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sizzle awards
Exhibitor: Precision Dynamics Corp.
Creative/ Production: Precision Dynamics Corp., San Fernando, CA, 818-897-1111, www.pdcorp.com
Production: Print Runner, Chatsworth, CA, 888-774-6889, www.printrunner.com
Show: Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference, 2009
Budget: $2,200
 Educate attendees about Smart Band Wristbands / PDC Smart Kiosks.
 Secure 5 percent more leads than the 2008 show.
 Attract more than 60 attendees to the booth.
 Lured 80 attendees to the exhibit during the show.
 Educated attendees and dispelled myths about the technology's risks via a pre-show mailer and in-booth demos.
 Secured 5 percent more leads than the previous year, despite a 28-percent drop in show attendance.

n exhibiting and in life, sometimes a back-to-basics approach outshines even the newest high-tech wizardry. At least that was the case for Precision Dynamics Corp. (PDC), a provider of identification products for the health-care, hospitality, and law-enforcement industries.

To educate attendees about its offerings and lure them to its exhibit at the 2009 Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference (HITEC), the San Fernando, CA-based company bypassed newfangled exhibit-marketing tactics, such as virtual-reality simulators, 3-D presentations, and social-media strategies. Instead, it opted for what some might call old-fashioned promotional tactics - direct mail, a sweepstakes, and in-booth demonstrations - to help exceed the company's lead goals, educate attendees about its products, and earn a 2010 Sizzle Award to boot.

From Bands to Bandwidth

PDC's back-to-basics strategy, however, was born of some rather complex challenges. The company, which today touts more than 600 employees in six countries, actually started in a Burbank, CA, garage in 1956. Here, three investors along with 22-year-old co-founder Walter W. Mosher, an engineering student at the University of California Los Angeles, began cranking out single-piece, plastic, identification wristbands (which, for the first time in history, required no tools for assembly) for the health-care industry.

Now, more than 50 years later, the company still makes everything from simple ID wristbands (think branded, color-coded bands to indicate who's of legal drinking age at festivals, for example) to bar-coded bands (such as those used to gain admittance to concerts or amusement parks). But in comparison, one of its latest products, the Smart Band Wristband and the accompanying PDC Smart Kiosk, seems more apropos for Captain Kirk than the average citizen - and therein lies the rub.

The Smart Band, which looks like a traditional snap-closure wristband but is enabled with RFID technology, is embedded with a tiny antenna and microchip, the combination of which is slightly larger than a postage stamp. Each chip is programmed with a unique 16-character code. When a band is passed within a couple of inches of an RFID reader, the reader accesses data on the wristband.

Precision Dynamics Corp. employed a "first-you-learn, then-you-earn" strategy that meant before attendees could check to see if they'd won the iPhone, they had to participate in a five-step demo that educated them about the Smart Band/Smart Kiosk technology.

Step 1
Staffers walked attendees to a Smart Kiosk and showed them how to load money onto their wristbands using a dummy credit card PDC had rigged up. Staffers also demonstrated how to check the bands' account balance and review purchase history.

Step 2
Next up was the retail-store demo. Here staffers showed attendees how to select an item they'd like to purchase, and illustrated how to place their wristband in front of the band reader to complete their purchase.

Step 3
To show how the wristbands could be used with locker-equipped facilities such as water parks, staffers showed attendees a locker-rental demo, where they positioned their bands in front of a reader-equipped locker to gain access.

Step 4
Similar to the other four demos, the hotel-room demonstration also included a reader, but this one was customized within a door handle/lock combination.

Step 5
After visiting all of the demo stations, attendees moved on to the final reader-equipped station. Attendees placed their wristbands in front of the reader and a small screen revealed whether they'd won the iPhone.
For the hospitality industry in general and HITEC attendees in particular, the Smart Band has endless applications. Take a water park, for example. A park can issue a Smart Band to all visitors, who then visit a Smart Kiosk to load their bands with "money," using cash, or credit or debit cards. Once the wristbands have money loaded on them, visitors can use them to purchase goods or services. For example, to purchase a hot dog and soda from a vendor, the visitor would pass his or her wristband within inches of a reader, which would subtract the total cost from the wristband's balance. Later, the visitor could return to a Smart Kiosk to check his or her balance, reload the band with additional funds, and/or view past purchases.

The wristband can even be coded for use as a hotel-room key or for locker rental, requiring only a swipe of the band near a special type of reader to grant access. In effect, the wristband creates a cash-free point of sale, allowing those wearing the device to purchase at will, without the hassle of carrying cash or credit cards. And according to PDC, this cash-free purchasing scenario prompts band wearers to spend as much as 25 percent more than those not wearing a wristband.

So while PDC's color-coded and bar-coded wristband systems can be explained in a glance, its new Smart Band/Smart Kiosk option takes considerably more explanation. And despite the fact that companies such as the Great Wolf Lodge, Schlitterbahn Waterparks U.S.A., and Silverleaf Resorts Inc. adopted the Smart Band/Smart Kiosk technology starting as early as 2005, most hospitality-industry companies still don't understand how it works, and simply put, many are leery of this "cutting-edge gadget."

The ABCs of RFID

"Granted, we're ultimately looking for leads and sales, but our main marketing goal is to educate people about the technology and what it can do for them," says Breanne Fontes, PDC's marcom specialist. "But at the same time we need to dispel the myths associated with it. Many people fear that the wristbands will somehow leak information into the wrong hands. In reality, however, the bands don't hold personal information - they just hold a dollar value once they're loaded - and in order to access that information, the wristband must be placed within an inch or two of the reader, making it almost impossible for someone to steal value from the bands without the wearers' knowledge. Plus, outside of the premises that issues it, the band has no value."

So going into the 2009 HITEC show, which attracts company representatives from endless hospitality-related industries including cruise lines, casinos, resorts, hotels, amusement parks, etc., Fontes knew she needed not only to attract attendees to her booth to learn about the Smart Band/Smart Kiosk technology, but also to provide them with a hands-on activity that would alleviate their fears and demonstrate the product's ease of use.

Luckily, the demo part of the problem was already covered. "We'd already pretty much mastered the demo, as our 10-by-20-foot exhibit had a Smart Kiosk to load the bands with money, and stations to show people how to use the bands at simulated vendors and with hotel-door and locker-rental situations. We knew how to demo the product successfully; we just had to get people to the booth."

Plus, for the 2009 show, PDC wanted to up the ante. "We wanted to drive enough traffic to the booth to increase leads by 5 percent compared to our 2008 results," Fontes says. "That sounds like a small feat, but considering the fact that show attendance was expected to be down at least 25 percent, and we had a poor location at the back of the hall, we set a pretty high bar."

To tackle these challenges, Fontes got out her old-reliable bag of exhibit-marketing tricks, reached in, and pulled out two favorites: direct mail and an in-booth sweepstakes. "I knew that with the right incentive for the sweepstakes - ultimately an iPhone - and an effective, well-designed direct-mail piece pointing people to the booth for the drawing, we could meet or exceed our lead goals without breaking the bank."

Tried but True

Comprising nothing more than a clear envelope, a Smart Band, and an 8.5-by-11-inch leaflet, the direct mailer may have been basic, but according to Sizzle Awards judges, it was "clever," "effective," and "audience savvy" as well.

The enclosed white wristband, which was branded with PDC's logo and booth number in the company's corporate blue hue, featured a clear-plastic window of sorts on the back, allowing recipients to see the flat, tiny RFID chip and antenna within. Each wristband also featured blue text that read, "Win an Apple iPhone at HITEC 2009." In clear view through the transparent packaging, the wristband piqued recipients' curiosity, no doubt forcing them to pop open the mailer and peruse its contents.

Recipients also found the four-page leaflet enclosed. Text on the leaflet's exterior explained that attendees should bring their wristband to PDC's exhibit for their chance to win an iPhone. What attendees didn't know until they entered the booth was that one of the 873 wristbands PDC sent to preregistered attendees had been programmed with a special winning code. When read by an in-booth kiosk, this single band would reveal that its recipient had won the iPhone.

The interior of the leaflet, however, was what ultimately caught judges' eyes. The two-page spread offered a Los Angeles Times article about PDC titled, "It's all in the wristband: High-tech straps have become the key to amusement parks." Coincidentally published just a couple of weeks before the show, the article offered an overview of the company as well as a thorough explanation of the wristband technology as it specifically applies to the hospitality industry. And as you might expect, it offered an unintentional, third-party endorsement of PDC's Smart Band/Smart Kiosk technology.

"With the addition of the LA Times article, the leaflet was a credible piece of evidence showing that not only are well-known companies using the technology, but there are sound reasons why others can benefit from it as well," judges said. "Plus, it seemed to put some of attendees' concerns to rest by discrediting many of the misgivings they had about the technology."

High Tech at HITEC

Driven to the booth by the lure of an iPhone, attendees arrived at PDC's 10-by-20-foot inline exhibit eager to learn how to win the prize. Housing little more than a branded back wall with minimal text, the footprint included a front-and-center reception desk and five stations. As wristband recipients approached the reception desk, a staffer eagerly explained that the bands were actually their sweepstakes tickets, but they had to participate in a Smart Band/Smart Kiosk demonstration first. This "first-you-learn, then-you-earn" strategy ensured that attendees not only understood the technology, but that staffers addressed their concerns right on the spot.

Once wristband recipients checked in, staffers walked them through a five-step process. "First, we brought them to the Smart Kiosk and showed them how to load money onto their wristband using a dummy credit card we'd rigged up," Fontes says. "We showed them how to check their account balance and review purchase history. Then we took them to a retail-store demo, and showed them how to make purchases using their wristbands and a reader.
Next was the locker demo, where people used their wrist bands to purchase locker rental, just as they might at a water park. And finally, we showed them how to use the wristbands as hotel keys with a demo featuring a door handle and lock equipped with a reader. And throughout all of the demos, we pointed out how safe and risk free the technology was, continually dispelling the myths."

After visiting all of the demo stations, staffers scanned each attendee's badge and led him or her to a final reader, whose screen revealed whether the attendee had won the coveted iPhone. (Booth visitors without a wristband weren't eligible for the iPhone, so they skipped this station.)

While the bearer of the winning wristband never visited the exhibit, more than enough bands were returned to make PDC's back-to-basics strategy a huge success. "Since 40 of our 80 booth visitors brought their wristbands (a 4.7-return rate on the mailer), 50 percent of our traffic can be attributed to the mailer," Fontes says. "And despite what was actually a 28-percent drop in show attendance and a poor place in the hall, we still managed to increase our leads by 5 percent compared to the previous year." What's more, those visitors each spent roughly eight to 10 minutes in the exhibit, learning about the technology.

Plus, at least in PDC's eyes, the mailer's price was a pittance. "At a cost of $2,200, including the leaflets, wristbands, clear envelopes, and postage, we only spent $55 per person getting those 40 attendees to our booth," Fontes says. "And if only one of those 40 people turns into a customer, we've recouped our costs 100 fold."

Some people might think a direct mailer, a sweepstakes, and a series of in-booth demonstrations are about as cutting edge as a dial-up connection. But for Precision Dynamics, these time-tested strategies and a near-flawless execution proved that sometimes basic really is better. In this case, seemingly same-old strategies delivered some same-old serious results. E

Linda Armstrong, senior writer; larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com

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