The role of conferences is in diffusing knowledge & innovation, as well as networking! Many professionals attend trade shows, conferences or participate in Webinars in order to gain some insights, or learn about new or innovative ways to deal with challenges. Conferences are successful when the participants gain something they leave, which didn’t have when they arrived. I am reminded of this as we are in the middle of the spring conference season. Since March 1st, I have lead two Webinars on marketing demographics in long term care in the United States, and am now in Turkey participating a the World Health & 3rd Age Tourism Congress (http://www.worldhealthand3rdagetourism.org/). My partner, Elizabeth Ziemba and I will then travel to Heidelberg for the CMTR EUROPEAN MEDICAL TOURISM RESEARCH SYMPOSIUM (http://www.uiw.edu/medicaltourism/medicaltourismconference2013.html). Then on May 9th I will be participating in a panel discussion on marketing innovations at the Annual Meeting of ALFA, the Assisted Living Federation of America (http://www.alfa.org/alfa/ALFA_Conference_and_Expo.asp). There are two observations about all this “conferencing” that are clear to me: 1. Knowledge diffusion and innovation. The primary purpose for these events, from a marketing / economic point of view is knowledge transfer and innovation diffusion. In other word, go learn something that you didn’t know when you arrived! In the “mature” segment of seniors housing, conference attendees’ attitudes are too often, “I know that” – or “I’ve been in the sector now for XX years, what is there that’s new?” This is a dangerous assumption. Innovation is at the heart of differentiation which is critical at any stage of marketing lifecycles. In the nascent sector of international healthcare and medical travel, too often sponsors are encouraged to simply promote and proselytize, without being required to share specific knowledge or showcase an innovation. 2. Marketing / networking The secondary purpose of attending and /or presenting at these conferences is networking and marketing. What a great opportunity to meet and network! But it’s amazing to me after almost 40 years, how poorly most companies and individuals leverage conferences as marketing / networking opportunities. This reminds me of a cartoon with the line, “Let me get this straight: you spent three days at the conference rubbing elbows with leaders in the field and all you have to show for it is bruised elbows?” When you go to conferences, set objectives, look at the attendance list in advance and target whom you want to meet, collect cards, and then follow up. Trade show marketing and networking is an excellent opportunity, yet how poorly these are leveraged.
Irving L. Stackpole, RRT, MEd
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The Science of Services Marketing