COVID-19 Update

Right-Sized Events Net Better ROI

  • Written by Eric Holmen, Splash
  • Published in Demanding Views

1Eric HolmenFlagship (or tentpole) events have played an essential role in many business strategies for decades. However, amongst a crippling pandemic, labor shortages and a drawn-out period of challenging economics, some of the excitement around events — and their business value — has led to a slight shift in philosophy. Recently, there has been an emphasis on smaller-scale events that deliver targeted content to highly curated audiences of varying sizes.

In fact, a soon-to-be-released Splash survey found that 36% of marketing and event professionals said intimate events produced the most ROI for their organizations, while just 16% pointed to larger events. It’s not surprising that more intimate events have outperformed larger conferences and exhibitions in the last two years. At Splash, our customers generally define these “everyday” events as serving between 70 and 150 well-qualified people. Rather than sending invites to an entire database, these organizations create a highly curated list based on their target audience.

Our internal research shows that, unlike tradeshows, the average number of attendees in the corporate meeting sector is 108. Conversely a Skift Meetings study uncovered that attendance numbers across events are down, trending at 65% of 2019 numbers. This convergence of data points indicates “right-sized” events are growing in importance and effectiveness, and there are three compelling reasons:

1. Relevant Attendance

In the events space, the saying “quality over quantity” is true: Repeatable everyday events that focus on connection and engagement provide attendees with more (and more valuable) networking benefits, better learning opportunities and highly customized content.

By contrast, massive events focus more on the size of the audience than the quality, and often create a disconnected, “lost in the crowd” feeling. When viewed through this lens, larger events appear less worthy of the enormous effort needed to execute them.

Planning an event for 100 people versus 10,000 is arguably far less complicated for any team or event marketer, even though driving attendance is ostensibly more challenging than in previous years. The number of folks changing jobs could potentially impact the deliverability of your email invitations, and lingering concerns around health and safety mean some people are less confident flying to an event — especially one attended by thousands of people. Add widespread travel disruptions to the mix, and eagerness to travel to any event nearly disappears.

On the optimistic side, cancellation rates for in-person events appear to have recovered, dropping from 91% in Q1 2021 to just 9% in Q1 2022. As such, a strategy that leverages intimate, repeatable events can help mitigate these unpredictable factors, making recruiting a little easier and attrition less likely.

2. Better Measurement

Everyday events deliver better ROI than massive events, and leveraging easily accessible data, such as attendance and engagement rates, is key to proving success. While the reach of huge events is attractive, replicating that reach with everyday events is achievable through programmatic, repeatable events. And, as a bonus, virtual events also net on-demand content, which can live ad infinitum in your content library.

Interestingly, most organizations polled in the upcoming Splash survey — 62% — host 10 or fewer recurring events per year, citing lack of bandwidth or resources to execute them efficiently. The survey also found that 81% of event professionals said they would hold more events in general if they possessed the right technology.

The ability to measure ROI and other data points effectively are the foundation of successful event strategies. Empowered by the data generated from hosting virtual events during the pandemic, many event marketers came to rely on metrics such as registration, attrition and event ROI — and they will continue to do so regardless of the event format.

3. A More Connected Event Experience

Virtual events and, to a lesser degree, hybrid events, will still play an integral role in successful event strategies. According to Splash user data through Q3 2022, more than 60% of Splash-hosted events contained a virtual component.

Event marketers continually look for ways to create more connected hybrid experiences, and repeatable events are one way to achieve this goal. By incorporating intimate, personalized experiences, event marketers can tailor programs to fit the interests and goals of numerous audiences. Attendee interactions can also be more meaningful and, in turn, accelerate pipeline and deal closures.

For long-term, sustainable success, the everyday event should be one of the most-used tools in the event marketer's toolbox.

Eric Holmen is the CEO of Splash, a next-generation event marketing platform designed to help teams build and host virtual, in-person and hybrid events. He is responsible for driving the company’s transformative growth and positioning Splash to help its customers do what they love: Create memorable experiences, new connections and business value.