Conventions as Catalysts - Pharmaceutical Executive

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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.


Pharma Meetings



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.

Hearing a key opinion leader or well-known speaker discuss drug or disease state topics is by far the most valuable experience healthcare professionals can have at a convention; more than two-thirds of survey respondents said they prefer to hear clinical information presented by their peers. In today's convention environment, you can involve key opinion leaders through live presentations at the exhibit or by hosting interactive learning programs. Recognized experts do more than lend credibility to your brand messaging; they can provide practical advice on incorporating a product into a real-world clinical setting.

Physicians learn by doing, so it isn't surprising that they favor hands-on, case-based learning experiences in convention exhibits. Many survey respondents, for instance, said they value technology-based applications and simulations.

It's common to see average interaction times in excess of eight minutes with a single application and total exhibit visitation times of more than 15 minutes when these types of programs are incorporated into the booth. Not surprisingly, representatives who staff these exhibits report increased opportunities to discuss a physician's experience with and attitudes toward a brand, treatment approach, or specific clinical data. Contrast this experience with representatives' diminishing in-office access; a recent Pharma Marketing News report stated that less than seven percent of all office visits by sales representatives result in more than two minutes with a doctor.

Despite the decline in reps' in-office access, half of our survey respondents said they value discussions with sales representatives in the convention setting. Interactive experiences at exhibits shouldn't replace sales representatives; rather, they should offer reps a way to get to know physicians in another—usually more relaxed—setting.

In the end, attendees need to feel that what you are providing has value; they prefer exhibits to be more interactive, hands-on, and customized. Building in content and experiences that fulfill these requirements will ultimately maximize exposure for your brand.

Conventions as Marketing Campaigns

Brands often make the mistake of not integrating their strategies with other marketing programs. Events are often mistakenly viewed as isolated opportunities. While the exhibit floor may open at 8 a.m. on a Saturday and close at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday, it is often what happens before and after the event that dictates brand success and positive return on investment.

Reaching out to attendees—especially target attendees—before an event can generate interest and drive booth traffic. E-mail is a cost-effective way to get the word out, but our survey indicates that very few brands use this tool. For the communication to be effective, it's important to tell doctors about the information and experiences they'll find at your booth, not just where it is on the convention floor.

When asked to rank marketing programs based on their ability to provide these meaningful learning experiences, surveyed physicians answered across the board that events are more effective than print materials or in-office visits. Additionally, more than 80 percent of respondents said they would be willing to share their e-mail address if they believed the brand would send content that was valuable to them. However, only three percent of survey respondents indicated that they always receive an e-mail from the exhibits they have visited, illustrating the need for brands to place greater emphasis on sustaining these relationships following an event.

Putting It All Into Practice

Now that we know what works, how do we make it all work together? Let's say that your brand has reached out to professionals prior to the convention. You have explained to them that your exhibit will deliver compelling content in a unique way and that they should come see it. As a result, these professionals are in your booth, and they are speaking to your representatives, interacting with applications, answering questions, and expressing opinions. All the right things are happening, but if you are not collecting data, the opportunity to develop a relationship with these physicians is slipping through your fingers.

Every interaction at your exhibit is an opportunity to learn about an individual healthcare professional. The more time an attendee spends at your booth, the more insight you gain, and the more relevant you can be to that audience member in the future.

With that in mind, consider this scenario: A professional has registered at your booth, and through a representative-led interactive application, you discover that she is familiar with your brand but has limited knowledge of your new indication. You also find that hundreds of other physicians have the same knowledge gap. How can you turn this information into action?

Take advantage of that knowledge immediately. Start by incorporating it into your coversations with exhibit attendees. Then follow-up with an e-mail that reinforces the point.

Likewise, your convention management group, along with your exhibit house, might like to know that, of all the kiosks in your exhibit, the one located in the north corner of the booth has received the greatest traffic. This information can inform booth flow and design strategies for future events.

And finally, your sales rep in the field, who visits this doctor twice each month with standard brand messaging, can use specific information gleaned from interactions at the event to tailor his or her in-office presentations.

A Different Approach

When this kind of campaign-style planning is adopted, your booths become more than just static billboards; they actively deliver the product information physicians need, connect them with your brand, and collect critical data that will better follow-up interactions with these prescribers.

While some skeptics may believe otherwise, professional events are here to stay. More than 70 percent of our survey respondents said they plan to attend the same number of events in the future, and almost 20 percent plan to attend more. Given that two-thirds of respondents expressed interest in beginning online relationships with the brands they visit at events, it makes sense to consider how to integrate your events into a broader professional relationship marketing strategy. The results could make you rethink the value of your convention presence.

Stephen Wray is president and CEO of Cadient Group. He can be reached at

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