Five Lessons Theme Parks Have for Medical Convention Success

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 Five Lessons Theme Parks Have for Medical Convention Success
Bob Holloway (Tim Nelson is pictured below)

A stroll around the exhibit floor of most medical conventions reveals that many marketers miss a great opportunity to create a memorable experience and truly differentiate their brand. Too often, convention booths are limited to posters on walls and stations for sales reps. However, some marketers are taking their booth game to a new level by fully seizing the convention space they are given to create leading-edge exhibits that provide an immersive and memorable experience.

Powering this trend are digital and mobile technologies that allow today's exhibitors to develop an experience that rivals that of world-class entertainment venues. This may sound like an ambitious goal, but for teams with the vision—and commitment—today's networked environment and mobile-savvy audience can unite for powerful convention communications that drive memorable and measurable outcomes.

So, what does it take to turn your booth into a world-class educational and entertainment experience? Here are five proven principles that guide our team in consistently bringing the magic to the show floor.

1) There's No Business Like Show Business

"Disneyland is a show... something totally new and unique in the field of entertainment."  —Walt Disney on the vision for Disneyland

This philosophy drives every aspect of the Disney experience. A Disney theme park is not a collection of rides and exhibits—it's a show. Everything in the park is part of the show—the transportation (monorail), pristine streets, street signs, trash collection and the people who work there.

Your convention booth is also a show. Now, this doesn't mean jugglers and dancers unrelated to your brand's message. However, your booth experience should differentiate your brand, and cut through the noise on the convention floor. It's an opportunity to engage HCPs and deliver your message in a new and different way.

An important part of creating digital experiences is to develop user personas—tales of how users will encounter your brand. Let's consider the following convention persona. Doctor Smith has been sitting in clinical educational presentations for four hours. While interesting, the presentations have been a series of less than engaging speakers at a podium, flipping through PowerPoint slides. He has a break and enters the exhibit floor. In the past several months he has talked with your sales rep numerous times and “thinks” he understands your medication.

Entertaining, Brand-Focused Learning = More Learning Time.

In an exhibit environment, HCPs like Doctor Smith are open to experiences that go beyond what they normally see in their offices or experience in the clinical sessions. They have chosen to come to you and are willing to engage with a brand beyond the rep visit in their office. An edu-tainment approach will deliver brand messaging and information while leveraging the HCP's willingness to be entertained. The more interesting and unique the booth experience, the longer Doctor Smith will spend engaging with your message—in our experience, an average 15 to 20 minutes.

And remember, like Disney parks, everything and everyone in your booth is part of the show. Those parts can enhance the show experience, or, little by little, dismantle it.

2) The Story Rules the Experience

Think of some of the most immersive experiences in theme parks today. Disney's Star Tours or Universal's Terminator 2: 3-D, for example. They have a central story and every part of the experience drives that story. Starting as you stand in line—there are artifacts, pictures and design elements that begin to immerse you in the story long before you are strapped in for the “ride.” Visual elements, sound effects, and music all contribute to the story.

For convention booths, a central story is no less important. What is the over-arching message about the brand that each booth visitor should leave with? What are the story parts that will lead to this thought?

Once the story has been clearly articulated, then a whole series of design elements can used to bring the story to life. These elements include immersive experiences, how reps engage booth visitors, lighting, booth design elements and the presentation of digital content—in short, everything in the booth. Like the theme parks, your storytelling begins before an HCP steps into your booth and is reinforced by each element of the booth.

3) Your Booth Is Your Storefront

On the exhibit floor, physical space is the one unique element not available to you during a detail in the HCP's office or in other HCP interactions. Once you have established your story line, the physical space becomes a key element in delivering the story.

Universal Studios Terminator 2: 3-D provides a useful example. Viewers enter this experience expecting a 3-D experience on the screen. Instead, in addition to the 3-D movie, they find themselves in the Terminator world with full-size cyborgs all around them, live stunts, and motorcycles driving through the audience. The imaginative use of space takes an onscreen experience and makes it truly immersive.

Another example is the Apple Store. Every aspect of the Apple Store space reflects the Apple brand. The design is simple, uncluttered, and product-focused. There is no check-out counter, which means no lines where customers are standing doing nothing. People waiting for help are literally enticed to engage and play with—and buy—the latest Apple products. Roving representatives who both help with product questions and check you out communicate that Apple is available and will come to you. The use of lighting, signage and color communicate that this is the coolest, most advanced store in the mall.

In a similar way, the physical space in your booth can reinforce the core elements of your brand story like the Apple Store. If you miss the opportunity, you could end up creating a warehouse for your brand.

Think Apple Store—not Sam's Club!

4) Use Digital to Drive Engagement and Interaction

The use of digital in a convention booth needs to go beyond rotating signs or print CVAs deployed on an iPad. Technology allows us to immerse audiences in the brand story. The Terminator 2: 3-D experience discussed above provides an excellent example of the use of digital as a core part of an immersive experience. 

Creative use of digital tools will enhance your ability to engage professionals with your brand. Here are some successful examples:

• A 3-D movie on the evolution of treatments for acute coronary syndrome, and the brand MOA—which presents major brand selling points for a newly launched medication.

• A rep-driven group detail for a CNS product, which engages HCPs by enabling them to view patient videos and choose to hear about the patient most relevant for them.

• A five-screen movie experience that highlights a patient with a psychiatric disorder and presents the brand as the solution.

• An iPad experience that combines gaming with learning about the brand to deliver a fun learning experience.

Digital should be viewed as an enabler for your imagination in telling your brand story.

In developing convention booths, we start by imagining experiences for our target HCPs and then determine how those situations can be brought to life.

5) Think Outside the Box—Literally

Too often, convention teams are stuck inside the dimensions of their own exhibit space. You have the opportunity to start your booth experience well before an HCP actually steps onto your booth floor. Promoting the experience should go beyond simply advertising your booth number. Here are some questions to address as you develop your booth experience:

• Are there activities that visitors can start prior to arriving that can be completed in the booth? (Note: Mobile provides an excellent opportunity to engage attendees from anywhere in the convention city)

• How can meeting-sponsored promotion (signage, shuttle sponsorships, print ads, etc.) start an experience that encourages visits versus only listing your booth number?

• What's the experience with my booth from 500 yards, 100 yards, or the aisle outside my booth? Again, think Apple Store. The experience starts as soon as a shopper sees that illuminated Apple and the floor-to-ceiling glass.

Failing to fully leverage the possibilities beyond your booth misses important opportunities to make the experience in your booth as powerful and engaging as it should be.

Conclusion

Convention exhibits offer a powerful way to differentiate your brand in the minds of your HCP audience. Taking full advantage of the unique opportunities available on the exhibit floor will result in an immersive experience where HCPs are spending quality time engaging with your brand message. These five principles can help ensure a successful show: 

1) Always Remember, There's No Business Like Show Business. Make it memorable and engaging!

2) The Story Rules. Know your story, and immerse your visitors with details large and small.

3) Your Booth is Your Storefront. Take advantage of the physical space.

4) Digital Drives Engagement. Leverage the power of mobile and digital technology to deliver immersive experiences

5) Think Outside the Box. Engage with your audience outside the convention show floor in surprising and unique ways.


Bob Holloway is SVP, group account director, and Tim Nelson is creative director, Cadient Group.
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