Event Sustainability in the Age of Disruption

Are you prepared?

David Betke

Read Time: Approximately 6 minutes  

Inefficiencies, diminishing returns, and changing customer expectations create opportunities for disruption, and the event industry is ripe.  

Trade shows and events are expensive, and many exhibitors are experiencing diminishing returns. Exhibiting at a single event can easily cost five figures when you add up the cost of renting space, displays, print, swag, hotels, and travel. On top of it all, there is often an opportunity cost to being out of the office for the duration of an event. Multiply that by a few events per year, and you have a significant investment at risk.  

Owners and managers are scrutinizing spending and demanding accountability.  

A good show can provide significant traffic and exposure, but your key messages are often forgotten when an attendee reaches the end of the aisle.  

Costly badge scanning systems do little more than capture an attendee's badge information and spit out a list at the show's end. Unfortunately, these systems only work when someone is willing to let you scan their badge. Many attendees find this practice obtrusive, and fewer are being scanned. In the end, too few of these leads are qualified, segmented, or sales-ready, creating even more expenses for your post-show follow-up.  

After the show, many exhibitors get back to their office and get so distracted catching up that leads are not adequately followed up with- and they often go cold. Don't even get me started on the opportunity cost of losing a well-qualified lead.  

Then there's the physical waste. Many exhibitors find it less expensive to scrap unused print material than to ship it back to the office. The average overall waste generated per venue is an astounding 1115 Metric tonnes. (2017 Green venue report). Print collateral is a significant part of this waste. 

All this leaves the tradeshow and events space ripe for disruption. Here are three main trends you need to prepare for:

scrabble tiles spelling "plan"

Trend #1- Measurable

The days of ego advertising are over. Unless you have bottomless pockets, the bottom-line demands that you focus your marketing dollar where it is working best, which means choosing your best-producing events and optimizing them for cost per lead.

Here are 12 questions to help you create a successful event strategy:  

1) What do you hope to achieve at the event? Be specific with your goal. For example, are you aiming for qualified leads? If so, do some research. Know the amount of your average sale, cost per lead, and closing and customer retention rates. If you are trying to recruit employees, begin with cost per lead, closing rates, etc. Having key benchmarks to measure against ensures you can make informed decisions on which shows to deliver your best return on objective.  

2) Who is your ideal audience? Perhaps there are a few segments. Can you define them? Do you have resources aimed at each? Some events are great for sales and recruitment, but if you have a one size fits all marketing strategy, you may fall short with prospective customers and employees.  

3) Will the event attract a high percentage of your ideal audience? If they won't be there, should you?  

4) What does your audience hope to achieve from this event?  

5) How will you help them achieve their goals better than your competition?  

6) What is the best way to connect with your audience (pre, during, and post-event)? Where do they gather, who influences them, and how do they share?  

7) How much do you know about your competition? Have you used their products or services? How well-branded are they? What technology do they use? Who are their key customers? What is their market share?  

8) Can you make a compelling case for why someone should choose you instead of your competition? Need help? 

9) How will you attract your ideal audience to your space? Can you give them a great reason to make your booth a destination?  

Tip: Promotional products are great tools for this purpose as long as they are meaningful, support your brand story, and can be measured. See more in the link: Promotional Products: Essential Channel or Spam?  

10) Can you measure precisely how many leads you attract, how many turn into real prospects, and how many of these turn into customers, employees, or advocates?  

11) How will you determine which events and channels are attracting your highest-returning leads? Services like GreenTexts™ can help you with this so you can focus next year's budget on these channels.  

12) How will you apply what you measured and what you learned to improve your success at future events?

4 rocks with inspirational words

Trend #2- Meaningful

Be clear about your purpose. 2 out of 3 consumers would switch brands to support a good cause. 6 out of 10 have bought a product to support a cause regardless of price (2009 Edelman Trust Barometer). The trend for events is to create meaningful and personalized experiences. 

Here are a few tips we have found that help.

1) Engage your prospects in your purpose. Give them a compelling reason to jump into action to support your brand over your competition.

2) Support a cause that aligns with your vision. There is nothing like a cause to rally your ideal audience. Beware, though; your intent must be pure. If it is just PR or an initiative, it will likely fail.  

3) Create a dedicated landing page for each event that captures, qualifies, and segments leads  

4) Consider gamification to keep your attendees engaged  

5) Encourage and incentivize social sharing  

6) Provide attendees with a souvenir of their experience (a well-placed promotional product that acts as a reminder of their experience with you can work wonders). 

Planet emerging from leaf looking like it's a new bud

Trend #3- Sustainable

Sustainability is probably the most significant trend, both from an environmental and a budget standpoint. An environmentally sustainable event cannot continue without being economically sustainable. 


1) Plan better. The old shotgun marketing approach relies on sending your message to as many people as possible and hoping it will connect with a few. This outdated strategy wastes enormous amounts of resources. Plan to increase your number of opportunities to capture leads, qualify and segment those leads, and then convert them at a higher rate. Follow the tips below for Trend #1.  

2) Print your marketing collateral on post-consumer recycled stock, or better yet, go paperless. GreenTexts™ allows your audience to download what they want on their terms, captures their information, and allows them to self-segment. You get a sales-ready list. They get what they are interested in and nothing else to clutter their inboxes.  

3) Create a lanyard library or purchase lanyards made from recycled or biodegradable materials. Badge holders are also available, made from biodegradable corn cellulose.  

4) Choose useful promotional products that reinforce your key message. Print a call to action on them or require effort before someone receives them. It's incredible how innovative these products are getting. We just discovered journals that are made entirely from apples. The cover even looks like leather. We also love working with our bag manufacturer, who repurposes printed vinyl banners to make bags.  

5) Choose booth materials that are made from repurposed or recycled materials, such as booths, pop-ups, or table covers made from recycled plastic bottles. 

6) Measure the success of your event against pre-determined KPIs such as qualified leads, cost per qualified lead, or time to converion to revenue.

Follow these tips, and you will be well on your way to an event that continues to be both sustainable and profitable- in our age of disruption.  

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About The Author

David Betke has dedicated his career to helping brands that give back make a bigger difference. His campaigns have helped save a 65 000-acre forest forever, reduced carbon emissions in a city measurably, and helped recruit three senior engineers during the height of a labor crisis. One even generated a 6000% return within six months and attracted many great customers for life. David has been recognized with seven national marketing awards.