The static popularity of many scientific meetings won’t be news to you: whatever sector of the life sciences we work in, we can probably all recall meetings that may have started to drop off in terms of size and quality, or even disappeared from the calendar completely. At the same time, the importance of effective digital marketing has grown massively.
However, we shouldn’t be too quick to brush traditional meetings aside. Maybe we can even learn from successful conferences and use these insights to enhance our digital programs. Based on recent conferences that I’ve experienced, there are two main areas where marketing professionals can incorporate ideas inspired by successful scientific meetings (many of which are growing in popularity, not declining). These revolve around the importance of memorable content, and the need to build powerful one-to-one connections with customers. Read on to learn more.
Are meetings less important than digital tools? Can it really be that simple?
For example, the BioStrata team recently attended the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) 2017 congress in Birmingham, UK, which coincided with my first month at the agency. It was probably one of only a handful of times where I have attended a scientific conference as a delegate—almost every year for the last 12 years I have been involved in UK and international meetings as either a communications lead for a conference, an exhibitor or agency support for an exhibiting company. And I’m not alone—meetings like this feature in the planning cycles and diaries of many life science marketing teams and agencies.
Digital marketing tools were present on most, if not all, of the IBMS exhibition booths: from lead capture systems, to interactive screens and videos. This got me thinking about the reported decline of traditional meetings, and the growth of this kind of marketing: in particular, just as ‘video killed the radio star’, digital engagement has long been forecast to replace scientific meetings.
However, a large number of excellent meetings clearly didn’t get the memo, and many continue to thrive. How is this? As with all modern-day marketing approaches, the scientific meetings that remain successful are those that have evolved. Their organisers have found new and improved ways of meeting the needs of today’s delegates and exhibitors. As a result, they continue to demonstrate value to these audiences in terms of knowledge sharing and the opportunity to build meaningful connections.
So what are the common foundations of successful meetings and events? And what can digital marketing communications learn and borrow from them?
You need to create lasting memories, regardless of the marketing tactics you use
Successful scientific meetings make an impact in a way that provides delegates with lasting memories. In order to do this, they don’t just rest on providing relevant content through a well-planned program; they also provide engaging interactive elements (Q&A sessions) and opportunities to explore new discoveries on a one-to-one level (be it via product demos or allowing the meeting of speakers after their presentations). For me, these components are fundamental and can make the recall of key information far easier.
These ideas, with a dose of creativity, can be translated into effective marketing communications. We already know that imagery is key: as HubSpot noted, when people hear information, they tend to remember only 10% of that information three days later; but if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people retained 65% three days later. Based on some of my insights from meetings and conferences, the power of these images can be enhanced by also offering customers a number of other things, including:
- Interactive tools that allow users to submit questions to a product expert, including a log of any recent answers that have been provided
- Product demo videos that walk through relevant features and benefits
- Testimonial interviews using a Q&A format in which early adopters can share their personal insights
The need to create stronger connections
Meetings also provide an excellent forum for building strong personal connections. For example, some of the exhibitors attended the IBMS meeting primarily to strengthen existing relationships (i.e. rather than measuring their time in terms of new leads generated). From the poster sessions, it was also clear that some companies were supporting younger biomedical scientists by helping them get more exposure for their research, while other companies spoke to me about attending entirely to support—and be part of—the wider scientific community.
This need for stronger, lasting connections is felt by both organisations and individual scientists. In my previous role as Head of Communications & Membership at the British Pharmacological Society, student members likened their participation in the annual scientific meeting to being part of an extended family—and that this positive experience was unlike many other meetings they had attended. In parallel, the Society’s membership grew annually among these younger scientists so that almost half were under the age of thirty by 2017.
There is evidence from other countries that younger people are especially thirsty for connection and belonging. For example, a 2008 survey (conducted over 10 years) found that, while over half of Canadians reported a “somewhat strong” or “very strong” sense of community belonging, young adults between 18 and 29 were less likely to do so. While this is just one country, perhaps this is worth considering as it won’t be long before this younger generation become key decision-makers in the business world, including the life sciences.
How to create a sense of connection through digital channels
In order to build powerful connections through digital means, we can try to engage customers via networks where they feel at home. If social media is one of the main channels where your audience is comfortable seeking out information, make sure you are active, findable and ready for interaction on those platforms. Of course, this will require a research-driven approach, as social media preferences can vary significantly by age, country and many other factors—meaning you must choose carefully when and where to be active online if you are to be successful.
And what about your website? Well to draw on a cheesy 80s reference, if Cheers was a place ‘where everybody knows your name’, then a website where a user felt like they belong would be one where 'everybody knows your name and your needs’. Digital tools like HubSpot now allow us to track and recognise users when they make return visits to a website. Implementing this in a transparent and thoughtful way could offer users not just a personalised welcome (‘Welcome back, Kat!’) but also a tailored journey that reflects their previous preferences.
In summary, I’ve seen first-hand two ways in which successful meetings offer ideas that digital marketing can adopt: making content and experiences more memorable, and building stronger connections with customers. I’m sure there are more, so I look forward to learning more at the various conferences I’ll be attending with BioStrata and our clients in the coming months!
To find out more about how BioStrata’s scientific expertise and creativity could support your business, contact us.