A Measure of Success

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Determining ROI for promotional events is still a hit-or-miss affair.

Irvine, CA-based Lincoln entered a five-year sponsorship of the U.S. Open last summer fully intent on proving that its $20 million commitment would pay out.

The car maker made the USTA Tennis Center in Queens its own last fall (September 2000 PROMO) by renovating an unused building on-site to create an “American Luxury Immersion” boasting soundstages, wind, water, and air conditioning to bring tennis fans face-to-face with the brand and its newest model, the Blackwood.

A sponsorship of this size was unmarked territory for Lincoln. “The idea was to put the brand on people’s radar screens and engage them in a way that wasn’t ‘salesy,’” says Bruce McDermott, vp-account director of event marketing at Lincoln promotion agency Impiric. “We didn’t want to look too aggressive, so we invited them in as a guest.”

Being a gracious host, however, was not the only objective on Lincoln’s mind. The brand’s marketing team knew it would get “impressions” for their experience — heck, the promise of air conditioning in late August on the USTA’s blacktopped grounds almost guaranteed that alone. So Impiric set up an exit survey to qualify the 50,000 visitors who strolled through the experience. Lured by a sweepstakes offering a chance at one of four vacation packages, some 30,000 filled out a six-question form with their names, addresses, e-mails, and answers to questions including, “When do you plan on purchasing your next vehicle?” and “Of the Lincoln family, which vehicles interest you most?” The move gave Lincoln a qualified database to target in future direct-marketing efforts and dealer-driven promotions — and let the brand leave the tournament with more than just enhanced awareness among sports fans.

Event marketing takes many forms: sports and concert sponsorships, traveling tours and festivals, mobile caravans and mall visits. More brands than ever are finding that hitting the streets to reach customers in their own environments is an effective way to build relationships. “Brands can interact with people, create recall, and establish an impression with targeted consumers,” says Brian Clausman, president of Santa Ana, CA-based agency Marketration. “If you want to get someone’s attention, step in front of them and put on a show.”

That show, however, needs to produce. While event marketing as a strategy is exploding, marketing budgets are not. Brand managers are now more than ever being held accountable to produce measurable results. “If you can’t measure, you won’t know if you’re successful,” understates Lee Heffernan, president of Totowa, NJ-based agency CMI, a unit of SFX, Inc.

But measuring is no easy task. The simpler methods, which are normally based on attendance and number of consumer impressions gained, prove how many people saw your effort, but not how many were truly influenced. Exit polls and other post-event surveys can provide awareness increases and intent-to-purchase levels, but no truly scientific ways of connecting programs to the bottom line. That leaves marketers to employ a variety of “guess-timates” in determining how effective their efforts have been. “Someone should invent an impressions bible,” says Jeff Corder, director of marketing at Chicago-based mobile marketing agency Marketing Werks.

Despite the measurement drawbacks, brands are out in droves interacting with consumers. Here are some of the methods they’ve been using to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Before the Curtain Rises

One of the most important steps in measuring success is to know exactly what the objectives are before the event takes place. What are the goals of the program? Is it to increase sales during a specific period? Collect qualified names and addresses for future campaigns? Distribute samples to encourage trial? Or are brand impressions enough?

Sound obvious? It ain’t necessarily so. “The best thing for us is to walk into the office of clients who know exactly what they want to do,” says Jason Vargas, director of new business with Marketing Werks. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

A simple but well thought-out mission statement can help. “It states ‘why,’” says Clausman. “From there, you can set multiple objectives.” Decide what you want to gain, and who your target audience is. Then decide how and where to reach them.

Develop a baseline. To measure results, there obviously has to be something to measure against. What types of promotions have worked well for the brand in the past? What information does the target audience already know about the brand — how well do they know the brand at all?

Telephone surveys ranging anywhere from one minute to a half-hour, featuring anywhere from one to 30 questions, can be used to figure out what consumers are thinking. For those who enjoy a more personal touch, intercept programs in which clipboard-carrying staff members accost random people in high-traffic areas with such questions as “What’s your favorite brand?” or “Where do you do your shopping?” can determine the brand’s status and set the bar for post-event surveys. Existing data from a variety of research organizations can lend a big hand.

Location is key. While thousands of people can fit into a city park, will it be easy to count up the audience afterward? (Concerts in New York City’s Central Park over the years have elicited widely disparate attendance estimates, for instance.) The Disney Channel, Burbank, CA, for instance runs its annual PremEARS in the Park event at large amphitheaters, which lets field staffers better contain the crowds and take advantage of turnstiles for counting. “It’s a controlled environment,” says Mike Campbell, senior partner at Javelin, St. Louis, which handles. “We’ve done events at city parks, but then you’re putting up fences and bringing in port-a-potties, which means you’re also spending more money.”

Get the word out. Suppose you held an event and nobody came? The first step in changing consumer behavior is to get the consumer there. Effective advertising and publicity plans should not be short-changed. Get people excited. Use partnerships whenever possible: Get a local retail account to offer tickets with purchase or a radio station to give away ducats. That not only generates attention but begins building the audience.

Leverage customer feedback. Been down this road before — literally? Find out what past attendees thought of the experience. The Jeep division of Detroit-based auto maker DaimlerChrysler reaches out to graduates of its annual Camp Jeep before planning the next go-round. The brand mails questionnaires, sends e-mails, and makes phone calls. “We get their feedback, put it into a debriefing [for Jeep staff] and write up reports,” says global customer relations manager Lou Bitonti. What kind of food do they like? What kind of entertainment? An overwhelming majority last year said they were country music fans, so Bitonti lined up LeAnn Rimes as this year’s headliner.

Jeep has generated such positive response to the Camp Jeep effort — which is now in its seventh year — that last year’s event gained 1,000 commitments before agency FCB Worldwide, Chicago, put invitations in the mail.

At the Party

Once the audience has arrived, making a good impression is important. But the ultimate goal is to measure that impression. Providing an enjoyable experience is worthless if attendees don’t connect it with the brand. Here’s a few ways to get some measurable proof.

Count heads. As noted above, an accurate count of the people in attendance isn’t always easy. And the bigger the crowd, the harder it becomes. Local police and security teams often have accurate ways of measuring the masses.

Many marketers situate staffers at gates with manual hand counters. Lincoln went high-tech and installed an electric eye at the Immersion’s door.

Ask and ye shall find. Take time to find out who came, and why, and what they think of the brand. Have their opinions changed?

But don’t spoil the good time by staging a pop quiz. “No one goes to an event to fill out forms,” says Clausman. Three or four questions are usually sufficient, he says, so make them count. If more information is required, be prepared to offer a premium as reward. “People aren’t going to give you information unless there’s something in it for them,” says Kae Erickson, vp-promotion services for RPMC, Calabasas, CA.

The information can later be compiled into a usable database. Lincoln “reduped” the names and addresses it collected at the U.S. Open to make sure there were no multiple entries or redundancies from previous events. Of the 30,000 sweeps entrants, Lincoln found 18,000 new leads, McDermott says.

Sample. Is the objective to gain trial for the product? An event lets all attendees experience it first-hand. Mission accomplished.

Offer coupons. A simple way to determine what attendees “took home” from the event is to hand out coupons carrying special codes and tracking redemption. Clausman suggests this form of distribution is more effective than the typical coupon drop: A diaper coupon should pull more after an event for new mothers than a blind mailing.

Take a picture. Document the festivities by taking videos, or at least plenty of pictures. Upload them to a special Web site, and invite attendees to go find themselves. American Express, New York City, used that strategy to great success when launching its Blue card in 1999. (Momentum, New York City, handled.) Jose Cuervo, the tequila brand of Hartford, CT-based Heublein, Inc., ran an on-premise campaign last summer in 100 California bars and restaurants and did the same. EMP, Santa Monica, CA, handled.

Sell if you want. Many current event-based promotions try very hard to keep the sales pitch soft. But if that’s the goal of the campaign, there’s no better place to set up the tent than the parking lot of a retail account. And there’s no easier way of measuring sales growth than checking retail receipts after the event has left town. Many mobile tours feature a two-pronged attack: drive sales at accounts during the week, then reach the masses without the pitch on weekends.

Park Ridge, NJ-based Sony hyped its PlayStation videogame system with a mobile tour featuring electronics-infused tractor trailers that set up shop outside such retail partners as Best Buy and Circuit City in addition to high-traffic venues including the Super Bowl. Field staffers handed out coupons good for five dollars off PlayStation videogames. Sony says sales of games rose as much as 40 percent at stops.

Make it newsworthy. If consumer impressions are the objective, there’s no better way to improve the numbers than by making the event something even cynical reporters will want to attend. “You see things like Richard Branson driving a tank around Times Square for Virgin Cola,” says Javelin’s Campbell. “That was on every newscast across the country.”

Javelin ran a three-city parade for Yuba City, CA-based Sunsweet prunes in 1999 that had people dressed as the product handing out samples. The stunt was goofy enough to gain local media attention in one city, and that footage was delivered to a shared satellite news network. “It happened to be a slow news day,” recalls Campbell. “We got 90 seconds in Boston and we weren’t even there.”

Media impressions are some of the easiest and most accurate results to track, which is why most brands demand them as part of the measurement packages for campaigns, agencies say. Media tracking companies, clipping services, and video-monitoring services can provide the average viewership of a TV show or the circulation of a newspaper. Brands can then calculate what the cost would have been to reach the audiences of those media with paid advertising. “It’s not pure science, but they are safe numbers that our clients can base success on,” says Vargas at Marketing Werks.

Since 1998, Marketing Werks has handled Hershey Foods’ Kissmobile mobile tour. This year’s road show kicked off with Valentine’s Day publicity events in New York City’s Times Square (where 50 cupids passed out red kisses) and the New York Stock Exchange (where Hershey reps rang the opening bell). Vargas says the event drew about 40 million impressions — seven million more than expected. Some of the resources and formulas Marketing Werks uses to determine its numbers:

  • Check with satellite news services to find the number of news stations that picked up an item and the air time of the reports.

  • Multiply newspaper circulation figures by 2.5 (average pass-along) to estimate readership.

  • Get TV ratings from ACNielsen, then multiply by 2.5 (average U.S. household total) to determine impressions there.

  • Use video-monitoring services to count the exact number of seconds the brand’s logo appears on-screen.

  • Determine the number of impressions on the road by using the U.S. Trucking Association’s traffic-based estimate of 102 impressions per mile. (What, you though event marketing only took place at the event? A customized vehicle can make en-route travel time measurable as well.)

After the Fact

Once the trucks are packed and the campgrounds have been cleaned up, organize the data that has been gathered into comprehensive reports and lead databases. Then go out and collect more information.

Follow up. It took a lot of time, effort, and money to gather names, addresses, and phone numbers. Now use them to get more feedback on the event’s success and its effect on brand awareness.

After the U.S. Open, Lincoln e-mailed those attendees who requested more information. As part of the brand’s “surprise and delight approach,” some respondents living in the New York City area were invited to attend the Lincoln-sponsored Sports Illustrated Men of the Year Awards in December. “They weren’t expecting to hear from [the brand], and that was part of our strategy — that they could expect the unexpected from Lincoln,” says Impirics’s McDermott.

Measure awareness. Impressions are nice, but you can’t really take them to the bank. What does the consumer now think of the brand? Do they even remember who the sponsor was? Are they more likely to buy the sponsor’s product because of the event? These questions can be asked in follow-up phone calls or e-mails if they aren’t asked on site. “You have their attention for five seconds,” says Clausman. “That’s your time to make an impression.”

Results can be compared with brand awareness data collected before the event. After a 10-week sampling program for new Olay Daily Facials cleansing cloths in bars and restaurants in late 2000, the Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble brand called participants who had given their names and addresses to find out if they used the sample and/or purchased the product afterward. More than 66,000 samples were given out, and 10,329 entry forms were collected. EMP handled.

Pick through the garbage. It’s not advice you’d generally give your kids, but it is a task you might want to assign to field staffers. After the Sunsweet prune parades ended, Javelin staffers were charged with checking garbage cans in the area. “The client wanted to make sure the samples were going home,” says Campbell.

Hey, we said this wasn’t an exact science. And some marketers do believe they get something out of the effort alone, even if a campaign’s effectiveness can’t be connected to measurable results. “It’s not always about the numbers,” says Gena Casciano, director of event and sponsorship marketing for American Express. “It’s more important for us to know how they feel about our events, because people take us or leave us based on what they know and feel about us.”

Perhaps fun can be its own reward.

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