“Return on Investment (ROI) from digital events is a something 75% of exhibitors are still searching for, although one in four say the ROI is better than face-to-face events,” commented Sophie Holt, Managing Director of Explori, UFI’s research partner about Part 2 of the UFI-Explori Global Recovery Insights Study released late last year. “As the generally lower total cost of exhibiting equates to a lower investment, a lower return might be needed to ‘balance the books.’”

Part 1 of the study was released in October 2020. The second part was released in December and both parts are based on a survey of over 9000 exhibition exhibitors and visitors in 10 languages from more than 30 countries.

As most of us who have participated or produced digital events over the last almost year, the respondents agreed additional challenges with these platforms include lead generation and effective networking, with 80% of exhibitors siting live events as producing more quality leads, and 86% of exhibitors preferring live networking to digital.

Sophie then pointed out some upsides to virtual, “On a positive note, respondents rated content quality as high as those offered at live events. Digital is more conducive to listening and more ‘Netflix-y’, in other words, delegates pick and choose what educational sessions they want to see, when they want to see it. We know some attendees now register anticipating viewing the content entirely at their own convenience outside the show days (i.e.: on demand post-event).”

Another benefit to digital events is attracting new audiences. “If prospective visitors are new to the expo/digital event, the study results show that they are equally likely to attend virtually and test it out since it’s less of a time commitment without the hassle of traveling in person.”

Organisers who strategically open up their shows to new audience segments may thoughtfully use digital events to 1) drive attendance to the live event; 2) launch a new event in another country, region, or segment; 3) build up the success of migrating over to hybrid when live, face-to-face exhibitions return.

UFI and Explori are launching a new follow up survey later this month with some new questions including what happens when people are back in their offices. Sophie mused, “Will delegates go back to events on demand post-event? Will they block out the conference room at the office to  attend three digital days of an exhibition?“ Stand by to find out!

Both Part 1 and Part 2 of the UFI-Explori Global Recovery Insights 2020 are available to UFI members here.