complete list of some of the event metrics that might make sense depending on your goals and attribution model.

‍Attendee KPIs
  • Event registration numbers
  • Attendee job title
  • Key account attendance rate
  • Average time in event per attendee
  • Total number of attendees per account
  • Cost per attendee
  • Time spent in specific booths or rooms
  • Content downloaded
  • Chat messages sent
  • Polls answered
  • Questions asked
‍Net-new pipeline KPIs
  • Net-new pipeline generated from event
  • Cost per net-new lead
‍Influenced pipeline KPIs
  • Ratio of net-new to existing contacts
  • Demos/meetings held during or after event
  • New marketing qualified leads (or MQLs)
  • Influenced pipeline generated from event
  • Key account interaction
  • End of pipeline velocity
‍Closed-won pipeline event KPIs
  • Closed-won rate
  • Eventual event attribution from event
‍Brand awareness/loyalty KPIs
  • New press contacts
  • Referral rate
  • NPS score
  • Renewal rate
  • Upsell opportunities generated

4. Calculate your ROI

Team aligned. Goals locked in. KPIs in place. ✔

‍Now you’re ready to buckle down and measure your event ROI. When it comes to revenue-based ROI, there are a couple leading models to consider.

‍Simple return/investment

➡️ ‍Event Revenue / Event Expenses x 100 = Simple ROI

‍Incremental revenue

If you’re selling sponsorships or tickets and you’re looking for a fast way to prove how profitable your event is, incremental revenue could be the formula to use.

‍At the end of the day, event ROI calculations can be as simple or complex as you like. But the more accurate your calculations, the clearer your value becomes.

‍Whatever the goal, it’s time to get resourceful. Start thinking about the ways your events impact revenue, whether that’s immediately or long-term. Then actively pull the numbers that prove that impact.

“‍Event marketers are going to feel the pressure of ‘How do we get scrappy? How can we still achieve the same goals or hit the same numbers with less money?’ We're going to have to start getting a little bit more resourceful,” says Goldcast Head of Events & Community, Belinda Joseph.

5. Share your ROI story with leadership

Whether it’s revenue or lead generation — leadership always wants to know what return they can expect for an investment in any marketing activity. Events are no exception.

If you’ve made it this far in the checklist, you’ve collaborated with sales, dived deep for data, and identified which event touchpoints move the needle on your revenue goals.

You’re in the endzone. You just have to bring it home.

The way to leadership’s heart is a compelling ROI story. It’s all about showcasing what made your event a success, and any learnings you can put into play the next time around.

Yes, it’s mostly about numbers for executive leadership, but don’t forget to share the little things that we as event marketers take for granted.

A glowing event survey response. A memorable interaction between attendees. These snapshots color your ROI metrics and create a well-rounded picture of your event’s success.

This final step is so important, so let’s talk a bit more about communicating your performance results with your different stakeholders.

Proving marketing ROI to stakeholders

Remember that the ROI discussion might look a little different based on which stakeholders you’re talking to. Different people within the organization care about different things. Be sure to consider these varying perspectives when preparing reports or going into meetings.

Stakeholder: Marketing

❗ What’s important to them: Engagement and lead gen

Event marketers might have the smoothest experience demonstrating ROI to their own leadership. After all, KPIs like brand awareness, engagement, and MQLs are always top of mind in a marketer’s world.

Stakeholder: Sales

❗ What’s important to them: Pipeline and revenue

Revenue-related goals are likely also solidly on your radar. Your friends in sales will want to know how much pipeline was generated or influenced by the event. Revenue attribution can be tricky when it comes to events, so we strongly recommend running your events on a platform with advanced analytics out-of-the-box.

Stakeholder: Finance

❗ What’s important to them: Dollars and cents

Here’s another group who’ll be heavily invested in revenue generated by your event: finance and accounting. Of course, they’ll also want to know how much the event cost to pull off. Our simple ROI calculation above will do just fine for these folks.

Stakeholder: Product

❗ What’s important to them: Voice-of-the-customer data

Often, our events tend to revolve around shiny KPIs like contract expansions and deals closed. But from the product team’s point of view, there’s nothing more valuable than feedback directly from customers and prospects. Don’t forget to share attendees’ feedback on current and future products, and general market research insights.

Stakeholder: Executive leadership

❗ What’s important to them: Business impact across functions

Finally, there’s the executive team, keeping a pulse on all of it. They’ll want a high-level overview of how the event boosted all the other business areas we’ve discussed. Focus on impact on the business’s strategy and growth.

‍The task of generating, calculating and communicating event ROI isn’t always easy, but with the right tools and approach, you can do it. 💪🏽

How to generate event marketing ROI: Technology and budget

Speaking of the right tools, your martech stack plays a huge role in the ease and feasibility of proving ROI. When it comes to technology and budget’s impact on tracking ROI, we’ve learned these three truths.

Your event platform must integrate with your CRM and other key tech

We’re not saying you can’t technically track ROI without these integrations — but the right integrations make the difference between basic attribution and a huge headache, and deep attribution insights with no headache at all.

The right event technology lets you track the progress of event-sourced leads through the buying journey and on to customer happiness. This proves event marketing’s contribution to bottom line growth.

Paid social media campaigns can increase ROI

If your marketing budget allows, consider adding paid social media campaigns to promote your event. Done right, this is a promotion tactic that, when you put in a little, you can get a lot back out.

These marketing campaigns allow you to promote events and generate leads along with relevant numbers and data including but not limited to: attribution, spend vs. return, outcome/results of lead nurturing. Mapping these leads to the CRM is another layer of value.

Detailed budget tracking is crucial

Being able to accurately render finances allocated vs. finances utilized (where + how + for what return) paints a picture of event marketing’s dollar value to the business. This proves event marketing’s contribution to top line growth.

From misunderstood “event planner” to future CMO

With 50% of field and event marketers reporting bonuses based on new and influenced pipeline, the ability to prove your value is crucial. Yet, for many event marketers, the struggle for recognition is real.

As virtual events have evolved to become the central mouthpiece for modern brands, event marketers are coming out of the shadows and entering into essential conversations about revenue and strategy. And event ROI is proof the rest of the team can’t deny.

© 2024 Copyright Goldcast, Inc. All rights reserved.