To benchmark or not to benchmark?

benchmarkMuch has been said and written about the power of benchmarking, comparing brand performance against a benchmark of other brands performance.  While I agree that this can be a useful marker, I also feel that some organisations place undue weight on benchmark comparisons rather than on accurate brand performance tracking.

Benchmark comparisons can be misleading for the inexperienced; a benchmark comparison for event visitor spend landed in my inbox recently, the brand comparing themselves were concerned that visitor spend at their event was many thousands of £’s lower than the benchmark, the problem was they weren’t comparing themselves with a like-for-like benchmark.

Think about it, if a benchmark (average) is calculated using varying spend scales across products that could be as far removed in cost terms as diamonds and cabbages, it’s not surprising that the benchmark is skewed.

In my mind, there are simply some measures which shouldn’t be benchmarked unless (and it’s a big caveat) they are absolutely like-with-like, i.e. cross portfolio comparisons for the same event in different locations.

You also need to remember that benchmarks often do not account for demographic differences in audience attitudes and behaviour, e.g. men vs. women, young people vs. older people, AB vs. C2 socio-economic groups.  For example, we typically see much higher KPI ratings amongst young audiences than older audiences.

That said, we have developed a range of KPI benchmarks to provide context for clients in a range of sectors.  Where we produce benchmarks, all of the data input is taken from robust, random quantitative sampling and/or representative weighted self-selected samples – consistent high quality data inputs are essential.

Looking at event industry benchmarks year-on-year, we haven’t seen many significant changes in the last year (you wouldn’t expect to with a robust benchmark) however, there are some trends which are showing through, having tracked changes over a number of years.

For example, B2C events have seen the proportion of AB visitors increasing year-on-year for the last 3 years, 53% of visitors on average, are now AB social grades (ONS National Average 2011 census = 22%), and 8% higher than in 2014.  This is great news from a sponsorship and brand engagement perspective, since this is the socio-economic audience that most brands want to reach.

B2B events are becoming increasingly reliant on previous visitors (55%), a 6% increase on 2014, obviously this is one to watch and certainly isn’t a trend the events and exhibitions industry would wish to perpetuate.

Its common sense really, yes use a benchmark if you’re confident it’s been calculated accurately, using robust and representative data, market experience and clear, logical thought.  A benchmark can highlight shortfalls or excellences, reassure and inform. But be sure to balance this with reliable brand performance tracking; comparing direct performance event-on-event, allowing the culture and demography of your event to speak for itself.

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