ROI, ROO, ROR, ROX – The Confusing Metrics of Trade Show Success

Trade shows are expensive: between the booth, travel, marketing, and sponsorships, showcasing your products at trade show exhibits can put a serious dent into your marketing budget.

Good thing you can measure the return on investment of the show and know exactly whether it was worth the expenses and effort!

Or can you?

ROI – The Challenge of Calculating Revenues

Calculating ROI is easy enough: just plug the numbers into this formula and you have your answer: (Revenue – Investment) / Investment The problem, of course, is calculating “revenue”, that is the revenue that can be directly attributed to trade show attendance.

This might be doable in industries with relative short sales cycles but if you are selling scientific instrumentation with long sales cycles and buying decision processes that last months and involve many people you might never get a reliable answer. After all, imaging systems, automated workstations or high content screening platforms are rarely sold to somebody who walked by your booth, saw your product for the first time and sent you a PO a week later.

When that PO finally hits your inbox, the trade show contact was only one of many contacts during that customer’s purchasing journey. Given those multiple touchpoints, what portion of that revenue gets attributed to the trade show, to the ad in the trade magazine, the testimonial on your website, the tweet about a big pharma company buying several units and to your sales professional who followed up with the lead umpteen times? At this point calculating the ROI of your trade show becomes more art than science which is why many companies are using additional metrices to answer the question “Was it worth it?” Here we take a look at them.

ROO - Return on Objectives

Return on objectives is the most popular alternative metric used to assess trade show success based on marketing rather than sales objectives. ROO captures harder to quantify goals and objectives such as product and brand awareness and favourability. Unlike ROI, there is no mathematical formula for calculating ROO but a list of objectives which generally include:

  • Generate x qualified leads
  • Meet with x prospects
  • Build brand awareness measured in number of social media followers/likes/mentions
  • Increased traffic on your website
  • Grow the number of attendees visiting the booth
  • Attract x participants to a product launch, talk, poster presentation, instrument demonstration, or networking event

Planning and preparation are critical to calculating a meaningful ROO. Identifying relevant objectives and defining realistic success criteria is just the beginning, you also have to have tools to capture and analyse the data.

Scanners help you keep track of the visitors to your booth that were interested enough to want to be added to your mailing list, analytics tools let you assess the impact the show had on website traffic and social media footprint, attendees at a product demo or workshop can simply be counted and their contact information recorded.

Not everything is easily measurable, though. How many of the booth visitors you scanned are really interested and how many came for the candy and politely stayed for the scan? How many of those attending your talk were there for the content and how many just wanted to sit down to check their emails?

Answering these questions will never be easy which is why it is so important to establish objectives and metrics and then use them across different conferences and over time to keep things comparable. If you doubled the number of booth visitors year over year, you have done something right – unless, of course, you offered vastly superior candy this year.

ROR - Return on Relationships

With the move from ROI to ROO we have moved from counting dollars to counting Likes and people stepping into our booth. While important, ROO metrics still don’t tell us much about the value of an interaction: when counting booth visitors, the person who came for the candy and the happy customer who came to propose a joint application note count the same. In terms of value, however, they are worlds apart and this is where ROR – Return on Relationship - comes in.

The term “ROR” was originally coined by Ted Rubin to capture the value of relationships.


“Return on Relationship™ simply put is the value that is accrued by a person or brand due to nurturing a relationship. ROI is simple $’s and cents. ROR is the value (both perceived and real) that will accrue over time through loyalty, recommendations and sharing.” ~ Ted Rubin


Like almost everything marketing, the term was - and still is - primarily applied to social and digital media marketing. But it also applies to personal interactions and therefore to trade shows. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers proposes ROR as a metric that “takes into account the incremental sales caused by clients’ visits to the exhibit to renew their relationship and keep informed of new – and improved – products or services”.

When assessing the value of a trade show factors such as these need to be considered:

  • Number of customer meetings and/or visits to explore potential for follow-on sales
  • Number of customer meetings to discuss partnerships, e.g. joint research or grant applications, co-authored papers, application notes or white papers
  • Number of thought-leaders engaged

While relationships generally can’t be translated into dollars in the short term, tracking engagement with important customers and opinion leaders will help shape the engagement strategy in the long run.

ROX – Return on Experience

No list is complete without an acronym containing a capital X for experience. Assessing trade show returns is no exception and so measuring ROX – Return on Experience - is another way to assess trade show value. This new return is still a bit fuzzy but boils down to creating a good experience for people interacting with your booth which, in turn, positively impacts their perception of your brand and products leading to sales.

This sounds daunting but creating that experience might not be as difficult as it sounds for scientific instrumentation manufacturers. Product benefits, technical specs, or testimonials can all be conveyed via brochures, webpages or social media. An exhibit provides the chance for a prospective customer to see and touch the instrument and to talk to the experts (your team). Luckily, for scientific instrument manufacturers, the experience might already be built into their booth – as long as they have an instrument available to “play” with.

Trade shows and conference exhibits continue to be important components of the marketing strategy of scientific instrument companies. While ROI is important, ROO, ROR and ROX are new returns that cannot be ignored.