Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2017 and has been updated for relevance and accuracy.
A trade show exhibit without brand hierarchy is like putting together IKEA furniture without an Allen wrench. In the context of trade shows, this is the challenge that often translates to “what do you do?” or “what are you selling?” Although the exhibit staff can take the answer to another level, attendees walking the show floor, particularly those with specific interests but without a firm agenda, are more likely to stop at an exhibit with a clear brand hierarchy.
Consumer products have long understood the importance of the brand hierarchy. The strategy includes delineating:
- The corporate brand: the actual name of the company (Sony, IBM, Lexus)
- The master brand: the umbrella, if you will, or the range of the products.
- The sub-brand: generally this is where a new product fits into the structure.
- The product brand: this is all about positioning, in the words of the late Jack Trout. How does the brand stand out from the competition?
- The endorsed brand: the brand that consumers associate with the product, endorsed because of the corporate brand. At this level, there is highly recognizable visual and emotional interest. Whether the show is B2B or B2C, it is at this level where we assert the fact that the customer owns the brand
For an effective trade show booth, these levels of brand hierarchy, although they might result in arguments within product marketing groups, are straight forward. Also, when planning a graphic strategy to communicate the brand hierarchy for a trade show, determine at what eye level attendees should experience each level. Whether that it is across the trade show floor, three feet from the exhibit, or up close and personal, the brand hierarchy graphics and signage need to bolster the strategy.
Simple. However, when I was walking trade show floors this spring, many of those floors were at medical shows where the brand hierarchy issue is not quite so clear.
While medical device companies have traditionally promoted the corporate brand and have subscribed to a version of the above consumer brand hierarchy, pharmaceutical companies often present a brand hierarchy that is, to put it kindly, confusing.
In the past several decades, during the age of mega-blockbuster drugs, pharma companies did not bother promoting the corporate brand. The promotion was all about the product. However, much is changing in pharma: patent lives are getting shorter, R&D is much more closely scrutinized, healthcare professionals (HCPs) want to talk to scientists as well as reps, merger and acquisition activity has escalated, and increasingly, research focuses on treating rare diseases.
During those glory days, marketers determined that the corporate brand was important insofar as it attracted the analysts who attended trade shows; their reports in the financial press could influence stock prices. Now, however, all attendees at trade shows are watching the activities of both big pharma and the smaller companies, many of whom are exhibiting products in stage three clinical trials and whose products (or the companies themselves) are acquisition targets. The healthcare community, for many reasons, is now focusing on “who’s doing what.” More space is allotted to non-promotional areas.
In the current trade show environment, a workable brand hierarchy would be:
- A prominent corporate brand
- An umbrella brand if the company has a franchise in a particular therapeutic area—for instance, diabetes, psoriasis, MS, etc.
- A sub brand, the promoted product. If it’s a product newly approved by the FDA, it can be the star of the show. If it has not yet been approved, a corporate brand on a medical exhibit (non-promotional) gives the sense that the company—no matter how large or how small—is doing important work in a therapeutic area.
- A product brand where the advantages of the product, its efficacy, and the like are promoted—not in a head-to-head comparison but with studies to back up these claims.
- The endorsed brand: the brand the company wants doctors to prescribe. In a pharma booth, this might take the form of patient programs and other means of appealing to a more patient-centric focus.
As trade shows become larger and the competition for attendees’ attention grows, savvy trade show marketers make sure that a clear brand hierarchy that answers those “what do you do?” or “what do you sell?” questions is part of the trade show program.