During the ad industry’s busy “events season” when there’s a flurry of industry events all over the globe, I had a thought: Why are we all traveling at great expense when we could have stayed home?
After all, programmatic advertising was designed to automate aspects of buying and selling media that used to be carried out by humans. Why is the human touch so important to our business of all businesses?
The answer is that there’s something intangible about face-to-face contact that’s essential to forming the deep relationships required to execute this business effectively. While that’s hard to quantify on a spreadsheet, it’s a necessary component of business, which means the ROI on these types of events is considerable.
Why face-to-face matters
For most of human existence, face-to-face was the only means of carrying out a meeting or conversation. This explains why our brains feel unsatisfied by videoconferencing or other forms of digital communication. A new book, iGen, about teens and young adults, posits that the lack of face-to-face communication in this group is leading to higher rates of depression and “the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”
Other recent research has shown that a face-to-face request is 34X more effective than email. The researchers found that nonverbal cues during the request made a huge difference in how the respondents viewed the legitimacy of the requests.
This research jibes with my personal experience. When you’re all attending the same event, there’s a spirit of comradery that comes from dealing with the same lines, inconveniences and stress of being away from home. Blame evolutionary conditioning, but you’re more apt to view the other person as an ally and look for ways to work with them. You inevitably see the person as more than a name behind an email. You can look them in the eye and gauge whether what they’re saying is trustworthy and whether they believe in what they’re saying.
Then there’s the convenience aspect. I suppose you could arrange dozens of back-to-back meetings from your home office, in-person or via video, but it would be a logistical nightmare compared to the ease of coordinating such meetings at an event where everyone is centralized.
So what’s the ROI?
Such concerns of course fall under the heading of “squishy humanity.” Programmatic is all about data and it’s all but impossible to quantify the value of a face-to-face meeting against the expense of travel and the opportunity cost of not being in the office.
Speaking of opportunity cost, the best way to quantify the ROI of attending an event is to consider the cost of not going. Inevitably, you will lose control of the narrative about your brand as others attempt to fill in the gaps because you’re not there to tell your story. You will miss out on connections that may save your company money or provide new business down the road. You’ll miss out on the gossip and strong opinions that offer a reality check against whatever execs are saying onstage.
Viewed that way, the intangible costs of flying halfway around the world to sit in a conference center for two or three days seems more tangible. Even a decade from now when we’ll be able to meet in VR, I think that dynamic won’t change. We’re wired to get personal. So let’s accept that as part of the cost of doing business effectively.