Event marketing is a crucial channel for brand awareness, customer acquisition and retention, partnerships, and beyond.
With the proliferation of virtual events during the Covid-19 pandemic — and the emergence of hybrid events more recently—marketers have discovered powerful new ways to host events.
Facilitated by video- and engagement-centric software, online and hybrid events allow for greater reach at reduced cost — dramatically shifting the ROI calculus.
In other words, they have enabled organizations to reap more of the advantages of events, without the significant investments in time, money, and effort.
Perhaps this is why 72% of event managers plan to continue hosting virtual events in the future, along with 52% who anticipate hosting hybrid events, according to our data.
In this article, we discuss how to determine the ROI (or, return on investment) of virtual events and hybrid events—and describe strategies to expand event ROI.
The Value of Virtual Events
Virtual events have exploded in popularity over the last 18 months.
While Covid-19 was a catalyst for the boom in online gatherings, virtual events were already growing more popular in the months and years before the pandemic.
Covid accelerated the event industry's adoption of online events, exposing many event managers, marketers, internal communications specialists, and others to their significant benefits, including:
- Increased reach: Because virtual events are hosted online, more people can attend them. They don't have to pay for airline tickets or hotel stays, nor do they have to take time off from work or hire babysitters. They simply log in from anywhere to engage with the event content, network with fellow attendees, etc.
- Cost efficiency: Online events are cheaper to produce than their in-person counterparts. Think about it: To host an industry conference for 10,000 people, you need to rent out a stadium-size venue and hire hundreds of support staff, which can be outrageously expensive. Online events can be scaled to accommodate hundreds of thousands of attendees without incurring the same costs.
- Detailed analytics: Virtual events can provide deeper insights into your target audience. Which of your sessions was most popular and how long did each attendee watch them for? How many attendees visited your virtual sponsors? These are important bits of information that are difficult to discover when hosting in-person gatherings. Just remember to invest in a virtual event platform that is capable of tracking these insights for you.
Given these benefits (and many more, which we discuss in this article), it's not surprising to learn that 55% of event planners expect to invest more money in virtual events in 2021 than they did in 2020, at the height of the pandemic.
The Impact of Hybrid Events
Hybrid events have proven to be incredibly valuable as well. In fact, most professional event planners believe hybrid events are the future of the events industry.
According to Lauren Sommers, VP of Corporate Marketing at Hopin, hybrid events:
"Bring together the best parts of in-person and virtual events—the human connection of IRL and the reach and inclusiveness of online."
These are events that combine in-person and virtual elements into a single experience that is equally engaging and enriching for all attendees. This is why 86% of B2B organizations see a positive ROI on hybrid events within seven months of hosting them.
Here are a few of the most prominent benefits of hybrid events:
- Greater reach: As with virtual events, hybrid events allow companies to reach more of their target audience at once. You can host a few hundred attendees onsite—while bringing in hundreds of thousands more remotely, via an online experience.
- Higher ROI: Because you can reach more people via the internet than you can using a physical meeting space, hybrid events are cheaper to host than purely in-person ones. That combo—larger attendance, lower cost—produces higher ROI potential for every event.
- Better engagement: Ask any event planner: Audience engagement and participation is the key to a successful gathering. Hybrid events allow attendees to engage in multiple ways—including across physical/virtual lines. Using a virtual event platform, online attendees can network with other online attendees, online attendees can connect with in-person attendees, and in-person attendees can also find and sync with other in-person attendees.
- Deeper insights: Hybrid events make it easy to track and evaluate traditional event KPIs like registrations and attendance, as well as virtual engagement metrics like how long online attendees watch sessions for and which topics drive the most participation.
Both virtual and hybrid events offer event managers tremendous ROI potential. The next question is how you determine the ROI of your events.
Read about Hopin's recent acquisition of Boomset, which unlocks a whole new suite of onsite event tools for both hybrid and in-person events.
How to Determine ROI of Events
As CMOs, corporate marketers, and event managers know, calculating the ROI of an event can be tricky. This is because many event benefits are intangible. How do you precisely determine increase in brand awareness, for instance?
Fortunately, calculating ROI for your events isn't impossible — far from it. It starts by answering one key question: What goal are you trying to achieve by hosting an online or hybrid event?
Once you clarify what you're trying to achieve, you can measure your results in a much more straightforward way. With that in mind, here's a four-step event ROI calculation process:
1. Set event goals
What are you hoping to achieve by hosting a virtual or hybrid event? There are plenty of reasons why you might produce an event:
- Brand awareness: Do you want to reach more people with your company's mission, products, and services? Then hosting an event for brand awareness purposes could be an ideal option for you. (Don't worry, there are ways to measure brand awareness.)
- Audience education: Maybe you want to educate your audience on a particular topic. Doing so could help you increase your customer retention rate, become a trusted authority in your niche, and even sell more products and/or services.
- New customers: Some companies host virtual and hybrid events to meet and engage new potential customers. In fact, lead generation is one of the most common reasons for hosting an event and can lead to financial gain in the future.
- More sales: Virtual and hybrid events can help facilitate immediate sales, too—not just future ones. Create event content that focuses on a specific problem that your products and/or services solve. Then present your offerings as a viable solution.
- Generate revenue: It's possible that you just want to drive revenue by hosting a virtual or hybrid event. If this is the case, ROI is easy to calculate: simply subtract the money it costs to host your event from the money you make selling tickets, acquiring sponsors, etc. Then divide this figure by the total cost of your event and multiply the result by 100. Your outcome will represent the ROI of your event, expressed as a percentage.
Once you understand your event goals, it's time to identify your top KPIs (key performance indicators).
2. Identify top KPIs
Assuming revenue generation isn't your primary goal, the next step is to identify your top KPIs. How do you do this? You choose trackable metrics that correlate with the goals you want to accomplish. Here are a few different examples:
- Brand awareness: Brand awareness may be intangible, but it's not impossible to measure. If you're hoping to boost brand awareness for your company via virtual and hybrid events, consider making event registrations, social media engagements, media coverage, and increased website traffic your top KPIs.
- Audience education: If you want to educate your audience via virtual and hybrid events (thus improving your retention rate, boosting your authority, etc.), consider tracking KPIs like the number of sessions attended by event guests, the level of attendee engagement, and the number of questions asked by your audience.
- New customers: Hoping to acquire a slew of new customers during your next virtual or hybrid event? Then track important KPIs such as the number of new leads and customers you generate, their level of satisfaction, the amount of free trials and/or samples your team hands out, and individual responses to event surveys.
- Drive revenue: If your main event goal is to make money, you can track the number of tickets sold to your virtual and hybrid events, the revenue generated by ticket sales and sponsorships, and the number of new leads and customers acquired.
Now that you know which KPIs are important to your company, you need to track them.
3. Track everything
Goals and KPIs will do you no good if you don't track them. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools on the market to help you do this. For example, a virtual event platform like Hopin will automatically track audience attendance and engagement details for your events.
Want to know which sessions your audience attended? Or which virtual sponsor booths they visited? Or how many networking sessions they participated in? Hopin will tell you.
Here are a few other tools you might want to invest in:
- Google Analytics: If web traffic is one of your primary KPIs, a web analytics tool like Google Analytics should definitely be a part of your tech stack. That way you can accurately track your web visitors. Best of all, Google Analytics is free to use.
- HubSpot and Marketo: Both of these tools will allow you to easily track customer journeys, which is important for event planners who host virtual and hybrid events for lead generation and sales purposes. We should mention that Hopin offers seamless integrations with HubSpot and Marketo for your convenience.
- SurveyMonkey: When it comes to survey tools, SurveyMonkey is a top choice and will help you send beautiful polls and surveys to your audience. The responses you receive will give you deep insights into the minds of your target customers, which you can use to host more effective virtual and hybrid events in the future.
- Mention: Tracking brand awareness? Then a tool like Mention will notify you when people talk online about your company and the events you host. That way you always know if your events are having their desired effect on your community.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if you use these specific tools or not. The point is to track every bit of information related to your chosen KPIs. Without these details, you won't be able to accurately calculate ROI for your virtual and hybrid events.
4. Calculate ROI
If you completed steps one through three, you're ready to calculate the ROI of your virtual and hybrid events.
First, tabulate the cost of hosting your event. Remember to include every single expense — the cost of your virtual event platform, the time it took your employees to create content, the cost of booking keynote speakers, venue rental expenses (for hybrid events), etc.
Then, measure your results, both quantitative and qualitative.
A quantitative result is something tangible and easily measured. Revenue generated is a good example. A qualitative result is something intangible and not easily quantifiable. Brand recognition and the value of customer relationships falls into this category.
Finally, compare costs incurred to results achieved.
Let's say that you recently hosted a virtual event in order to generate new leads for your company. The event cost $2,500 to produce and helped you acquire 50 new leads. Based on previous results, you know that roughly 40% of your leads will turn into paying customers. So, in a nutshell, you paid $2,500 for 20 new customers. As long as your company will profit $125 or more per paying customer, your virtual event produced positive ROI.
It's important to understand that ROI should be calculated at various stages after your event concludes. Specifically at the 3-month, 6-month, 9-month, and 12-month marks. It can take time to realize a return on investment from events. But, more often than not, if you're patient, the ROI you generate will be well worth the effort.
Strategies to Expand ROI for Online and Hybrid Events
Knowing how to calculate the ROI of your virtual and hybrid events is great. Knowing how to calculate and expand your ROI is even better. Here are eight ways to do just that:
1. Grow your online audience
As mentioned previously, increased reach is one of the biggest advantages of virtual and hybrid events. You're not restricted by the size of a physical venue or by the ability of your audience to travel to your event.
This means you can promote your event to your full target audience to achieve the largest possible attendance. The benefits from expanded attendance are obvious: more ticket sales, more potential business leads, more brand awareness.
It's intuitive: To expand ROI for your online gatherings, simply cast your marketing net wider.
2. Invest in content
One way to grow your audience is to invest in high-quality content like blog posts, infographics, YouTube videos, and the like.
The more good content you put out in the world, the better chance your company has of building credibility, authority, and brand affinity. You can then use these sentiments to increase attendance for your online events and improve your ROI metrics.
In other words, provide value in the form of ideas and information before your event to give attendees confidence that your event will be worth their while.
We should mention that improving your event content can impact your return on investment as well, for the same reason. More enticing content attracts more attendees and boosts their satisfaction.
One of the easiest ways to improve event content is to hire better, more noteworthy speakers. Yes, these folks generally charge more for their time. But you can cut back on these expenses by hosting their keynotes virtually, eliminating travel costs. And, by hosting an event virtually or in a hybrid format, you will free up budget for content.
3. Invest in audience engagement
The key to a successful event is audience engagement. You want to host participants, not spectators. But don't expect attendees to engage on their own — they won't. You have to give them straightforward ways to get involved.
For example, you could ask them questions during each session. Or send a multiple-choice survey. Or provide creative networking opportunities.
Engaged audiences enjoy themselves more, get more out of each session, and are more likely to view the hosting brand in a positive light. All of these things are essential if you hope to expand ROI for your online and hybrid events.
4. Setup online ticketing
If ROI means "more money" when you think about online and virtual events, then the key to greater return on investment is simple: sell tickets for your gatherings.
This will be much easier to do if you follow some of our previous tips and grow your online audience, use content to build authentic relationships with your target customers, and hire top-shelf speakers that are widely known and respected in your industry.
Pro Tip: Use a tier system and offer different ticket types for different levels of access to your events. This will give people multiple options to choose from and ensure that every potential attendee's needs and budgets are accounted for.
5. Provide virtual sponsorships
Another way to make sure your online and virtual events are profitable is to provide sponsorship opportunities. This has the potential to be a highly lucrative revenue stream. In fact, studies show that the average cost of a virtual event sponsorship package is $8,456.
The question is, how do you convince sponsors to pay you thousands of dollars? You offer them something equally valuable. Here are a couple of ideas:
- Exposure: If thousands of people have registered for your event, there will be companies champing at the bit to purchase a sponsorship package.
- Information: You can also pique sponsors' interest by offering them access to the analytics information you collect during your event. Other companies would love to know in-depth details about the audience they're trying to attract.
Remember, when hosting a virtual event, your expo hall isn't limited by physical space. This means you can sell as many sponsorship packages as possible to boost revenue.
6. Include Calls-to-Action (CTAs)
Why are you hosting a virtual or hybrid event? When you know your goal(s), you can use CTAs to entice your audience to do specific things.
For instance, if you want to generate leads, you can ask attendees to sign up for your company's email list after they've just finished watching a particularly inspiring session. If the benefit of signing up pertains to the session they just enjoyed, your audience will be much more inclined to accept your invitation.
7. Repurpose event content
There's a benefit of virtual and hybrid events that we haven't touched on yet: the fact that event sessions are easily recorded and can be repurposed into other content types.
Once a speaker's keynote address or small workshop is captured on camera, you can use the footage in a variety of ways. You could, for example, publish the recording on YouTube. Or cut it up and post pieces of it to your company's Instagram Stories.
You could also post sessions to your website and require an email address for access. This is a great way to generate new leads, who might eventually turn into paying customers.
The sky is the limit when it comes to using repurposed content to expand event ROI.
8. Optimize your strategy
Finally, we suggest using the information at your disposal — event analytics, NPS surveys, general audience sentiments—to improve your event strategy in the future and help guarantee that every virtual or hybrid gathering you host generates increasing returns.
Always ask yourself, "How can we do this better?" Then take a look at the stats to pinpoint ways you can optimize your event planning, marketing, and execution efforts.
Conclusion: ROI clarifies the impact of your events
The goal is to generate a positive ROI every time you host a virtual or hybrid event.
However, remember that your "return" can come in different forms: new revenue, leads generated, authority built, brand awareness created, and so on.
To measure the ROI of your events, use the four-step process outlined in this article. By setting event goals, identifying top KPIs, and tracking everything, you can have a clearer view into the value your event is producing.
With virtual and hybrid events, you can expand that ROI by optimizing for the key benefit of these experiences—the ability to reach a much broader audience.
By increasing attendance, while maintaining — or reducing cost — you can continually improve your event ROI.