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5 steps for planning and tracking event ROI

What is the best way to measure my return on investment for an event or activation?

This is a common and critically important question, but one that can be difficult to answer in a definitive way. There’s not one right answer. At August Jackson, we measure success for each client and project in customized ways – ensuring we take into consideration business goals and objectives alongside equally desirable outcomes like organizational alignment or employee engagement.

Early in the planning phase, consider this 5-step process. There are more exhaustive approaches for determining event ROI, but this simple framework should help guide your event strategy and help you quantify and communicate your event’s impact.


Our 5-step process for planning & tracking event ROI:


Keep focused on the ultimate business goal of your event

At August Jackson, purpose is always our focus. If you don’t know the central purpose of your event, you will have a really hard time determining what data or results to track. Are you trying to garner more qualified leads? Build brand excitement or launch a product? Do you need to inspire and motivate your global salesforce to drive sales? Does your philanthropic campaign launch need to inspire donor or alumni communities?

The ultimate business goal will drive how you measure success, but you will also want to identify other Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) for measuring less tangible objectives.

After you’ve detailed all the goals you have for your event, take a moment to think about the one goal that stands out amongst the others. This ultimate business goal must drive how you measure your success.


Set your objectives long before an event executes.

Now that you’ve identified your ultimate goal and supporting goals, it’s much easier to pinpoint the measurable objectives associated with those goals. You might be wondering, “Well, what’s the difference between goals and objectives?” Think of your goals as the purpose of your event. They set the big picture. Your objectives, on the other hand, are the map to how you’re going to reach the finish line (a.k.a., achieving your goals). Your objectives should set clearly defined, detailed, focused, tangible, and measurable results for your event.

A great rule of thumb to follow is that your objectives should be “SMART” – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

S – Specific: Exactly what do you want to achieve? Be very clear, focused and specific. Ambiguity is not your friend when it comes to achieving true event ROI. Get buy-in from your leadership team to ensure everyone is agreement.

M – Measurable: It must be possible to concretely measure your objectives, otherwise, how will you know if you’ve achieved success? It’s important to ensure that the proper measurement tools are in place before your event launches, which we will discuss later in this post.

A – Achievable: If you are too ambitious in your objective-setting, there’s no way you’re going to achieve anything even close to the results you’re after. It’s perfectly alright to be confident, but make sure you’re being realistic at the same time.

R – Relevant: Will this objective ensure that your event has the right impact on your organization and will it help you achieve a purposeful mission, aligned with your brand, mission and audience?

T – Timely: The path to your objective should be paced in a timely manner that will give you and your team a reasonable sense of urgency, but doesn’t send your team into a frenzy or risk brand integrity.

SMART objectives in mind, let’s go back to our earlier example – hosting a sales conference.

Goal = increase sales

With SMART objectives that support this goal:

  1. Grow our market share by 10% by the end of next quarter
  2. Increase sales of New Product X by the end of next quarter
  3. Increase # of New Product X demos by 25% by the end of next quarter

SMART objectives will help you stay focused on what matters most to your organization. Once defined, the process of making decisions about things like the venue, promotional strategies, or key messaging will flow more easily.

To recap – for each goal you set, you should outline targeted SMART objectives so that you can determine what data to track and what processes and tools you’ll need to employ in order to measure your success against these objectives.


Identify your data points

You know your goals. You’ve outlined your objectives. Now you need to identify which data points will help you understand how well you’ve succeeded against your objectives.

Here is a list of common data types you may want to capture depending on your audience and the type of event:

  • Number of registrations/attendees
  • Number of leads added to CRM
  • Number of qualified sales opportunities
  • Number of sales
  • Results of event surveys
  • Social media activity and engagement
  • Web traffic and conversions
  • Data collected via RFID or beacon technology
  • Data collected by use of event application (comments, session sign-ups, usage rates)
  • Press coverage and media impressions
  • Net promotor score
  • Qualitative data in the form of comments and reviews

The tools you need to track event ROI


Now that you have a list of data points you’re striving for, let’s outline the technologies and tools you’ll potentially want to employ.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software: CRM software allows a business to manage relationships with their customers and track data associated with these customers. And you’ll want to ensure that your sales team is prepared to log information about customer interactions from your event in order to pinpoint attendee trends and track engagement. This tool will be pivotal when it comes to tracking event-related sales goals.

If you haven’t started using CRM for your business just yet, check out this great article from Business News Daily that not only outlines the features you should look for in CRM software, but lets you take a quick quiz to get an idea of which platform would be best for your particular needs.

Marketing automation software: Marketing automation software will help you fulfill some of your most critical tasks with regard to planning and managing your event, including promoting via email or social media, tracking registrations, and recording customer behavior that can be synced with your CRM. We think this blog post from G2 Crowd is an excellent resource to choose which is right for your business.

Analytics tools: There are endless amounts of analytics tools that exist, promising the latest and greatest audience data. But before exploring the sea of options, make sure you’ve at least set up these proven platforms.

      • Google Analytics – A business-critical platform, Google Analytics is a free web tool, which allows you to access traffic data for your website. We really like this article from Eventsforce, which can tell you more about which metrics matter most to your event.
      • Social analytics – Social media platforms have fairly comprehensive insight dashboards built into them already. However, you might want to explore more advanced social media management platforms, which oftentimes have even more robust analytics capabilities, such as HootsuiteBufferor SproutSocial.

Survey tools: One of the best ways to collect both qualitative and quantitative data is through a survey. Constant Contact has built-in survey capabilities. So do many marketing automation platforms. You can also use other independent platforms like Survey Monkey or Survey Gizmo.

Trending event technology: Go above and beyond and see if any of these trending event technologies makes sense for your event goals and business objectives:

      • The event application– Most conference attendees are now relying on an event’s official app to help them plan their experience, map out their schedules, and network. There are a number of platforms out there to help you design a customized event application. At August Jackson, we’ve worked with Eventbase, one of the most popular platforms, to support our clients in their app development. We’re able to gather information about how attendees use the app, integrate social media capabilities, and even solicit and organize audience feedback.
      • Beacons– These devices are small transmitters that connect to Bluetooth-enabled machines, such as a smartphone. Beacons have redefined the events industry in terms of the data we’re able to gather about audience behavior patterns. And when integrated with an event app, attendees can receive location-based alerts, such as session changes or event announcements.
      • Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID)– RFID is a name for a range of wireless technologies that allow for communication between a tag and reader. Event producers have been using RFID technology for things like attendee tracking, access control, and to create individualized audience experiences. You’re also able to gather rich information about your audience via RFID data. We talk more about RFID technology and it’s uses in one of our earlier blog posts, “3 Ways to Use Event Technology to Boost ROI.”

5) Analyze the results and determine your ROI


So you’ve got all this data… now what? It’s time to analyze the information and results you’ve gathered against the benchmarks you recorded pre-event in order to determine if you’ve achieved event success towards your goals.

To begin the analyzation process, start by understanding the total cost of your event. But if you’re tracking costs using either your event management software or accounting software, this number shouldn’t be too difficult to identify.

Finally, in order to unveil your true returns, you need to decide what type of returns are most important to your event and to your business:

Return on Investment (ROI) – In the most straightforward sense, you can determine the ROI of your event by taking the value of your event revenue and dividing that by the event costs.

Return on Objectives (ROO) – There are some who prioritize ROO in addition to your ROI, because a successful event should also be based on success against clearly-outlined objectives. Plus, ROO will help you identify the areas of your event that need improvement.

Return on Engagement (ROE) – Defined as the brand strength gained as a result of the event. This concept is gaining momentum in both the event world and the business world alike, as both event audiences and customers seek deep brand connection, inspiration, and opportunities to enhance their own life purpose. A few ways you might identify and measure Return on Engagement:

  • Number of attendees turned into brand loyalists
  • Social media engagement and sharing metrics
  • Qualitative feedback gathered in interviews or event surveys

AJ’s 5-step measurement process in action:

At August Jackson, we are dedicated to putting purpose into practice. Helping our clients deepen their engagement with their audience at an event, and achieve a healthy ROI, goes hand-in-hand with what we do as an agency partner.

When one of our clients came to us after a major merger (the fusion of two Silicon Valley giants), they had a burning challenge to solve: how could they quickly gain the support of their combined and extensive partner network?

Their central goal – to integrate and inspire legacy partner networks from both merger entities, plus all sales and marketing executives from the new corporation.

A few examples of some of the supporting SMART objectives include:

  • Increase leads by 15% or more compared to the previous year’s event
  • Achieve an attendee event approval rating of over 90%
  • Achieve over 3 million total reach across all social media platforms during the event

The results:

  • Leads increased by 24% in comparison to the previous year’s
  • 96% of attendees said that the conference was worth their time
  • Total reach across all social media platforms was 3,464,310

At August Jackson, we believe that developing powerful brand engagement begins with mutual understanding and strong partnerships. We value the relationships we have with our clients and, together, aim to develop activations and communities built from the same foundation. 

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