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Knowledge is Power
Schneider Electric SA stages live learning events in Dallas and Washington, DC, to educate attendees about its vast product portfolio and challenges facing the energy market. The strategy generates more than 120 million media impressions and identifies more than 300 new business opportunities.
By Claire Walling, Photos by Event Work Photography & Schneider Electric SA
Company: Schneider Electric SA
Event: Xperience Efficiency 2013
Objectives: Increase brand awareness, educate attendees on issues facing the industry, and generate new business.
Strategy: Host two live learning events in the United States as a part of a global campaign.
Tactics: Engage and educate attendees through breakout sessions, an interactive marketplace, and high-profile keynote speakers; increase brand awareness with targeted advertisements and promotions.
Results: Amassed 120,732,481 total media impressions, attracted 1,875 attendees, and garnered more than 50 press mentions.
Creative Agencies: Dimensional Communications Inc., www.dimcom.com; MCI Group, www.mci-group.com; Weigand International
Production Agencies: Dimensional Communications Inc., www.dimcom.com; K2 Fabrication, www.k2fabrication.com
Budget: $2 – $4.9 million
elson Mandela once said "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." As Schneider Electric SA learned, education can also be a powerful tool for boosting sales and brand awareness.

The company is a global energy-infrastructure and -management provider. But poll a random person on the street about what the company does and you'll likely receive a shrug, despite the fact that it is among the top two players when it comes to group energy-management sales across 90 percent of the globe.

By 2013, then, Schneider was an industry giant, but even in the markets it served, many customers and prospects didn't realize that the company was essentially a one-stop shop from the utility pole to the outlet box. "Schneider has really grown the past few years, both through organic growth and acquisition, into an energy-management leader," says Martin Hanna, vice president of public relations, events, and internal communication at Schneider. "We've found that a lot of our customers don't understand all that we do and what we can do to help them." Thus, educating its clients, prospects, and end-users seemed like an appropriate way for Schneider to elevate its public profile.

On a global scale, that education-oriented solution would become known as Xperience Efficiency. Conceived as equal parts proprietary trade show, crash course, and motivational lecture, the multiday learning event would be deployed in eight locations around the world: Beijing; Bogota, Colombia; Dallas; Moscow; São Paulo, Brazil; Suzhou, China; Shenzhen, China; and Washington, DC. While each edition would share the same name, have a similar structure, and take place in June 2013, the individual events would be produced by regional teams and tweaked to suit their respective markets.

"The whole campaign was managed globally, and the U.S. piece fit into the global structure," Hanna says. Although all of the events would have a nearly identical look and feel, the Dallas and Washington versions would take on a slightly different twist in terms of their at-event experiences and creative applications of technology to showcase Schneider's products.

Big Company, Big Challenge
Schneider wasn't complacent with just emerging from its relative obscurity; it also wanted to position itself as a thought leader that can help customers overcome their energy challenges with solutions-oriented approaches and generate new business. Specifically, the company hoped to identify 100 new opportunities from each U.S. event. With a goal of generating $3 million in potential business, attracting 1,500 attendees at each event, and garnering 70 million media impressions, it was shooting for the moon.

To achieve those goals, the company would need to craft the event's agenda to be relevant to the diverse clientele that Schneider serves, from plant managers and electrical contractors to C-level executives. Thus, each event day included three learning-based components: keynote addresses, learning seminars, and a marketplace. Throughout each, Schneider would educate attendees on the challenges facing the industry, while weaving in its solutions and services.

Pre-event marketing efforts would be critical for Schneider to reach its desired target audience for Xperience Efficiency, but it also planned to use those efforts to kick-start an expanded brand-awareness campaign at the consumer level. To that end, Schneider would promote the events – and the company as a whole – through TV, print, and online advertisements, as well as guerilla-marketing tactics in both host cities. These activities would complement more targeted event promotions, which included direct mailers and email blasts.

But Schneider didn't hand down the directive for the Xperience Efficiency events in the United States and then abandon the initiative. Instead, it brought in Weigand International to act as a liaison between company headquarters in Rueil-Malmaison, France, the U.S. marketing team, event-marketing firm MCI Group, and domestic venues and suppliers. "There were a lot of companies working under the Schneider umbrella, a lot of cultural differences, and a lot of event requirements from the global team," says Sabine Weigand, principal at Weigand International. "The first order of business was to take everything they had done for the France event, and translate that for the American market."

Spreading the Word
For a company with stunted brand awareness, convincing energy-management professionals to devote precious business hours to attending Xperience Efficiency would prove to be a tall order. So with event dates set for June 4 – 6 and June 19 – 20 in Washington and Dallas, respectively, Schneider got to work. The company emailed every person in its internal database who resided within 50 miles of each venue, giving them an overview of the schedule, and following up with registration reminders. Sales representatives also personally invited key customers and prospects in both cities. In addition, Schneider utilized social media (mainly Facebook and Twitter) and an event microsite to encourage and streamline registration.

These tactics were perfect for segments of Schneider's target audience, such as electrical contractors who were eager to learn more about impending changes to the National Electric Code, but would likely not be potent enough to reach the highest echelon of decision makers. As an extra touch to raise the level of buying power in attendance, Schneider delivered event-promotion packages via courier to 1,000 executives, each containing a toy boomerang and an invitation to Xperience Efficiency. In the mailer was a note that read, "Inside this box lie what may be the only two things that provide an immediate return on your investment."

Schneider also put boots on the ground – or rather, trucks on the road – to promote Xperience Efficiency in Dallas and Washington. Four semitrailers equipped with giant monitors parked near high-traffic areas in each city, such as metro train stops and the National Mall in Washington and downtown Dallas. Passersby stopped to watch the continuously looping 30-second commercial playing on the trucks' screens, and at its conclusion were invited to tweet what they'd do with 30-percent energy savings. For each tweet using the #SchneiderXE hashtag, Schneider pledged to donate $1 to Habitat for Humanity.

These consumer-marketing efforts may have been unprecedented for an industry that's about as sexy as granny panties, but the real home run was when Schneider sponsored a Nationals (Washington) and Rangers (Dallas) baseball game two weeks before the respective city's edition of Xperience Efficiency. The sponsorship included a 30-second commercial that aired on the stadiums' screens during the game, signage in each ballpark, tabletop displays in common areas, and branded hand-held fans as giveaways – a gesture appreciated by sports enthusiasts in the summer heat. In addition to the city-specific stunts, Schneider also launched a national TV, print, and online ad campaign via media outlets such as Bloomberg, CNN, "Forbes," The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal that framed the company as a sustainability leader. With brand recognition elevated and attendees registered for Xperience Efficiency, Schneider geared up for its educational events.

Testing a Theory
After much preparation, international wrangling, and pre-event marketing, Schneider descended upon the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center (the Washington venue), and two weeks later on the InterContinental Hotel in Dallas. The U.S. version of Xperience Efficiency may have deviated from the international script, but events in Dallas and Washington exhibited cookie-cutter sameness. Each event was three days long, but the schedule was structured such that attendees could devote only a few hours or a full day to attending without compromising the learning experience.

Each day started with breakfast and registration, where attendees were given a 28-page guide that outlined the event agenda. The beginning and end of every day were punctuated by an hour-long keynote about some facet of energy policy. Each venue, day, and time slot offered different speakers, but the sessions were headlined by the likes of former Governor of Virginia George Allen (for the Washington event) and former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (for the Dallas event). The high-profile speakers who gave keynote addresses generated a significant amount of buzz, but the meat and potatoes of Schneider's education strategy were its 45-minute seminars. Each day, five sessions were available in four different tracks: Technology & Innovation, Systems & Solutions, Energy & Sustainability Services, and Market & Trends. Seminar tracks were geared toward diverging industry sectors, but attendees were free to pick and choose based on their interests.

During breaks, unscheduled session blocks, and the nightly reception, Schneider invited attendees to explore its 10,000-square-foot proprietary trade show dubbed the marketplace, which more closely resembled a mock city than a trade show floor, and had 16 distinct areas showcasing the breadth and depth of Schneider's solutions. Every Xperience Efficiency event, domestic or otherwise, included a marketplace, but Dallas and Washington were unique in their integration of a digital interface that Schneider called the Personal Digital Experience, developed with the help of Mahwah, NJ-based Dimensional Communications Inc.

In the marketplace lobby, attendees could register for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) badges that they would use to swipe at product-area kiosks once on the show floor. Schneider pitched the use of RFID badges as a way to achieve individualized experiences. That's where the Personal Digital Experience moniker came into play, according to Jason Askew, Schneider Electric's event solutions and operations manager. So to incentivize participation, Schneider assigned points for different digital activities throughout the marketplace, such as downloading product literature or completing a quiz, and kept score of attendees' points on a leader board in the event lobby. At the end of each day, attendees atop the leader board could select prizes – such as an iPad Mini, Sonos speakers, and an Amazon gift card – out of a locked display case in the marketplace, and the grand-prize winner from each city received an all-expense-paid vacation to the Paris Marathon, of which Schneider is a title sponsor.

While some attendees were playing for points, others explored the various facets of the marketplace motivated by genuine discovery. Each of the 16 product areas within the marketplace featured a kiosk and offered a digital activity, but the experiences varied – keeping attendees on their toes, and moving from area to area. For instance, the kiosk next to Schneider's custom hybrid motorcycle featured a game where players were tasked with "building" the bike by dragging and placing parts as fast as they could. Other activities were as involved as taking a quiz or as simple as downloading product literature. "In the United States, what set us apart was how we used more digital tools – gamification, digital lead capture, downloadable collateral – really creating a digital step up on our competitors and also showing our core audience that we're comfortable with these technologies," Askew says.

The education-from-all-angles approach worked, and attendees left Xperience Efficiency, whether they attended for a few hours or a few days, with a newfound appreciation for the vastness of Schneider's product portfolio. "I know we surprised our customers because the most common phrase in our feedback was 'I didn't know that Schneider did all of these things,'" Hanna says.

Learning Assessment
Brand awareness and education were top priorities for Schneider, but identifying future business opportunities wasn't far behind. The Dallas and Washington events generated more than 300 new opportunities, which exceeded Schneider's goal of 200 by more than 50 percent. Those opportunities totaled more than $225 million (eclipsing its $3 million-per-event goal). Moreover, the company had racked up more than 120 million media impressions – surpassing its goal of 70 million – a figure that would surely help resolve its brand-awareness woes. Schneider earned its share of free media exposure as well, including more than 50 press mentions during and following the U.S. events. As for the tweet-for-a-dollar pledge, Schneider counted more than 1,200 tweets using its #SchneiderXE hashtag, and rounded up that figure significantly for a $5,000 donation to Habitat for Humanity.

Education wasn't the only element that contributed to Schneider's success. Superior event execution was critical, and that attention to detail did not go unnoticed by Corporate Event Awards judges. "The strategy was exceptional throughout," one judge said. "They had everything dialed in."

Admittedly, Schneider didn't meet all of its goals for Xperience Efficiency in the United States. Total attendance figures for both events only reached 1,875 customers and prospects (short of its goal of 1,500 per event). The silver lining, however, was the qualitative impact that the events had on brand awareness in their respective regions. "Anecdotally, our sales teams have said that the recognition of Schneider is much greater in those cities now than it ever has been," Hanna says.

If education is a powerful tool for bringing about global change, then Schneider proved it can be a potent weapon to exterminate sub-par brand awareness. And that's something that others in the energy industry can learn from as well.

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