What Our Conference Sponsorship and 0% ROI Taught Me About Marketing


It’s my final dispatch from Infusionsoft’s Partnercon event in the Arizona desert. So what did I learn? Quite a lot, actually.

We’re an inbound marketing company at our core.

We blog every day. We’re active on social. We engage new and prospective customers through webinars and emails. We guest post. We should probably create a couple more e-books and whitepapers, but that’s a topic for another day. 

ANYWAYS. We were a sponsor at this event.

We spent $2,000. Calculate my travel, hotel and In-N-Out Burger costs, we’re looking at $3,000, conservatively.

The sponsorship included our branding on the lanyards.


A half-page ad.


Some screen time.


Literature real estate.


And a conference pass.

Here were the quantifiable marketing results (as of Thursday at 5:00 MT):

Landing page visits: 13 views

Form submissions: 0

Overall web sessions (this week over last week): Down 7% (although new sessions were up 2%)

All trackable, quantifiable data.

The fact that we have an ability to track this should be success alone. How often does your marketing team provide a post-conference analytical recap or have the tools in place to deliver such data?

But really, the data alone here sucks. And sure, based on data alone you could argue that our ROI was 0.0.

But here’s what the data and ROI won’t show.


Marketing isn’t just data, despite what all the dashboards, thinkpieces, and experts will tell you. There’s no dashboard (yet) that tracks and measures elbow grease, hustle, small talk, cocktail party attendance, networking, early mornings, late nights and creative problem solving.

Our conference sponsorship didn’t net us one sale. At least as of this writing.

And here’s the crazy part. We’re big fans of data. We accurately track customer lifetime values, churn rates, sign-up funnels, website analytics, you name it. If we want to make a change to something we check the data first. And if we don’t have any data, we get some.

With that said, did I fail? Did we waste our money?

The data says we did. I say we didn’t.

So we spent $3,000.

What marketing lessons did I learn?

1. This would’ve been a colossal failure…if we didn’t have a goal.

Before we invest (not “spend,” more on this later) a single marketing dollar, we ask: “What’s the goal?”

When we put down the cash for this sponsorship, our goal wasn’t sales. We’re an online, SAAS-based, inbound marketing business at our core. We can get more sales working from Boulder than we can on the road.

And besides, our sales cycle isn’t immediate. People rarely don’t see the need for BlogMutt when they first hear about us. We know this (because the data tells us. See? Data isn’t all bad.) It’s not like buying a tube of toothpaste. We get customers that have flirted, hemmed and hawed with BlogMutt for months before reaching a pain point where they finally decide to subscribe. Again, we managed our own expectations.

Instead, our goal was awareness, partnerships and networking. Despite what the marketing experts will tell you, you can’t measure any of these.

Sure, we measured what we could like responsible marketers. And if we got a sale or two this week, great. But the success of this event wasn’t going to be measured in short-term analytics or immediate sales. These weren’t our goals. And setting unrealistic goals or expectations is a recipe for disappointment and failure.

2. We don’t spend on marketing. We invest in marketing. 

If you’re “spending” money on marketing, you’re thinking marketing all wrong. Every dollar should be an “investment” in marketing. In my past agency experience, I’ve worked for clients who only viewed marketing as a cost center. When you change the perception of a marketing dollar from “spending” to “investing” you’re changing the mindset about marketing’s value

3. You learn from trying.

We’ve never really sponsored something like this before. This is new territory for us.

So yeah, in any new pursuit there’s a learning curve. I learned a lot from the experience and would do a lot of things differently knowing what I know now. How would we know what to do differently if we never did it in the first place? We knew this was going to be an investment toward our next sponsorship. And an investment in our professional development.

Even if a marketing tactic fails completely, you still get the experience. So really, there are no failures in marketing.

4. You gotta start sometime. So start humbly.

It’s scary to try something new and put money against something that’s untested. Well, we did. We invested in getting sponsorship experience (as cheesy as that sounds). As an added bonus, we planted a small brand seed in the minds of every attendee who saw our lanyard. They may not go to our site or buy our services, but I guarantee you the next time they see us they’ll have a connection…we won’t be strangers anymore.

It’s no different than a company just getting started in blogging or content marketing. It’s scary to start.

If you publish your first blog and no one reads it, your SEO is flat and you didn’t get a sale, do you quit? Do you get frustrated? Many do, especially if you run your marketing by data alone.

Which is insane.

Every blog post is an opportunity to learn from it and grow. Success isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s not the “Easy” button. It’s a humble beginning with low expectations.

I can’t speak to the success of event sponsorship, because clearly, from a data standpoint, we failed. But this was our humble beginning in a new channel.

It’s no different than when our founder Scott Yates published his first blog post for BlogMutt. He published knowing that it wasn’t going to create a bunch of sales and immediately change his business.

But you have to start somewhere.

And from that first blog post we can now say (quantifiably!) that our blog, content, social media and inbound marketing is the best new business generator for BlogMutt. 

When we step back and look at our marketing efforts from a larger perspective, the numbers get MUCH better.

Social followers are up 28% (month-over-month)

Total blog traffic is up 43% (month-over-month)

Leads are up 43% (month-over-month)

Sales up 9% (month-over-month)

5. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

It’s easy to consider a campaign, event sponsorship, or marketing effort a failure if you’re doing a post-mortem just days after its completion. As marketers, we’ll run a campaign. Review the analytics days later. And make a sweeping generalization about the success or failure of the effort. And rarely, if ever, do we come look at the impact weeks or months later.

Looking at near-term ROI for a conference is a losing proposition. It’s no different than looking at the short-term ROI of a blog post, tweet, or social engagement. But taken in the aggregate, all those impressions over time, when executed and measured correctly, trend positively for us. We can’t point to one post or one tweet. But the sum of the parts continue to create business opportunities.

6. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know (I know! It’s a cliche…just read on).

That tired trope is even more resonant juxtaposed against our digital world where communication is done remotely and often impersonally.

For example.

At this event, we mght have secured an incredible partner that could make BlogMutt an even better resource for our customers, save our engineering team countless programming hours, and be the best answer to a question that’s dogged us for awhile. This would not have happened if I just happened to send this guy an email. I’m sure of it.

I get a million sales pitches in my email every day. They’re impersonal, automated, and annoying. I’m convinced that if just one of those automated sales pitches were delivered to me over drinks at an event, you’re going to get my attention. I still may not want what you’re selling, but we’ve established an indelible connection.

7. Conferences are like handwritten thank you cards.

They’re inefficient and old fashioned, yes. But in our hyper-connected, online world where everything goes by at a 100 MPH, they’re a welcome respite to our digital lives.


Data is everything. But it’s not the only thing. As marketing continues to be enmeshed in more dashboards and analytics, it’s important to remember that some of the most valuable marketing tactics still can’t be measured.

And it’s even more important not to chase the near-term results of a single marketing tactic at the expense of long-term, fully integrated tactics. In marketing, patience is an underrated virtue.

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Pat Armitage

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