First-time, veteran exhibitors find value in virtual conferences

By Patty Enrado
04:44 PM

Attendance may be down at annual conferences across the healthcare industry, largely due to the economic downturn, but on the flip side, activity is up at virtual conferences.

First-time and veteran exhibitors see that trend as a great reason to participate in the HIMSS Virtual Conference & Expo.

Imprivata exhibited in the April and November 2008 HIMSS VCEs, experiencing high-quality leads that converted through the sales cycle. The events generated new leads as well as an opportunity to cultivate existing ones, said Laura Carson, director of Marketing Communications.

Other benefits Imprivata gained included the ability to access all sales members in a cost-effective manner, getting additional face time with existing customers and being assured of qualified visitors, she said. With conference attendance down across the board, Carson anticipates higher traffic in the virtual conference, especially for those who were unable to make HIMSS' Annual Conference and Exhibition.

The shift to online marketing, rise of social media and maturation of the virtual conference may also contribute to the expected greater volume, she said. Overall, Carson said, "This is a low-cost, high-return investment."

NetMotion Wireless found that the November 2008 HIMSS Virtual Conference was an effective way to connect with potential users. "We believe the VCE is a good venue to share best case practices with our customers and prospects," said Amy Ting, senior marketing manager for NetMotion Wireless. "With today's limits on travel and strains on healthcare budgets, this virtual conference is an effective way to reach a mass audience."

"The virtual show floor includes chat and animation capabilities making the experience interactive and lively for those stopping by our virtual booth," Ting said. The company will also be able to post links to its Web site, demo-on-demand, case studies and various other marketing collateral, and then track what traffic to the links, Ting said.

Dana Loof, senior director of Corporate Communications for i365, a Seagate Company, noted that attendees are scanned at HIMSS' VCE whereas attendees can opt out of being scanned at a physical conference. For first-time exhibitor i365, that means being able to collect more accurate information about the attendees post-show.

Tina Stoufer, marketing manager for Sprint, pointed out that the ability of online conferences to track traffic for demonstrations and downloadable materials is something that can't be done accurately at physical tradeshows. "There are not a lot of virtual conferences out there, but HIMSS has led the way for this non-traditional tradeshow format," she said.

"We continue to participate in the HIMSS VCE because it is such a cost-effective way to participate in an additional quality tradeshow and increase our online presence," she said. "With constrained resources, our staff feels that it is of great value not to have to travel to this show, but still be able to get educational content and have the tradeshow experience. It is a great complement to the other tradeshows that we do."

Sprint has garnered positive customer comments from the November 2008 HIMSS VCE. One attendee was able to make the conference mandatory for all of the company's department heads. The lounge allowed greater access to people in the industry that is impossible in a physical conference.

For HP, it's a matter of size. HP's product offering in the healthcare market is so broad, it's physically impossible to showcase all of its products in an exhibit hall, said Paul Behncke, marketing manager for HP's America's Health and Life Sciences Industry.

By exhibiting in a virtual conference, HP will be able to share its offerings to customers who may not be able to attend a physical conference due to time and cost. HP also saves between 70 to 80 percent of the cost of exhibiting in a physical conference, he said. Likewise, HP's subject matter experts will be more easily available to connect and chat with potential customers in a virtual conference than a physical conference.

While HP offers its own hosted virtual conference service, its participation here will align itself with HIMSS' "widely recognized brand name," said Behncke. The ability to reach out to potential customers who were unable to attend the HIMSS conferences is another reason to be an exhibitor, he said.

Behncke also anticipates a higher turnout because of travel restrictions and customers' higher level of comfort dealing with digital marketing. "This is a more efficient way for people to focus in on their particular interests, at their own time and pace," he said. While Behncke noted that virtual conferences can't substitute for face-to-face contact, "You can share your message with a lot of people," he said. launched around the time of the November HIMSS Virtual Conference & Expo. "We met many HIT professionals, including some international attendees who later asked for an on-site demonstration of the Intel Health Guide, a new home-health solution," said Julie Malloy, healthcare segment manager for Intel and a founding member of the community. "Overall, several hundred new members signed up for following the last VCE and we have continued to grow since then."

As a new community, sees the virtual conference as another venue to be able to reach out to clinicians, IT professionals, administrators and consultants interested in implementation or upgrade of mobile point-of-care technology. "We are bringing together peers to share resources and ideas and to spark dialogue on important topics and have found that we can do the same by participating in the VCE," Malloy said.

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