A new Australian and New Zealand survey by First Point Research and Consulting indicates that reliance on online marketing alone is high risk. by Ray Shaw

The study found that a mix of online (paid search results – AdWords, website and search engine optimisation, social media, email, and affiliate advertising programs) and offline (print, radio, TV, tradeshows, telemarketing, and direct mail), still produces the best results – especially in the meetings and events industry where new markets are constantly needed to replace attendee churn and burn.

“Using a mix of on-and-offline marketing methods may sound obvious, but the majority of Australian events cut costs by not producing a hard-copy registration brochure or other printed branding material – online alone usually results in less effective marketing,” says Jan Shaw, director of operations at global meeting and event management agency MCI Australia.

“I know half my marketing is wasted – I just don’t know which half.”

The October 2013 study found that 39 per cent of the total marketing budget is now spent online, with 73 per cent of the 330 respondents indicating that they would spend more online in 2014 – reducing offline spending to compensate. Smaller businesses (<$2M turnover) admitted using online solely because it was more affordable than offline.

Using something because it is cheaper, especially if its efficacy is unproven, is irrational. Online is a misunderstood area.

Those same businesses admitted that they:
Lacked a clear understanding of, or education in, online marketing techniques
Lacked in-house online software development capabilities
Did not have a clear understanding of its return on investment or had no way to measure ROI
Had difficulty finding and retaining online savvy staff
Had a real fear of failure in the online arena

The study showed that 84 per cent of businesses used email sent to their existing database as the primary online tool; 81 per cent had tried social media; 60 per cent had used affiliate-advertising programs and 55 per cent paid search (AdWords). However, in the absence of tangible ROI indicators few could prove any online approach was working.

The top three offline marketing methods were: print (82 per cent), trade shows/conferences (65 per cent), and direct mail (59 per cent). Radio and TV were at 47 per cent – more reflecting the mix of large and small companies in the survey. Interestingly, trade shows/conferences and direct mail were well supported with 85 per cent saying that these were effective and measurable.

Seventy three per cent of marketers used website traffic as an indicator of any online campaign’s marketing success – enticing a user to click through to the website – and 20 per cent do not measure at all!

Unless you can tie online marketing to a measurable indicator like leads confirmed, orders/registrations placed, tickets sold, cost savings over offline (taking into account that online can be heavily labour intensive), then the obvious conclusion is that online alone is a waste of time and money. Bigger businesses with the budget to invest in a broader basket of marketing tools are the main beneficiaries of online.

The solution is…

The survey was a revelation – business using online without a clue to real costs, let alone if it generates sales.

My opinion is that the exodus from offline to online is dangerous for the meetings and events industry. Prophetically I wrote this article just after Christmas. I received, and instantly deleted, dozens of environmentally responsible, yet soulless digital Christmas cards. A few days later, I had no recollection who they were from – online does not ‘stick’ like other marketing can.

Online is not about what channels you use but what you do with the data you gain. For example, if you are emailing you need to use analytics to see what response you get from where (reach mapping); predictive analysis (what happens if you do more or less marketing); profiling (what personalised content to send that elicits a response); IP lookup/monitoring (to know if it is being read), and so much more. You need different campaigns for consumer mobile devices – where so much email is hastily read and despatched – as well as business desktops.

You should use a healthy mix of offline (traditional) and online methods because the world still has some conservatives that read newspapers or go to conferences and tradeshows.