Event Marketing Healthcare Conferences

A monster, a banana and a sign makes for memorable marketing at HIMSS19

I love walking through the exhibit hall at the annual HIMSS conference. To me there is no better learning lab for marketing tactics. If you stand and watch, you can see, in real-time, what grabs people’s attention and what is a waste of money.

The 2019 HIMSS conference did not disappoint on both fronts. I made note of several brilliant attention-grabbing strategies as well as a few that I categorized as “risky”.

Here are my observations in no particular order.

Best Small Island Booth

Every year I look for attention-grabbing island booth designs in the 20×20 to 40×40 size range. I have always found booths in this size to be the most creative. Large booths are fun to look at but are outside the reach of most companies. Small islands are where the action is.

There was one that stood out at HIMSS19 – the Splunk booth.

The bold black color stood out from the sea of white, blue and green that dominated the rest of the exhibit area. The company name in bright, over-sized letters helped make the booth easy to find and identify – exactly what you want in a hall with thousands of other exhibitors.

I also loved how the “>” from the company name was used to form the main canopy. It’s one of those subtle design touches that sneaks up on you and brings a smile to your face when you see it (like the white arrow in the FedEx logo).

Finally, I really liked how the demo stations where lit. It would have been easy to over-do the white lighting, but the designers exercised restraint and the lights are high above and off to the side of the monitors. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to watch a demonstration with a light shining in your face. The overhead lighting (through a matrix-like set of words on a “screen”) was enough to illuminate but not enough to distract.

Best Hanging Sign

There are hundreds of hanging signs in the HIMSS exhibit hall. Most just have the company name and logo. One sign at HIMSS19 stood out from the rest – Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s.

The cute monster is what makes this sign work – it catches your attention and once you see it, you can’t stop looking at it. I also like the fun way it’s looking down at the people inside the booth. You can almost imagine it leaping off the sign and bear hugging an unsuspecting CIO.

It’s hard to see in the photo, but the sign is also expertly lit. The bank of white LED lights makes the green rectangle and white letters really pop.

The inside of the sign is also noteworthy. From an angle it looks like there is a fabric with lights hanging from it, but when you get up close you realize it’s just a decorative print on the inner walls. It creates visual interest when you walk by the booth.

Best Booth Magnet

From magicians and performance artists to game shows and putting greens, HIMSS19 had a wide array of activities/displays designed to draw attendees into their booths.

An honorable mention goes to LRS Output Management, who put an actual ice sculpture at the front of their booth (different each day). It was unique and there were lots of people stopping to take pictures of it.

The best booth magnet, however, was the custom t-shirt station at the DSS booth where people could choose from 3 different designs and have it screened right in front of their eyes. The shirts are excellent quality and each of the designs are well done.

I passed by the booth several times and there way always a line of at least 25 people. That’s a lot of booth traffic. Kudos to the DSS booth folks for engaging the people in line in conversation. DSS has used this custom t-shirt booth magnet for the past 3 years and it’s now become a yearly tradition for some HIMSS attendees.

Trend: Smaller Booths

A noticeable trend at HMSS19 was the shrinking footprint of booths. Although there were still a few mega-booths from companies like EPIC, Cerner, and IBM, the majority of companies elected to go with smaller footprints.

Obviously there is a cost savings in going with a smaller booth, but I think this trend has more to do with the changing nature of the HIMSS conference versus companies wanting to spend less. In the past, HIMSS was a conference where people cruised the exhibit hall looking for solutions. Nowadays, attendees are much more focused on who they want to visit. They do their research ahead of time.

It’s rare to find someone just walking around the exhibit hall without a specific goal in mind.

I believe companies have picked up on this and aren’t spending as much on lavish booths. Instead they are focusing on being easy to find, having good demo stations and bringing more staff to engage with visitors.

Trend: Practical Giveaways

Collecting HIMSS giveaways used to be like trick-or-treating – you walk up and you get something nice to put in your bag. In recent years HIMSS exhibitors have smartly dialed back on extravagant giveaways. They now reserve the best tchotchkes for customers and people who stay for a product demonstration. You can still get pens and stress balls but the nice water bottles and high capacity batteries means sitting through a presentation.

At HIMSS19, there was a noticeable trend towards practical giveaways. It felt like every other booth had branded hand sanitizer or screen wipes. Quite a few exhibitors also had mini first-aid kits that included much-needed bandages to cover blisters.

I like this trend in giveaways. Something practical is less likely to be thrown away. I just wish someone would offer hand lotion alongside the sanitizers. After two uses, my hands felt like sandpaper.

Risky Moves

There were two companies that shall remain nameless, who used “booth babes” to wrangle passers-by into their exhibit space. In 2019 I think this is a very risky move. Sex might help to sell beer and perfumes, but Health IT software applications? It’s a stretch.

I have nothing against hiring professionals to help draw people into a booth, but why dress them up in obviously alluring outfits that are inconsistent with what everyone else is wearing in the same booth? It doesn’t make any sense and is a practice that should be retired.

Another booth with a risky element was EPIC who had this rather bizarre piece of artwork featured at the front of their booth.

Now I fully admit that I might be missing the point of this piece of art, but I’m not sure “hop on the banana at booth 123” is exactly the kind of phrase you want sent via social media. The rest of the artwork in the EPIC booth was quite nice.

Finally, there was one sign that caused a bit of a stir on the exhibit floor. Around the outer edge of Cerner’s booth were a series of signs that were designed to “tell the real story”. There were many that were well executed, like this one that pointed to the potential inaccuracy of market size statistics. But there was one sign that singled out one of Cerner’s competitors, MEDITECH, and their recent Expanse product branding.

In sports, you never want to give an opponent extra incentive to play harder. I believe this sign will have this effect on the team at MEDITECH. They’ve been called out by Cerner now and it will be interesting to see how they respond. There’s nothing wrong with saying you are better than a competitor (remember the Coke vs Pepsi taste tests?), but a public put-down of a competitor is a risky strategy.

I prefer the sign on the left. It highlights that Cerner’s market share is larger than you think and doesn’t single out any particular competitor by name yet conveys the message effectively “Don’t believe everything competitors are tell you”.

Overall Impression

HIMSS19 was once again a feast from a marketing standpoint. There were many interesting booth designs, new “magnet” tactics that I had not seen before and a wonderful array of company materials. I came back from Orlando with tons of pictures and sample brochures to add to my swipe file.

I can’t wait for next year’s event.

About the author


Colin Hung

Colin Hung is an award-winning Marketing Executive with more than 15yrs of healthcare and HealthIT experience. He co-founded one of the most popular healthcare chats on Twitter, #hcldr and he has been recognized as one of the “Top 50 Healthcare IT Influencers”. Colin’s work has been published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, American Society for Healthcare Risk Managers, and Infection Control Today. He writes regularly for Healthcare Scene and here at HITMC.com. Colin is a member of #pinksock #TheWalkingGallery and is proudly HITMC. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.


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  • Great synopsis! I totally agree with much of this and found HIMSS19 wonderfully inventive! But my question always ends up being how do all these great (and sometime not great) ideas translate into ROI? I know I’m not alone in my struggle with this as a marketer. Does anyone have metrics on how the spend ends up making an impression off the show floor? Obviously more eyes on the booth provides the opportunity for more leads but I wonder what the actual outcome is. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment Nancy. Measuring ROI at conferences is always challenging. For some activities, like onsite wrangling it is easy to measure. For others, like the impact of a well-designed booth, it is harder. For me, the impact post-event is primarily driven by the quality and timeliness of the follow up. If you don’t reach out to someone who stopped at your booth with relevant information soon after, they you’ve wasted your event efforts.

    • Appreciate your comment Molly. I was running between meetings when I spotted the Splunk booth and I HAD TO head over to snap a few photos. It stood out that much (mostly because of the canopy). +1 on the hand lotion 🙂

  • Great comments Colin. I would add that the Indian Motorcycle giveaway caught my attention – sure it’s traditional but I would have loved to ride that back to Atlanta! Cannot not remember who was giving it away though, so…

    Finally, I would say booths matter, but it was pre-conference outreach that brought us the meetings, and it was a great show for us.

    See you next year!

    • Thanks for pointing out the motorcycle. I completely missed that. I saw the SeaDoo that someone was giving away, but that definitely didn’t make my “practical”…though it would have been a great prize. I love your comment about pre-conference outreach. Years ago that used to be a do-it-if-you-can tactic, but now it’s a must-do in order to make your conference presence worth it. That’s especially true of large conferences like HIMSS, RSNA, CES and SXSW.




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