Almost three-quarters of event organizers and corporate brand marketers plan to have digital media strategies in place for their events this year, while almost half use virtual events. These are some of the key findings in a new survey, Digital and Exhibit Marketing Insights 2010, conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research and George P. Johnson.

Of the 242 event organizers and brand marketers surveyed, 46 percent said they increased the use of digital media strategies to market their events this year. “Exhibition marketers have been increasingly leveraging digital media to enhance the value of their events, facilitate partner networking, and promote their products and services,” said CEIR Executive Director Cathy Breden, CAE, CMP, in a press release. “However, this data suggests that a much deeper and broader change is sweeping the exhibit marketing industry, with players at every level making a real commitment to digital adoption.” The mandate to do more with less has spurred the growth of digital media in the last 12 months, the report adds.

The term digital media refers to online marketing in all its forms, including e-mail marketing, online ads, social media, online video, webcasts, podcasts, blogs, and virtual events. The most popular form of digital marketing is e-mail, which 93 percent of respondents use. Here is what the survey found are the digital media used by respondents, in order of the most to least popular: e-mail: 93 percent
social media sites: 81 percent
Web sites/microsites: 76 percent
online advertising: 75 percent
blogs: 53 percent
search marketing: 51 percent
virtual events: 49 percent
online video: 44 percent
podcasts: 34 percent
mobile/text messaging: 34 percent
RSS: 28 percent
online games: 8 percent.

According to the survey, 72 percent plan to have a digital event strategy—which may include either hiring people to spearhead the effort or outsourcing the task—in place by the end of 2010.

Of those respondents who use virtual events, 61 percent say they do so to complement existing face-to-face events. About 56 percent say the virtual events are used to accommodate a geographically widespread workforce/attendee base, while 51 percent say they increase the reach of an event. Around 20 percent say they do virtual events to save money, and just 5 percent are doing virtual events to replace face-to-face events.

When asked to compare face-to-face events to virtual events when it comes to making exhibition sales, 35 percent said face-to-face are more successful while only 1 percent said virtual events are better. Forty-five percent of respondents either don’t compare the two kinds of events or said that a comparison wasn’t possible. About 19 percent said they didn’t know which is more effective.

A large majority (76 percent) believe that digital marketing improves their event promotion efforts. Just 7 percent said it had no impact and 17 percent weren’t sure. E-mail marketing was considered to deliver the most ROI, followed by Web sites/microsites, and social media sites.

Go to the CEIR Web site for more information on the study. Also, CEIR will host a webinar to discuss the findings on October 12 at 2 p.m. EDT and will also archive the event for later viewing.