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As the channel marketing manager for Jabra Corp., Jeff Duchesne is responsible for online and print communications, in-store activities, online campaigns and events, product launches, and exhibit-marketing strategies and tactics. Prior to joining Jabra, Duchesne acted as a senior marketing coordinator at Metro PCS Wireless Inc.
etours are funny things. While they sometimes mean you're stuck driving on a crappy road and arriving at your final destination behind schedule (and maybe even behind a piece of colossal, turtle-paced farm equipment), they can also bring you pleasant, unexpected rewards. A winding side road might actually lead through gorgeous countryside. Or a godforsaken gravel road could take you past a quaint little produce stand selling picked-this-morning fruit.

Indeed, detours can be both dreaded, hellish experiences and memorable outings that make you wonder why you don't "detour" more often. But what's even more curious, perhaps, is that the difference between bad detours and good ones is often a matter of how you perceive the experience, and how you choose to proceed when faced with an unexpected turn in the road.

Jeff Duchesne tends to make the most out of his detours. As the channel-marketing manager for Jabra Corp., a Nashua, NH-based provider of hands-free communication products, he faced a program-paralyzing detour heading into the International CTIA Wireless 2011 show (hosted by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association). While Jabra charged Duchesne with creating awareness for the company's newest product at this key industry show, management suddenly changed course a couple of months before it opened and reallocated the bulk of his budget to other marketing channels. Thus, although Duchesne's goals remained the same, his booth-space budget evaporated, which meant Jabra would be exhibiting (in the loosest sense of the word) at CTIA Wireless without a booth.

Granted, Duchesne wasn't thrilled with this major course correction, and he bottomed out on some nasty potholes along the way. But in the end, he successfully navigated a new route around this roadblock - devising a marketing plan that allowed him to pick up a 125-percent increase in leads and a stellar 120-percent uptick in product demos along the way.

Rough Road Ahead
The asphalt on Duchesne's highway to hell was laid down starting in late 2010. At a rather unfortunate intersection, Jabra management simultaneously finalized plans to launch a wireless speakerphone while it also began moving away from trade shows and toward other marketing channels.

In May 2011, Jabra - which is a division of GN Netcom (a subsidiary of Denmark-based GN Store Nord A/S) - planned to launch the Freeway, a hands-free speakerphone that uses a voice-controlled app, i.e., Voice Assist, to execute commands. While the product can be used in or out of a vehicle, it was specifically designed to facilitate hands-free, in-vehicle conversations. It works like this: You attach a Freeway (a flat, electronic device about the size of a Blackberry) to a stationary object in your car. Then you synch up the device with your Bluetooth-enabled phone. Paired together, the Freeway and the Voice Assist app allow you to text, e-mail, tweet, and post to Facebook, as well as make, answer, end, and reject calls - all without ever taking your hands off your steering wheel. The sound from said conversations, including incoming-caller announcements, emits from the Freeway's speakers.

While the Freeway wouldn't be sold in North America until May 2011, Jabra hoped to introduce the product and generate anticipation for its release starting in March of that year. Given the timing, Jabra felt the perfect place to announce the product was at CTIA Wireless, held March 22 to 24 in Orlando, FL. The show's attendees, who included mobile-phone and phone-related product dealers, distributors, retailers, developers, etc., were also the ideal group not only to test drive the product but also to spread the word about the new wireless techno bauble.

Jabra hoped attendees could experience the Freeway in action and sample its superior sound quality - preferably via a buzz-inducing activity that would extend product awareness far beyond the show. And given consumers' overarching perception that speakerphones and wireless devices can be difficult to use, Jabra wanted to demo the product's ease of use to a traffic jam of attendees. So a hands-on, this-is-how-it-works and this-is-how-it-sounds product demo was a must.

This laundry list of objectives, then, was handed down to Duchesne around the middle of 2010. But about that same time, management started shifting gears. Jabra typically exhibited at a handful of major industry trade shows such as the International Consumer Electronics Show and CTIA Wireless, and participated in various Pepcom events, i.e., hospitality events that introduce businesses and the press to the newest tech wonders. "But in 2010, the company began taking a close look at our trade show results versus our costs, and at the needs of our customers, which for my division includes everyone from Best Buy to authorized dealers for Verizon and AT&T," Duchesne says. "Management determined that our clients want us to promote our products while also driving customers to their stores."

In effect, Jabra realized success for the company was less about finding new B2B customers and more about helping existing customers sell more products, ultimately increasing Jabra's sales. "So the company felt that traditional booths didn't work nearly as well for us anymore, and management decided to shift our exhibit-marketing dollars over to tactics directly aimed at the needs of existing customers," Duchesne says.

By the time CTIA 2011 rolled around, Duchesne's exhibiting budget had shrunk by 75 percent compared to 2009 figures. That meant no exhibit and zero pre-show promotion aside from relatively free social-media tactics. Nevertheless, Duchesne's marching orders remained the same: Announce and demonstrate a product amid 1,000 exhibitors and 40,000 attendees.

Carpooling, Duchesne Style
Not unlike the motorist who spots a "Detour" sign, Duchesne was a bit peeved by the last-minute change of plans. In fact, taking the next exit off this corporate highway looked like a pretty good option. Nevertheless, he quickly adjusted his route and his attitude, and created a plan.

"I realized that I needed some help to devise and execute a solution," Duchesne says. "Our marketing team comprises three people including myself, and we knew we didn't have enough bandwidth to handle this major wrinkle along with the rest of our normal responsibilities. Plus, if we wanted any kind of on-floor presence, we needed to find some other exhibitors at the show that would allow us to piggyback on their exhibiting plans and in essence allow us to share their space. Otherwise, we'd be suitcasing at one of the industry's most important shows - and making a bad impression is worse than making none at all."

In fact, Duchesne admits that he knew he would be walking a fine line with show management. But based on his knowledge of the show and the fact that purchasing a space of his own was simply out of the question, he decided to take the risk, gracefully totter along that fine line, and hope for the best. "I was betting on the fact that sharing another paying exhibitor's booth space wouldn't be a problem at a show of this size and that Jabra's relatively well-known status would help management cut us some slack. And luckily for me, I ultimately won that bet, as management never said anything to us about our shared-booth-space strategy."

Duchesne also placed a bet on Wedu Inc., an advertising and marketing firm that Jabra had worked with in the past. To assist with some of the creative and logistical tasks associated with whatever plan he ultimately settled on, Duchesne asked Wedu to accompany him on what was, at least at the time, a long road to nowhere.

While Wedu began brainstorming, Duchesne tackled the giant orange detour sign staring him in the face, reading: "No Booth Ahead." Luckily for Duchesne, Jabra maintains tight relationships with its channel partners, i.e., companies that distribute Jabra's products or somehow have a symbiotic business relationship with the company. Duchesne, then, decided that the only way for Jabra to "exhibit" at CTIA was to work with some of its partners, ultimately hijacking a bit of booth space from them - and no doubt testing the bonds of those relationships.

"I extended a sort of plea for help via e-mail to a handful of our channel partners that were exhibiting at CTIA, asking if we could use a small portion of their booth space to create some kind of presence," Duchesne says. "Of course, at that time, I wasn't sure what that presence would be, but I told them we'd have a highly professional experience that wouldn't detract from or interfere with their own exhibiting plans - and that we might even draw traffic to their booths. In addition, I promised that we'd share our leads with them after the show."

Despite baby-carrot-sized incentives, Duchesne's offer won over three companies - Superior Communications, a wireless-product and -services distributor with a 30-by-30-foot exhibit; Offwire, a cell-phone-accessories distributor using a 20-by-40-foot booth; and Voice Assist Inc. The latter exhibitor sells the Voice Assist application that is bundled with the Freeway, meaning consumers receive a free one-year subscription to the app (a $59 value) when they purchase a Freeway. Thus, this company in particular was a perfect match for a Jabra-related promotion, and in fact, it already planned to promote its app in connection with the Freeway, which would be mounted inside a vehicle in its 10-by-20-foot exhibit.

Voice Assist also agreed to shoot videos of Freeway-related testimonials for Jabra in the exhibit, and Offwire offered Duchesne the use of a 42-inch monitor on which he could play a looping video promoting the Freeway in its booth. And all three exhibitors committed to including mention of Jabra's in-booth presence in their pre-show e-mail promotions to CTIA attendees.

Having bypassed the booth-space debacle, Duchesne teamed up with Wedu to figure out what, exactly, Jabra would do with its newfound exhibit spaces. "While Jabra had a presence in three different booths, the total space available to the company was miniscule," says Bill Max, Wedu's director of business development. "Thus, not only did we have to create a compact, compelling activity, but also it had to launch a product, create buzz, include a demo, and offer an identical experience for attendees at three separate booths scattered across the show floor. Oh, and whatever we did had to be highly professional, so as not to tarnish the channel partners' brands."

Problems With Highway Patrol
Despite the seemingly insurmountable roadblocks, Duchesne and Max soon settled on an ingenious strategy they called the Jabra Freeway Get Out of Jail Free promotion. The concept hinged on three "street teams," each comprising three female models dressed as law-enforcement officers. One team would be stationed at each exhibit, where they would be part of a combination traffic-builder/product-demo activity. The crux of the idea was to use people - as opposed to expensive graphics, high-tech presentations, or even product displays - to relay Jabra's messages. That way, the attendee/staffer interaction would be highly personal, and hopefully memorable, and it would take up as little space as possible in the three booths. Plus, the humorous manner in which the three young ladies would deliver the product info would no doubt be marketing magic strong enough to lure attendees in like weary travelers to a roadside rest stop.


But before Duchesne could pull that rabbit out of his hat, he first had to carefully select some models. "Many exhibitors hire models to simply invite people into the booth, distribute collateral or branded premiums, and thank people for visiting," Duchesne says. "We needed models that were far more than a pretty face. They would be the entire face of Jabra at this critical show since we wouldn't be bringing any of our own staffers. These
models, then, would be demonstrating our new product to the masses. So they needed to be visually striking, but more importantly, they had to be technologically savvy and able to talk about our products extensively. In essence, they had to be trained product specialists who would effectively interact with attendees."

To that end, the company launched a one-month model-acquisition plan, including an exhaustive screening process and three rounds of interviews. "Using a staffing agency as well as our own talent-search services, we generated a sizeable list of candidates," Max says. "After a three-round interview process, which involved role playing, conflict-resolution queries, and simulated product test drives, Jabra selected nine models. But they still had to go through an intensive two-day training process to bring them up to speed on what they'd be doing at the show. Jabra even sent them their very own Freeways to use for about a week prior to the show to ensure they knew how to synch up the product and could speak intelligently about its operation and benefits."

With three exhibitors sharing their space and nine models with equal helpings of looks and brains ready to hit the road, it was time for Duchesne to drive his new promotional strategy onto the trade show floor.

Moving Violations
While some CTIA attendees had gotten wind of Jabra's promotion via the three exhibitors' pre-show e-mail blasts and Jabra's Tweets and Facebook posts - which directed people to the three exhibits and hinted at the possibility of winning a Freeway of their own - most people first encountered the Jabra brand on the show floor at one of the three booths. Approaching from the aisle, attendees spotted three attractive women dressed in police-officer costumes, including blue shorts and tops, black belts, and black knee-high boots. Brandishing a pair of faux handcuffs attached to a loop on their shorts, each of the women also sported a faux police badge on the front of her shirt and a giant Jabra logo across the back.

As each attendee neared the booth, one "officer" stepped forward, eyed the visitor warily, and started making checkmarks on a pad of paper. She then dramatically ripped off the sheet of paper and handed it to the attendee, saying something like, "You've been under show-floor surveillance for a while now. We've confirmed that you're guilty of a serious talk crime, so I've issued you a citation."

The officer then handed the attendee an official-looking "ticket," which included the Jabra logo across the top and the words "Violation: Improper Use of Hands." A citation number, and the location and date appeared above additional text: "You've been caught committing a serious Talk Crime. Without correction, this could lead to other deviant behavior. This citation is your first warning."

A list of nine talk crimes followed, one or more of which had been checked by the officer. Each crime was meant to represent an action that could be avoided simply by using the hands-free Freeway device. For example, one crime was "Unsafe texting while walking," while another was "Inappropriate device touching."

"The tongue-in-cheek citation immediately separated this activity from the countless other sales pitches on the show floor," Max says. "It instantly created interest with attendees and hooked them into the rest of the promotion."

After the attendee reviewed his or her citation, another officer explained, "Normally, you'd be arrested for this offense, but if you'll watch a short video about how you can avoid such crimes in the future, we'll be happy to let you off this time." She then showed the attendee an iPad loaded with a video that explained Freeway's benefits. But instead of just allowing the iPad to take center stage, Jabra synchronized the iPad to a Freeway, which was strapped to the same officer's arm. So the sound from the presentation actually played through the Freeway, rather than through an iPad speaker. Thus, while the attendee watched the video, he or she was participating in a product demonstration, learning about the product's ease of use, and experiencing the Freeway's sound quality firsthand.

Following the video, the third officer explained that attendees could become eligible to win a Freeway of their own if they allowed her to take their "mug shots" and later visited and "liked" Jabra's Facebook page. "Eager to get their hands on a Freeway, most attendees we asked allowed us to take their photo," Duchesne says.

After each photo was taken, Jabra digitally enhanced it to make it look like the attendee was behind bars. Photos also included the Jabra and CTIA logos, along with the text "Freeway 'Winning.'" (While clearly past its prime today, Charlie Sheen's "winning" slogan was cutting edge in March 2011, and Duchesne thought it was a clever catchphrase to capture attendees' attention at the time.) Jabra uploaded the photos in real time to its Facebook page, where CTIA attendees could "like" the page and retrieve their photos.

Every day of the show, Jabra posed a question related to one of the Freeway's key benefits on its Facebook page. For example, Jabra posted, "How many speakers does the new Freeway have?" The first person to correctly answer the question (which in this case was "three") received a complimentary Freeway.

During the picture-taking process, the officer scanned each attendee's badge to capture lead info. She also pointed out that the back of the citation contained the URL to the company's Facebook page as well as images of and benefit statements about the Freeway. And with that, the offender was free to go - or to stick around and ask more questions or maybe even venture into one of the channel partners' booths.

Caution: Wide Load of Results
Simultaneously carried out at three different booths at CTIA, the Jabra Freeway Get Out of Jail Free promotion captivated both attendees and All-Star Awards judges. "Facing a common problem in the industry, i.e., reduced budgets, Duchesne was able to sidestep the issue with a clever combination of technology, social media, and creativity," one judge said. "Jabra ended up with three customer-interaction areas in three different areas of the show. Now that's ingenious!"

While the acreage of those three activation areas was pitiful compared to the square footage of an average CTIA Wireless booth, Jabra made the most of every square inch, collecting 3,300 leads during the three-day show, a 125-percent increase over its 2010 results. Plus, more than 4,200 people posed for photos, which was an astounding 280 percent over the company's goal of 1,500. Voice Assist also collected 35 Freeway-related testimonials - little nuggets of gold that weren't originally part of Duchesne's goals and which have since been put to use in several marketing- and sales-related initiatives.

But since the main goal of Jabra's program was to announce the Freeway and demo it to this key audience of consumers and influencers, perhaps the program's best measure of success is the number of demos offered. All told, the officers gave more than 4,250 iPad-based demos, a 120-percent increase over the number of product demos offered for a similar Jabra product at CTIA 2010.

"Originally, I thought every booth babe was just a cheesy tactic to lure men into the booth," one All-Star judge said. "But this program showed that with careful selection and training, models might demo your products better than your own sales reps."

After the show ended, Duchesne extended the promotion with another Facebook-related giveaway - which was ultimately a tactic to increase Jabra's Facebook "likes" and awareness for the product and the company as a whole. Roughly two weeks post show, he sent an e-mail to Jabra's CTIA leads reminding them to visit the company's Facebook page and download their CTIA photos. The e-mail also explained that they could enter to win a set of four Freeways for their family if they "liked" the company's Facebook page. Roughly a month after the e-mail went out, Jabra randomly selected one of its CTIA-related "friends" as the recipient of four complimentary Freeways.

Given the at- and post-show Facebook traffic, Duchesne estimates that the company scored a whopping 565,000 Facebook views as a result of the campaign. It also increased the number of Facebook "likes" by 64 percent compared to pre-CTIA numbers.

While those stats are certainly impressive results for the average exhibitor, they're astounding and definitely award worthy for someone who didn't even have a booth. Despite the last-minute detour that could have thrown his whole program in the ditch, and stuffed his career into a culvert, Duchesne approached this alternate route with a positive attitude and some ingenious marketing - ultimately turning what seemed like a dead-end path into a yellow-brick road paved with sales leads. E

Linda Armstrong, senior writer; larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com

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