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Struggling with how to illustrate the customizability of its half-ton, 7-foot-tall server cabinets, Legrand switches to 3-D product-demonstration technology, decreasing its shipping costs and increasing sales leads in the process. By Lena Valenty
onventional wisdom – and most exhibit managers – will tell you that product demonstrations are an invaluable tactic when it comes to educating attendees about your gadgets and gizmos. But what if your product is about the size of an elephant and cost-prohibitive to ship to a show? Or your product line is so extensive that jamming every item into the booth would render it cluttered and useless?
Indeed, sometimes it's practically impossible to conduct an in-booth demonstration that does a product justice. Just ask the New London, CT-based data communications division of Legrand, which makes cabling systems, server racks, and cabinets used in data centers and local-area applications. Weighing in at roughly half a ton when fully loaded, the firm's largest cabinet, called the Mighty Mo, is a bear to ship to shows, let alone move around once it's in an exhibit. And that's a problem for booth staffers and sales representatives, as the only way to truly demonstrate the extensive configurability of the Mighty Mo is to basically tip it on its side, turn it around, and move varying pieces of network-infrastructure equipment (such as cables, cooling fans, power supplies, shelves, side panels, etc.) in and out of it. That means unless the Incredible Hulk pops by for a visit, attendees can only see a server rack in one position (upright) and configuration – not the best way to extol a product's endless customization.
In the past, the company's 150 sales reps relied on suitcases filled with catalogs, scale models, and mini racks to demonstrate the products' capabilities. Each salesperson had seven separate suitcases, one for each of the company's seven distinct product lines. And while customers and prospects got a
general idea of the products' appearance, the approach failed to provide a customizable demo that could incorporate everything a client wanted and needed to see on the spot. Furthermore, while its sales team was lugging suitcases full of various models, literature, and miniatures to meetings and trade shows across the country and globe, inevitably, a customer would want to see something the rep didn't have on hand. And the suitcases full of models didn't come cheap, costing Legrand thousands of dollars to assemble and update. That's a hefty price for something that doesn't always deliver.
Realizing that the suitcases were doing very little to truly demonstrate the configurability of Legrand's server racks, the company set its sights on a 3-D product-demonstration suite that not only would include all of its products and features, but also would be available across multiple platforms, from tablets and iPhones to PCs and touchscreen monitors. Legrand hoped such flexibility would make it the perfect sales tool regardless of the environment.
For that, Legrand turned to Kaon Interactive Inc., a Maynard, MA-based company that specializes in interactive 3-D product marketing and sales applications. In short, Kaon transforms physical objects and experiences into virtual ones using its proprietary hardware and software.
"Legrand came to us with three directives: Eliminate the unnecessary shipping of large products to trade shows, provide a cohesive environment to articulate its key messages consistently across all venues and locations, and create an engaging experience through interactive applications at trade shows," says Gavin Finn, Ph.D., president and CEO of Kaon. Easy enough, right? Not quite. In addition to those objectives, Legrand wanted to be able to reuse the content on multiple devices for sales and channel partners outside the trade show environment and be able to evolve the content over time, meaning whatever Kaon came up with had to seamlessly accommodate an evergrowing product portfolio. With that hefty to-do list in hand, Finn and his team got to work.
Shrinking a half-ton product down to a manageable size requires more than a dose of Alice's "Drink Me" potion. Armed with specs, drawings, photos, and product information provided by Legrand, Finn's production team replicated the Mighty Mo cabinet in all its glory. The result is an interactive program that contains virtual photorealistic product models that users can expand, flip over, rotate 720 degrees, open, close, dissect, etc., all via a high-definition touchscreen appliance – dubbed the Kaon v-OSK – that can be fully integrated into existing exhibitry.
But the interactive content is more than pretty pictures. After all, Legrand needed something to replace its seven suitcases worth of product information, not supplement them. So the 3-D experience is bolstered with a collateral section comprising product brochures, spec sheets, white papers, case
studies, videos, and more, all accessible through the same touchscreen. It even contains a virtual data center complete with diagrams that illustrate how all the components in a network connect to one another. According to Yann Morvan, marketing manager for Legrand, that feature facilitates better discussions with clients and prospects because sales representatives can illustrate precisely how different products can be configured in a real-world environment – all with little more than a few finger swipes and some screen taps.
"Before, it was nearly impossible to demonstrate all the capabilities of a server cabinet and see how all the parts would work together," Morvan says. "But with the 3-D content and demos, users can see how their specific customizations affect things like air flow in the cabinet – an important consideration when the equipment is always on. They can then make adjustments on the fly to optimize everything from side-panel placement to the number of racks in the cabinet."
Another benefit to the 3-D content was apparent as soon as it was rolled out on the show floor: curb appeal. Unlike the Mighty Mo, which despite its girth tends to blend into the background given its black exterior, boxy shape, and complete lack of motion, the v-OSK begged to be played with.
"Attendees that would, in the past, walk right by our exhibit were now gravitating toward the interactive touchscreen to investigate it," Morvan says. "After they explored the products they were interested in, attendees often sought out booth staffers to ask questions and find out more. So in addition to looking cool, the content became the perfect conversation starter." It was the difference between a staffer saying, "Hey, watch me open and close the door on this giant black box," and "Hey, check out this completely interactive 3-D model and customize the exact server rack you need." That's a huge boon for brand awareness, especially since Legrand's competitors have yet to enter the third dimension. "We like to set the trend, not follow it," Morvan says. "As far as I know, no one else in our industry has moved to 3-D technology."
Mighty Mo on the Go
In addition to transforming its exhibit experience, Legrand wanted to change the way its salespeople operated in the field, and replace the cumbersome suitcases altogether. So it worked with Kaon to create a laptop-compatible version of the interactive 3-D content, allowing sales reps to replicate the in-booth experience at any location and any time without having to be connected to the Internet. "Prior to 2011, clients couldn't really see a server cabinet unless we had shipped one to a show or had invited them to visit a data center or our offices," Morvan says. "We changed that by making the entire demonstration mobile, and our sales reps and customers loved it."
It wasn't without its kinks, however. Though the 3-D content was packaged into a downloadable program, it couldn't be used on tablets and smartphones – a feature salespeople desperately wanted. Legrand and Kaon went back to the 3-D drawing board in early 2013, this time designing a native app – a free mobile app for iPads and iPhones that doesn't require an Internet connection to work. Called the Legrand Interactive Solutions App, the app contains photorealistic 3-D models of the Mighty Mo (and other Legrand products) that can be manipulated and explored in the same way as the v-OSK content.It also features animations that illustrate important product information and benefits, such as airflow optimization, scalability, flexibility, network performance, etc., all of which are accessible from the app's main menu.
Aside from the 3-D product models and animations, the app delivers on marketing collateral as well. "We looked at the amount of money spent on printing and mailing our product catalog each year, and it cost upwards of $150,000," Morvan says. "That's a huge expense. So we added all of our marketing pieces to the app." Users simply select the info they want from a list of options, the manner in which they want it delivered (it can be printed, emailed, shared via social media, and opened in a browser or other app such as Evernote), and voila, it appears. What's more, just like the v-OSK content, the app can be updated as Legrand adds new products.
A slick interactive app and 3-D product demonstration look cool, but at what cost? Though Legrand prefers not to release the price it paid for its 3-D suite of products, Morvan will share that the company recouped its costs by reducing shipping and drayage costs alone.
And that's not even the most impressive part. When it switched to 3-D interactive content in 2011, Legrand took the money it saved from shipping and drayage and reinvested it to add more shows to its calendar. The result? A whopping 106-percent increase in leads by the end of 2012. And while that increase has tapered slightly, Morvan expects the company's 2013 shows to generate more than 5,000 leads.
Furthermore, Legrand is currently updating its product catalog for 2014, and Morvan is considering significantly reducing the amount of collateral printed. Doing so could chop off thousands of dollars from Legrand's annual marketing expenses.
By switching from more traditional product demos to 3-D interactive content, Legrand not only increased leads, cut costs, and expanded its exhibit program, but it also created a cross-platform selling tool that has an unlimited shelf life.
The Dos and Don'ts of 3-D Demos
Before you ditch conventional product demonstrations, read the following tips to decide if 3-D is right for your program. 1. Determine Necessity. Certainly, 3-D technology isn't suited for every product demo. "There are several products for which 3-D makes the most sense, like products that are cost-prohibitive to ship to a show or those that are too small to be seen clearly by the naked eye," says Tommy Layman, art director at ExpoTechnik International Holding GmbH & Co. KG. 2. Make it Purposeful. Despite its bells and whistles, a 3-D demo still has to deliver the goods. "It's human nature to be attracted to flashy stuff," says John Moyik, president of DC Connect. "But if attendees don't get the purpose in the first few moments, or feel like they need a computer degree to operate it, they'll walk away." 3. Focus on Engagement. The whole point of exhibiting at trade shows is to experience face-to-face interaction. "Don't let 3-D demos take the place of engagement," Moyik says. "Interactive demos need to start the conversation, not be the conversation." 4. Consider the Costs. "Replacing physical products with 3-D models can significantly reduce shipping and drayage costs," says Gavin Finn, Ph.D., president and CEO of Kaon Interactive Inc. "However, it's wise to compare the upfront investment of building the 3-D digital assets to the expected savings before deciding to make the purchase."