Top tips for conducting effective conference research
Plan ahead, frame the future, and track performance across meetings. John Branston lists his top ten recommendations for conducting effective conference research.
Medical conferences represent a considerable investment in terms of time and resources. With such scrutiny on spending, it is important to know what aspect of conference ‘worked’ and what did not. Conducting conference research is invaluable for evaluating the success of marketing and communications activity at industry events.
With our proprietary evaluation tool, Conference Live, we have conducted numerous research projects amongst physicians attending many types of medical conferences, from small symposia to large three-day events. My tips for conducting effective conference research are gleaned from that experience and are listed below.
1. Use the opportunity
Conferences are a rare and excellent opportunity for conducting market research. It isn’t often that you will have a quantitative-sized sample of specialists all gathered together in one place and thinking specifically about the future of your disease area. They will be away from the various distractions and pressures of clinical practice and of their home lives. So what better time to ask them the key questions to which you want answers and to access their vision of the future?
2. Plan ahead
We recommend that you start discussing the plans for your conference research two months in advance. The brand team (and you!) will find that, the nearer you get to the event, the less time there will be to agree survey content and discuss all the options for the research. So schedule the internal meetings early and set the research up in good time.
3. Tailor the research
Every Conference Live study is different, because each of our clients is in a different marketing situation with their brand ahead of their key meetings. The focus of your conference presence should drive the focus of the research. We will familiarise you with all of the research approaches that are available and help manage the trade-off between the specific focus and the metrics that will best support overall conference evaluation. This will allow us to design a study that delivers a wealth of information, helps you understand what you have achieved, and shapes what you deliver in future.
4. Get the sample right
It may be that your marketing efforts are solely focused on your own customers; the specialists who appear on your target lists and with whom you have good relationships. However, do not forget that an entire community of physicians also experiences your conference presence. Including a wider range of physicians in the sample can be incredibly valuable for getting a more balanced perspective of your conference impact. The same goes for the ‘home markets’ of those in the sample.
5. Keep It Simple
Conference research is conducted during busy events with respondents using smartphone and tablet devices. Screen space and time is often limited, so we recommend keeping the questioning brief and easy-to-understand. However, bear in mind that this will still allow you to gather hugely insightful feedback across a whole variety of subjects.
6. Make use of multimedia
Simple techniques can be used to gather more in-depth insights into key aspects of your conference presence. Smartphone and tablet devices allow in-the-moment thoughts to be submitted using multimedia content such as audio-recordings, photographs, and video – although we advise this is not overdone. In addition, respondents can quickly input their feedback using text messages, especially if condensed down to key words.
7. Direct delegates
A key feature of conducting conference research with Conference Live is the ability to get in-the-moment feedback to data and other presentations. Direct delegates and respondents to attend specific symposia, poster presentations etc., (as long as balanced with competitor events) in order to ensure a good statistical basis for comparative evaluation.
8. Frame the future
Patient vignettes are simple but effective tools for framing the likely impact of new science on your brand. We recommend using these to understand how physicians believe new therapeutic data and principles will be implemented in the treatment paradigm. Collecting the ‘now’ and ‘future’ states will demonstrate this impact and tell you how different messages resonated at conference.
9. Track performance across meetings
Simple quantitative measures and key metrics can be applied across multiple meetings to track and understand the success of your presence vs competitors. I.e. year-on-year or European vs North American meetings. Set up your dashboard and gain an understanding of whether the next conference is contributing to your company’s success in the way you intend it to.
10. Understand performance across franchises
Similarly, the use of key metrics to measure congress performance across the organisation can highlight where one franchise is getting its meetings ‘right’ and support the discussion of how others can optimise their meeting presence. Make conference performance measurement a part of the organisational culture for ever-better performance.
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