ROXWhich do you want first: the good news or the bad news about measuring your trade show exhibit’s success? 

The bad news for exhibitors is there isn’t any “one-size-fits-all” way to compute it. What success looks like depends on each exhibitor’s strategic show goals and objectives, as well as how they want to prioritize those results. As the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland points out, “If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

The good news is that every exhibitor has options of using any – or all – of the multiple metrics that can gauge how well your exhibit met your goals and objectives. But know that corporate bean counters may have a preference of what kind of beans they want you to count – one that lets them compare the return from budget spent on exhibiting to that spent on other marketing and sales initiatives like social media, advertising, or content marketing.

So... What are the tried-and-true measurement techniques – and what’s new?  

The first and most basic performance measurement technique used to determine the bottom line value of exhibiting was Return on Investment, or ROI. It calculated the amount of trackable revenue attributed to – or incrementally generated by – trade show activities. Generally, measurement of ROI is quantitative and sales-oriented, such as calculating the cost per booth-visitor interaction, inquiry, qualified lead, sale, or average sales revenue generated by the trade show activity divided by the cost of exhibiting. The result of an ROI calculation is generally expressed as a ratio (2:1) or percentage (200%). However, too often it’s forgotten that ROI is driven by both increased revenue AND decreased expenses compared to other sales techniques, with most measurable sales efforts focused only on increased revenue.

But not all benefits of exhibiting are sales-oriented, so next came Return on Objective, or ROO, where the achievement of pre-determined exhibit marketing objectives and their potential effect on future sales are measured. These are often the fuzzier, harder-to-quantify outcomes of a company’s marketing campaigns, such as product awareness, brand perception and favorability, media and press relations, as well as audience education. ROO enables marketing teams to demonstrate the impact of their efforts when it’s not possible nor realistic to tie them directly to sales.  Measurement of less tangible ROO goals can be both quantitative and qualitative. 

Unfortunately, exhibitors are often dazzled by the potential of reaching new prospects on the show floor to the detriment of the renewing relationships they already have with both former and existing customers. So Return on Relationship, or ROR, was more of an afterthought of measurement techniques taking this slight into consideration. ROR takes into account the incremental sales caused by clients’ visits to the exhibit to renew their relationship and keep informed of new – and improved – products or services. Depending on the regularity and timing of ongoing contact between your sales team and their customers, inviting them to visit your exhibit or holding ancillary customer-facing thank-you events at trade shows can be a powerful tool. And it doesn’t hurt to have happy customers in your exhibit acting as influential references to prospects during show hours, either. ROR can be difficult to calculate, depending on your sales staff’s willingness to share data on the incremental sales made after customers’ visit to your exhibit and the value of testimonials.

Fast-forward to today. The newest measurement technique to surface is based on drilling down into the customer’s experience, ROX, or Return on Experience. Exhibitors are now focusing on – and measuring – people’s experiences with their products, services, and brands before, during and after the trade show. The emphasis is on mapping the consumer’s personal purchasing journey, determining the factors (such as ease of use, quality, price, speed, service, or convenience) that drive positive customer experiences and changes of brand perception, and investing in efforts to maximize those values for your customer through customized personal experiences. The challenge that exhibitors encounter is how to effectively identify and impress the booth visitors with personalized experiences that will boost memorability – and ultimately measure that enhanced bottom line.

So, before you decide to measure only ROI, ROO or ROR, consider adding ROX to your toolkit to gauge the effect of interactive experiences that create perception changes and long-term brand loyalty and turn your exhibit into an experience.

Candy Adams, a.k.a. “The Booth Mom®”, guides exhibitors through the trade show maze to optimize exhibit results and decrease costs using industry best practices. She’s a hands-on, veteran independent trade show exhibit project manager and consultant, specializing in exhibit RFPs and exhibit program audits. She provides exhibit staff “boothmanship” training, exhibit management training, and is an award-winning writer and industry speaker.

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