Major Trade Shows Continue to Cancel or Go Virtual, So Now What?
By Jodi Amendola
Jodi Amendola is founder and CEO of Amendola Communications of Scottsdale, AZ.
As major healthcare and health IT conferences such as HIMSS, AHIP, RISE, MGMA and others continue to cancel their live events or go virtual, marketers and sales leaders are now faced with the new challenge of where to put the money that was originally slated for sleek exhibition booths, networking events, and all of the promotional activities leading up to these in-person events.
For many companies, trade shows eat up half of their marketing budget, so the decision about if and how to reallocate those dollars requires careful consideration in these uncertain, unprecedented, and budget-conscious times.
Trade shows get more expensive and more arduous to prepare for every year. But they are also one of the highest-value ways to network and to build new business relationships while renewing old ones. They can be a source of good leads that move the needle to influence important buying decisions. Importantly, for many companies, trade shows are where companies go to be seen.
Trade shows will eventually return, although when and in what form is still an unknown. In the mean time, they are not the only path to visibility and credibility with prospects, or even the most effective. What follows are some recommendations for re-allocating your trade show spend.
Most B2B sales have larger price tags and longer sales cycles than consumer products. Before making an investment in health IT, providers, health plans, and government agencies need to trust that a purchase will answer a need or solve a problem.
Coverage in credible media outlets is still where you get the biggest bang for your buck in B2B.
Peer-to-peer endorsements carry a lot of weight with buyers, and customer success stories — especially if you make the story almost entirely about the customer — are media gold. The same story can be approached from a number of angles to make it appealing to various media outlets with different audiences that align with your target markets.
You should also aim for getting thought leadership coverage—bylines, commentary, and other contributions on the big issues of the day. Thought leadership is most effective when it’s authentic and not afraid to take a stand, so avoid corporate-speak.
HIT leaders are increasingly interested in how PR impacts share of voice against the competition, and what the sentiment is in earned media coverage—positive, neutral, or negative. That can be measured, even by specific topics, with media monitoring and tracking tools such as Meltwater.
This measurement can help you understand how you’re dominating (or not) the most pressing conversations in the industry and media landscapes. Right now, the most pressing topic is of course COVID-19. You can assess your media reach compared to the competition on specific topics such as the pandemic. You can drill down even further on subtopics such as vaccine development, predictive analytics, and primary care that relate to COVID-19.
You can extend the shelf life of media wins by promoting your media placements to decision-makers and key influencers across social media and on your website, and by leveraging for lead gen and nurturing via e-newsletters, emails blasts with landing pages, electronic reprints for virtual conferences, and more.
Lead Generation Campaigns
Gated content, which requires whoever is interested to give up their name and email to obtain it, can capture far more qualified leads than those picked up at a trade show by a “claw” who really just stopped by for your cool giveaways. Examples of high-value content that can be placed behind a form for lead gen includes case studies, smart briefs, white papers, major reports and study results. and on-demand webinars, to name a few.
Targeted digital ad campaigns that promote the right content to the right audiences also are a powerful lead gen tool. One of the most exciting capabilities of digital advertising is how specifically you can target your outreach (as political campaigns like to do), but A/B testing is still needed. This is an area that often comes up short when trade shows need to be paid for, but now would be a great time to leverage those unused dollars to test these campaigns until they hit the right mark.
Marketing Asset Development
If there’s a bright spot in the time we’ve spent sheltering in place, it’s the interesting videos and podcasts we’ve discovered. For many of us, listening to a podcast at a certain time every day will be a permanent part of our schedule post-pandemic. Simply produced Zoom interviews are also likely to be a mainstay, having been validated by broadcast news channels while studios were closed.
Why not spend a portion of your newly freed trade show budget on commissioning some of these assets yourself? Over time, a series of thought leader podcasts or videos with provocative themes can elevate brands and thought leadership.
Surveys are another marketing asset to check off your marketing bucket list. Not only do they give you a current read on target audience sentiment, the findings can be newsworthy enough to promote via media outreach and nab more coverage.
When it comes to trade shows, nothing replaces human interaction. But now is the time to strategically reallocate those unused marketing dollars to take advantage of alternate strategies that can increase awareness and generate leads for your business.