Conventions as Catalysts

The information at exhibit booths shouldn't go in one ear and out the other. Here's how to make it stick.
Apr 01, 2007
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

For many pharmaceutical brand marketers, event marketing is viewed as a necessary, but somewhat ancillary, component of the overall marketing mix. Most will admit that for the size of the investment, in terms of both time and money, the results of conventions and meetings are sometimes hard to quantify beyond a "cost of doing business" argument. Yet professional events remain a highly visible element of brand, franchise and company interaction with professional audiences.

In the quest to make the most of their next industry event, exhibit decision-makers often turn to "bigger" as a better way to attract larger numbers of convention attendees. While more square-footage and signage might get your exhibit noticed and promoting premium giveaways might generate more visitors, neither of these tactics enhances customers' engagement.

At a typical convention, a physician entering an exhibit is generally unknown beyond the information listed on his or her registration badge. This doctor meets a sales representative, and together they review a display that outline the brand's dosing, efficacy and safety profiles. After a friendly exchange of information, the physician leaves the exhibit, sometimes with materials in hand. Yet chances are this brief interaction hasn't come close to driving home your brand message—or giving you any information that will help build a relationship with this potential customer.

So how can you increase the value of the experience, both for the brand and for the attendee? Events can—and should—be seen as catalysts that accelerate your relationships with healthcare professionals. Brand marketers should provide a compelling, customized experience that engages visitors before the event, educates them at the event, and leaves a long-lasting impression afterward.

So what do physicians find compelling? To understand how brands are currently engaging with professionals at events and what they could be doing better, Cadient Group teamed with Pharmaceutical Executive in conducting an e-mail survey of more than 110 specialist and primary care physicians. The results of this survey point to a new way of thinking about pharmaceutical event marketing.

Why Physicians Visit Your Booth

Marketers view events as branding opportunities. They illuminate their logos, splash the booth with brand colors, and give out bags chock full of product data and promotional items. In contrast, healthcare professionals view conventions and meetings as learning opportunities. In our survey, healthcare professionals cited three primary reasons for attending industry events: to stay informed about new treatment options; to receive continuing medical education; and to learn about disease states. The least important reasons for attending events included picking up printed materials and loading up on pens and notepads.

This disconnect may be one reason why (in many instances) conventions aren't meeting brand marketers' expectations. The physicians we surveyed said the top reason they visit a convention booth is to get answers about specific clinical questions. While healthcare professionals are seeking personalized, in-depth information at conventions, brands are too often providing one-size-fits-all promotional messages. As a result, the booth doesn't hold the physician's attention, little meaningful information is exchanged, and a prime marketing opportunity is missed.

Quality interactions can—and do—happen at convention exhibits. The most successful convention marketers recognize the needs of individual attendees, give them access to relevant information, and capture experiential data for future use.

What They Want From Your Brand

Even though their attention is divided in the convention setting, survey respondents indicated that rich content and personalized, interactive experiences can make them engage with a brand.

When it comes to content, physicians value clinical information. More than 90 percent of healthcare professionals surveyed chose clinical trial results as the most valuable content that can be presented on the show floor. Treatment basics, including efficacy, safety, tolerability, and dosing, were also in the top five.

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