By Cesare Ferrari, TRB Chemedica International
Medical trade shows, congresses, and exhibitions have become primary marketing and business development tools for medtech companies.
Despite the substantial number of events and the remarkable revenues they have generated, medical fairs still have their share of criticism in our industry. In my opinion, it may be because of the following:
- the difficulty in measuring the effectiveness of trade shows,
- their frequent poor management,
- the COVID-19 pandemic revealing alterative and effective tools, and
- the significance of the investment.
Whatever the case may be, this three-part articles series fully explains how small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) can better manage and measure their performance before, during, and after international medical trade shows. In this article, part 1 of the series, I will share best practices for managing your pre-show planning. Part 2 will share best practices during the trade show, and part 3 will share best practices in following up after the trade show has ended.
This may seem obvious to some, but trade show planning should largely precede the exhibition date. In this article, I’ll cover defining your objectives, deciding on the right trade show, booth location, booth design, pre-show marketing, developing a contingency plan, and organizing the work with your team.
Defining Your Objectives
First, define your objectives, take into account your marketing budget, and establish whether you have a reason to attend a given trade show. Two companies participating in the same trade show can have completely different objectives. For example, launching a product and collecting feedback from commercial partners on a prototype will require completely different approaches.
No one is likely to have the same objectives as your company. However, to get the most results from your objectives, you must keep them SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time based).
In general, SMEs don't measure the results of their trade shows. But when they start to, they do it wrong because they tend to fix goals that are not realistically achievable.
As a small or midsize enterprise, you should aim at setting realistic objectives that align with the size of your company and the investment required. For instance, if you are a small company attending a big international trade show (with a 2x3-meter booth in a peripheral area of the exhibition), and you're aiming at 200 visitors and 20 leads over a potential audience of 50,000 visitors, you're setting the bar too high.
Medical trade shows enable companies to:
- launch new products
- develop new B2B relationships
- enhance and build on current B2B relationships
- create and increase brand awareness
- monitor competition
- promote products and services
- collect leads
- identify potential partnerships
- demonstrate products live and give hands-on experience
- test the market and collect product feedback
- build trust with partners
- enhance the corporate image
- take advantage of the gathering of people (i.e., having meetings and avoiding extensive travel)
Deciding On The Right Trade Show
After setting your objectives, choose the right trade shows and evaluate if your target audience will be attending. Sometimes, you must take risks because not all the information will be available before the show.
Another point to consider when deciding to participate in a trade show is the allocated budget. Participating in fewer events with a well-designed and well-sized booth is better than increasing the number of events and having a small and mediocre booth.
I will always remember a colleague who discussed his company's participation in congresses and trade shows with me. He stated that they ended up with miserable booths, limited staff, and a shortage of marketing tools due to budget constraints, putting the staff working at the booth in a very uncomfortable situation.
And if your staff at the booth feels embarrassed, rest assured that they will not do a great job.
The booth location is critical because the location will significantly impact your overall performance at the exhibition. Also, most trade shows tend to allocate booths according to a first come, first serve basis; therefore, it is fundamental to decide early on and find the best location in line with your budget.
Book as soon as the registration opens. Sometimes, you can even book the space for next year before the end of this year's trade show.
Next, target well-trafficked booth locations, such as, for instance, near food and drink areas, in corners, near or facing the booths of big players, and en route to "attractions" – except, of course, to the toilets.
And before booking your booth space, consider the locations of your main competitors. Being close to the competitors is not always negative, but it depends on market segment dynamics.
To be safe, consider choosing a location far from your primary competitor.
The booth design is strictly related to the budget allocated; unfortunately, miracles are impossible. However, the right design and marketing tactics can provide an engaging experience that maximizes your booth's impact.
The booth design must fit your objectives. For example, create hands-on stations in the booth if your goal is to let prospects try the product. Conversely, if your goal is to have private meetings with potential partners, then plan a closed room. I remember an instance at the Medica, when one of the objectives was to collect the feedback on a product at the end stage of its development. In that case, to assure confidentiality and save money compared to building a private room in the booth, we opted for renting a small conference room at the venue for just two days.
In all you do, ask yourself, "How can my company stand out and differentiate from the masses?" Once you have the answer, you're at least one step ahead.
Pre-show marketing activities can have a great impact on the success or failure of the show. The primary reason is that if you do not communicate with your target audience before the congress, you can't expect them to look for your booth.
Often, companies treat trade shows as events of a few days, thereby missing the opportunity to fully capitalize on them. A trade show should be utilized as a marketing activity with separate campaigns before and after the show, with the main show in between.
Each of these time frames has its unique marketing specificity. In the case of a strong pre-show marketing campaign, its role is to ensure the success of a trade show even before the doors are open.
So, before the event, implement ads, email marketing, direct mail, social media tactics, and website updates to increase awareness about your presence at the congress. You can also set up meetings with prospects, partners, etc., to take advantage of the gathering.
Keep in mind that it is normal for attendees to decide to spend a relevant part of their time at the exhibition, but not all of them make a list of the booths to visit. So, your goal before the show is to let them know in advance where you will be and what you will be doing to increase your chances of being on their agenda.
Personal invitations are also useful if you want to make contact with decision makers. You need to create an interest and a strong motivating reason for your counterpart to visit your booth. Then, specifically address their area of expertise or interest and suggest why you want them to visit you.
Always follow up with emails, phone calls, etc., on decision makers’ invitations if you can.
Develop A Contingency Plan
The unpredictable can still happen with trade shows, despite your planning and double-checking. This is because not everything is completely in your control.
For example, shipping could go wrong, or technology could fail. So, plan for contingencies as much as possible by bringing electronic files, keeping copies of orders, and having tracking information with you.
Especially if your product is medical equipment, I strongly suggest always having a plan B ready. For example, in parallel, you should ship the full equipment to the trade show with all the tracking information and organize for the local distributor or sales representative to have available a complete second set. So, if the courier does not deliver the shipment, you can have the local organization bring the second set to the venue in time for the opening.
Organize The Work
To do this, you can name a booth captain among the staff and define the working schedule. Large companies I’ve worked for, like Medtronic and MSD, usually name a booth captain, especially if the booth staff is numerous.
I think it is a good idea if the number of people working in the booth exceeds four or five. The booth captain is fundamental to orchestrating the booth experience for the visitors and keeping the staff focused on the objectives. You should consider that the staff is not necessarily used to working together, and also that working at the exhibition is not their normal job; therefore, providing a guide can make the difference between a well-organized booth and a blundering one.
Hold a short daily meeting with your staff before the congress opens. It could be a short stand-up meeting just before breakfast in the hotel.
Make Sure All Of Your Above Efforts Contribute To A Positive First Impression For Booth Visitors
First impressions count! You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. This means that attendees will evaluate you and your company by the sum of their experience in the first few seconds. Their judgment could be based on the comprehensive booth image, including the booth itself, the display, the lights, and the behavior of the staff. Hence, your booth image should reflect your company's personality, values, and professionalism. Also, train your staff to look friendly, professional, approachable, available, helpful, confident, energetic, and happy while working at the booth.
Remember, perception is everything in a trade show, and you don't want a negative public image.
Now that you’ve mastered all the pre-show planning, you need to maximize your medtech booth’s presence during the trade show. I’ll discuss these best practices in my next article.
About The Author:
Cesare Ferrari is area director CSEA at TRB Chemedica International. He is a sales and marketing leader with an extensive international experience in healthcare (pharma and medtech). He holds a master's in pharmaceutical chemistry from the University of Milan and an exMBA from SDA Bocconi School of Management — Milan. You can find him on LinkedIn.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position, opinions, or thoughts of TRB Chemedica International.