I spend a lot of my time speaking to a lot of clever exhibition people.

Some are academic-clever, some are corporate-clever and others are hustle-clever. The latter are my favourite.

Whatever type of clever, all of them influence me, shape my thinking and make me change my mind about this industry.

And that’s a good thing.

In today’s world, changing your mind is often seen as a weakness. As an error or a wrong call. Or a misjudgement and a flaw but I think it’s about evolving and in my eyes that is 100% a good thing.

For the last couple of years I have had dark, closeted thoughts about exhibitor ROI. I have doubted its worth and its existence. I have held it as an unachievable metric but because everyone in the industry talks about it and strives for it and believes in it I have been quick to smother those thoughts.

But that’s changed.

A few months ago I interviewed Phil Soar (he’s academic, corporate and hustle clever all in one). I poked at the subject again and asked him his thoughts about exhibitor ROI;

I’m just tired of the ROI thing, I’ve heard it for 25 years, I’ve never seen anybody do it convincingly, I’ve never seen anybody use it as an argument and my gut feeling is that it would provide information that actually we would prefer not to see. It would not provide information that would necessarily be beneficial to exhibitions.

And you know what Phil? I’m with you, I agree.

I think attempting to measure exhibitor ROI is an utter waste of time.

And here’s why?

Reason One.

Spanning hundreds of years, exhibition organisers have never been able to demonstrate exhibitor ROI and yet here we stand in the modern digital world with awesome exhibitions making hundreds of millions of pounds each year.

Reason Two.

Design and build companies convince exhibitors to part with hundreds of thousands of pounds in one hit with absolutely no accountability apart from a design commentary and a judgement call.

Reason Three.

At the last count more than 130,000 UK companies exhibit in the UK every year. The vast majority* of them don’t accurately record their own ROI and yet they keep coming back year after year, show after show.

*Of course there are exceptions – them the rules. I believe that exhibitors who are using consumer shows to shift units much like a pop-up shop can easily measure ROI.

Reason Four.

Event tech has enhanced exhibitions no end but when it comes to exhibitor ROI it ain’t a thing. They are struggling with this challenge and nothing I can see is going to change this. Why? A number of reasons but at the very least cookie cutter tech can’t measure the end attribution of an introduction and a handshake.

Reason Five.

With or without tech, how the hell do you put an ROI measure on an experience? On the ability to touch, taste, smell, see and hear a product or service? On meeting old and new contacts? On being part of a crowd? On being seen? On being a sub-conscious influence?

That’s five reasons but I have a pocketful more why I can’t be bothered with exhibitor ROI anymore. Discarding exhibitor ROI might rankle with some people and some people might think it portrays exhibitions in an unaccountable, bad light.

It doesn’t.

The truth is the hunt for exhibitor ROI is misguided and has no ends. It won’t increase revenue and it won’t increase SQM sales or rates and it won’t increase exhibitor acquisition, performance or retention and growth.

But that’s OK – plenty of other things can.

We are not alone when it comes to the ROI challenge. The fastest growing platform in the world – digital – can’t deliver ROI for its customers either.

Here’s a thing.

Everyone knows about Snapchat. The rising star of social. The tech industry’s biggest IPO in years – $3.4bn. The digital advertising industry is falling over themselves to get their clients on the channel. BMW, Under Armour, Sony are all dropping millions on advertising on Snapchat.

Can they measure ROI? Not a chance. They haven’t got a clue – they’ve admitted it. They don’t need ROI because they know its influence, that people are using it and that the eyeballs are watching.

They have the moment, the headlines, the buzz and that is 100x more attractive to advertisers than any cold, dry, fictional metric dreamed up by a suit.

It’s not just my opinion. The CMO of P+G admitted that his company spends hundreds of millions of pounds in the digital advertising space and are not altogether sure of what they get.

Digital provides a fine example, much like exhibitions, that serious growth and spend are not restricted by a lack of clarity, substance and accountability.

It comes down to the unquantifiable, the intangible, the gut.

So why waste time measuring, or trying to measure, something that is unachievable and as Phil says won’t hold much benefit for the exhibitors?

At the end of the day, there are much more important things to do (and count) when it comes to the exhibitors and ROI ain’t one of them.

Exhibitor Smarts is a specialist exhibitor agency working alongside organisers and suppliers to maximise exhibitor revenue and performance.

We also work directly with exhibitors saving more than 30% off their spend.

Follow us in twitter: @exhibitorsmarts

Email: jim@exhibitorsmarts.com

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