A few years ago, a pharmaceutical company famous for its products that helped patients live with various metabolic disorders sponsored the activities of an endurance athlete—a person who was managing their disease with healthy diet, exercise, and one of the company’s products. Social media fans followed the athlete’s progress, picked up training tips, and perhaps, in the process, reduced their own proclivity to various unhealthy behaviors. Remember, these were the days when pharma companies cringed at the words “social media” because of the number of FDA-issued warning letters that seemed to come every time a company attempted to use social media. The athlete was an awesome brand ambassador, and their activities not only promoted healthy living but also the results of therapeutic adherence.
While this athlete’s success was tracking on social media, a doctor came into the company’s exhibit space at a medical meeting and asked a staff member, “Aren’t you tracking that person’s progress while you’re here? You should have that person here!” The answer the healthcare professional (HCP) received is the best ever example of not leveraging content assets. The answer? “Oh, that’s a promotion from another channel.”
One of the most foolproof ways to provide an experience for visitors to your trade show exhibit is to turn an existing content asset into a three-dimensional brand encounter. In the example above, the attendee who asked about the athlete was probably not the only person in attendance at the meeting who was following the athlete on social media. Bringing the athlete to the trade show exhibit could have connected content existing in both the physical and digital worlds to a real-life brand encounter. If the athlete wasn’t available, a number of digital and video solutions exist. Could that athlete have elicited empathy among the HCP attendees for people suffering from metabolic disorders? Could the HCP visitors have asked about tips for helping their patients stay compliant? Missed opportunity? Absolutely.
On the other hand, Allergan, which markets drugs for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) brought their character, Irritabelle (played by comedian Ilana Becker)—star of TV, print, digital, social media, long-form video, and yes, Halloween costumes—to life by featuring her at medical meetings. Irritabelle, as her name implies, is irritating—but so is IBS. According to Fierce Pharma, Arnold Worldwide, the ad agency behind the campaign, found Irritabelle to resonate “by far” the best with IBS sufferers; “IBS is not a life-or-death condition,” said Gary Scheiner, executive creative director, “but it absolutely affects your quality of life. People were willing to laugh and see themselves in the storyline. The commercial features someone very much like them going about their day and trying not to let this thing control them.” While HCPs could laugh, they could also become increasingly aware of what it is like to live with IBS.
These two examples are from healthcare exhibitors, but neglecting existing content assets when designing experiences for trade show exhibits is not limited to a single industry. What can exhibit and event marketers do to bring the power of content assets into a face-to-face environment?
First, marketers must break down channel silos and discover which assets are actually building brand loyalty among the target market. It doesn’t matter where it “lives,” the asset that works best is the one that attendees recognize and connect to on some level. Never underestimate the power and diversity of multi-channel marketing appeal. Harness the brand equity that lives in a TV commercial, iconography, out-of-home advertising, a social meme, or any other exposure your customer has to your brand.
Exhibit and event marketers tend to think about the short-term impact, the one-time experience of the trade show. Instead, they need to start thinking about the long-term impact of recognizable brand assets. In the past, exhibit and event content discussions focused on graphics, often static graphics that conveyed information. Whether or not the graphics content interested the attendees was not as important as what the product teams decided they had to tell the audience about the product. Those graphics may or may not have used images from content assets. However, the environment has changed dramatically. Attendees want to have an experience that addresses their primary pain points, not product messages for their own sake. The days of one-way communication are over. Using content assets turns the in-person conversation into a dialog.
Content assets need to be part of the overall face-to-face strategy, not a tactic executed at the end of the planning process to make the experience more interesting or more fun. The challenge for exhibits and events is to plan to bring the assets to life early on . From brand ambassadors to VR, analog or digital, the attendees’ experience with the brand should be an agenda item at the first strategy session. The fact that there is brand recognition via existing content should map the path you take as you plan your event. Coke keeps bringing back the polar bear; ask yourself why. Too often planning proceeds as if assets don’t exist.
Brand or product managers need to be in the room for strategy sessions. Limiting the group to exhibit and event marketers and their partners cuts out an important constituency: the people who know the impact of existing assets. They may also know when a new campaign will launch, and the exhibit or event becomes the kick-off for a long-term strategy.
Building a face-to-face experience using content assets that generate loyalty, recognition, and memorability is one of the most intelligent uses of exhibits and events as media. It is also the best way to give the exhibit and event marketing program the respect it deserves.
When you start to plan your next trade show or event, do an audit of your existing assets, ranking them in importance and impact. The challenge, once you’ve identified those most relevant for your audience, is how do you bring them to life, how do you make them part of the brand encounter. Consistent representation of your brand across all channels is the best way to take a leadership position in your industry.