By Our MD, Lizzie Styles
Physical presence at a key event is usually a great shortcut to obtaining a captive audience. With virtual congresses changing the way people engage with these meetings, whether or not to invest in a virtual booth is at the forefront of our clients’ minds. In order to help decide, we need to think about the connection we are trying to make, placing more emphasis on establishing the communication need in order to work out if investing in a virtual booth is the right move to make.
We have been learning in real-time with our clients as the virtual world has unfolded over the last 6 months, and with 5 congresses and 21 events under our belts, here are the questions we recommend you explore to get your strategy right.
How do they work?
This question often comes first and dominates the discussion, but it should be considered at a later stage as virtual booths work in different ways depending on the congress. They will either be held on a platform that you will be allowed to utilise or, in some scenarios, you might be able to use a platform of your choice.
Essentially, a booth will either be a 2D experience, a 3D experience that resembles real life, or more of an interactive page online. This aspect is most likely out of your control and should be considered at the end of your planning process (as it’s the tactical output of what you’re trying to achieve).
What are you trying to achieve?
Let’s go back to basics and apply the key question for any communications brief: What do you want to achieve? (or what do you want to communicate?)
This question is most important at the start of your discussions. Virtual booths are hard to get right, and even harder to show ROI, so it is really important to spend some time understanding your overall aims.
Here are a few scenarios you might find yourself in:
- You’re the market leader. Perhaps you don’t have any ‘new’ key information to share, but you want to show your presence
- You are a new player in a rare disease in a pre-launch setting and want to start getting your name out there
- You have new 5-year data to share, which would have been the key draw in a physical booth
- You want to showcase your products because all your key customers usually come to this event
Each of these settings requires a different solution. Whether you’re a market leader or have new data to share, it will most likely make sense to utilise a virtual booth; however, you will do this in different ways. As a market leader, you might want to do something different to capture attention. With new and exciting data, you want to be there, but how can you create a meaningful conversation around it?
You may be looking to get your company name into a new arena or want to be there because your customers usually are; however, unless you have something to say that your audience really wants to hear, it may be that an alternative marketing channel could provide a better solution.
Once you’ve set this objective, you can start working on a clear plan that may or may not utilise a virtual booth experience.
How can we meet the objectives?
In order to answer this question and decide whether a booth is suitable, you need to consider two key environmental factors that have impacted on the behaviour of your audience:
1) People can skip straight to what they came for.
The exhibition hall at a congress is a place for sponsors; it’s where people eat and get ‘good’ coffee on their way to a symposium, poster exhibition, etc. This means that unless there is a real benefit to the individual, it is most likely they will not end up at your booth.
This is similar to when broadcasting introduced the ability to ‘stop’, ‘pause’ and ‘rewind’ live TV. You can now skip all the adverts in order to watch a show. Companies had to pivot and place their adverts elsewhere. However, successful brands didn’t just show their TV adverts online, they instead created interactive digital adverts for online broadcasting that could be tailored to the user, they invested more in social media etc. The key point is that rather than simply doing what they did before or just putting the same thing in a different place, they changed their approach.
2) Virtual interactions take more energy. Less is more.
You will have noticed from all your virtual meetings that most people are experiencing a virtual fatigue. This means conversations you might have in real life need to be adapted for the virtual world. For example, an online meeting might need to be shorter and more focused than before. You may utilise other channels (e.g. email) as the best route for other agenda items that don’t require face-to-face discussion. Your expectations from all interactions in a virtual setting need to evolve, especially those with your customers.
Taking these factors into consideration, you can’t just recreate the physical, virtually. Just like in a congress pre-lockdown, rather than thinking solely about the booth, you need to think about an interconnected congress approach that focuses on activities that might be happening across a longer timeline: pre-, peri- and post-congress.
You need to apply the same approach on a bigger scale. You should think about the booth as a multichannel marketer. You wouldn’t spend 6 months investing in the best product website and then just expect people to find it. The same principle applies here.
If you go ahead with the booth, looking at touchpoints across the user journey applies in exactly the same way: before, during and after the event.
The place you can have the biggest impact in the journey has changed. In previous user journeys your face-to-face touchpoint during an event might have been the biggest/most impactful. With the environmental changes, you will need to increase pre- and post-event activity to really make an impact with your audience. The magic will no longer happen on the booth. The impact is most likely in what you do after.
Think about the booth as part of your multichannel marketing strategy; how and where will it fit in?
How can we measure success?
As we adapt our approach to the objectives from an events perspective to a multichannel marketing approach, we need to do the same with our KPIs.
Attendance is no longer going to be the key metric. You may want to focus on ‘registrations’ or ‘consent’ as these will give you access to these HCPs in the future.
What activities do well on a virtual booth?
After exploring the objectives of your communications and deciding a booth is the right way to go, we need to make sure we can provide a valuable connection for those that want to interact.
We have found that ‘page booths’ have driven the most quality connections with users, as they allow you to host different types of interactivity, rather than the experience of ‘walking around the booth’ (which looks good, but does it provide the same quality of interaction).
The virtual world allows us to take advantage of:
- New and exciting speakers: you might not have had access to them before, they can host on booth Q&A, etc.
- Sound: in the physical space, sound is really hard to get right in a busy crowded environment. In the virtual setting we can take advantage of sound to deliver impactful stories that you can both see and hear.
- Instant access: content can be downloaded, opened and used right away, often meaning the impact on behavioural change of that content is far greater (rather than information being emailed to an HCP that they may or may not open in the future following the congress).
- Existing content: with booths allowing you to stream video, etc. you can adapt existing content easily to place on a virtual booth without extra investment.
How should we prepare?
This is the one question that everyone forgets to ask. A virtual booth requires more preparation, pre-event advertising and planning.
Just like you would train your booth team at an event, you need to do the same with a virtual booth. Explaining the objectives and how to use the interactive discussion elements of the platform is essential. Although someone might be great at selling/or getting people to the booth, not everyone is a digital wizard; therefore, ensuring those who are ‘manning’ the interactive elements of the booth can easily understand how to use them is important to ensure a seamless experience.
You need to prepare your audience. Spend time telling people that you are going to be providing something that will be of interest beforehand. You will not have the luxury of people having to ‘walk past’ you, so if you’ve got something for people to see, tell them in advance.
What are my key learnings from the past 6 months?
We all know from our own personal experiences that simply recreating the physical in the virtual world doesn’t work.
If virtual events continue, organisers need to consider how they can support their sponsors to provide a similar user journey to that provided in person. For example, pre-roll advertising on sessions or having to attend the booth of the HCPs choice before being able to access other content. Clients and agencies will need to take this challenge into their own hands.
As time goes by and confidence in the physical space grows, we are likely to find ourselves in a blended event space in the future, which will come with new existing challenges that we will need to be overcome.
But for now, we know that by applying a multichannel marketing approach to our events and asking the right questions to determine the suitable communications strategy, we can find the right way to achieve our client’s objectives.
emotive is an independent, London-based, award-winning healthcare communications agency committed to changing lives by helping global life science companies bring novel and innovative products to patients. We recognise that only true engagement can facilitate change, and we use our combination of scientific, creative and technical expertise to stimulate optimal participation of all those in the care pathway. We are proud to work with amazing clients on some of the most exciting and meaningful products that will transform healthcare.
If you would like to hear more information on our approach and experience with virtual booths, please email Anjani Patel at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to find out more about joining emotive, please contact Jade Nuttman on Jade@thinkemotive.com