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PHOTOs: gilson graphics
Deli Meet
To support a shift in corporate positioning, Gilson Graphics uses a submarine-style sandwich as a metaphor for the company and a symbolic image for its integrated program at GlobalShop. The tactic stacks up 137 percent more leads than the previous year. By Linda Armstrong
Exhibitor: Gilson Graphics
Creative/Production: Gilson Graphics, Grand Rapids, MI, 616-459-4539, www.gilsongraphics.com
Production: Exhibit Design Consultants, Grand Rapids, MI, 616-940-9955, www.exhibit-design.com
Show: GlobalShop, 2014
Budget: $10,000 – $24,000
Devise a memorable creative concept that communicates the company's nine service offerings.
Grow leads by 25 percent over 2013 show results.
Set three prescheduled meetings per salesperson, with each averaging 10 minutes.
Secure three major quote opportunities after the show.
Developed a sandwich metaphor and related messaging for its website, marketing collateral, and GlobalShop exhibit experience.
Increased leads by 137 percent over 2013.
Held three meetings per salesperson, with each averaging 15 minutes.
Obtained seven major quote opportunities within one week of the show.
iversification can be a big boon for business. Just ask the folks at Samsung Group. While the brand is best known for its consumer-electronics products, the firm's various companies also build ships, produce petrochemicals, manufacture biopharmaceutical products, and even operate a theme park in Korea. And based on its earnings reports, this jack of all trades is the master of many.

Gilson Graphics has also diversified as of late. The 60-year-old company in Grand Rapids, MI, started as a commercial printing firm, but over the last 20 years, it has acquired multiple businesses and expanded its offerings. In fact, by late 2013, it had rebranded itself as an integrated-marketing and printing firm with nine major service specialties. "Gilson currently delivers everything from strategy and creative services up front through back-end distribution – such as print, website development, and packaging," says Brian Augustyn, Gilson's director of marketing and design. "So we now position ourselves as a provider of front-to-back marketing solutions."

Not surprisingly, Gilson's diversification has fattened up the bottom line. But with a plump pocketbook came a few unexpected complications. Chief among them was the fact that when Gilson started pitching its then new soup-to-nuts platform in early 2013, customers and prospects thought they could only buy the full-meal deal. "During initial meetings many people couldn't visualize how our services would work for their specific situations," Augustyn says."If they already had a creative team and a mailing firm, for example, they figured they didn't need our front-to-back solution. Our challenge was getting people to understand that while some customers will order the works, others can pick and choose from our menu of services to create a made-to-order marketing solution."

So while Gilson was pondering this positioning predicament, its marketing team began gearing up for GlobalShop 2014, which would draw upwards of 10,000 retail-merchandising professionals to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, March 18 – 20. Even though Gilson had exhibited at GlobalShop since 2011, this would be its first foray as an integrated-marketing firm.

Although Gilson had experienced a fair amount of success at GlobalShop in the past, it wanted to ratchet up exhibit effectiveness in terms of leads and sales meetings in 2014. "Along with the positioning change, we hoped to create something that would generate a lot of buzz, but that would also remain memorable long after the show," says Kim Hasenbank, Gilson's marketing manager. "Plus, we wanted a smooth, subtle way to open booth conversations and then segue into a discussion about attendees' needs. From beginning to end, our communication had to be personal so we could better understand their needs and show them how we could meet them. And the only way to walk the walk and prove to attendees that we could provide end-to-end solutions was to create every aspect of our strategy in-house."

Given this tall order, Hasenbank and Augustyn enlisted the company's internal creative team for a brainstorming session. Initially team members discarded ideas left and right, like a quality-assurance technician in a General Motors Co. parts plant. Ultimately, however, they identified the perfect metaphor: a sandwich – or more precisely, a sub-style stacker whose you-choose-'em ingredients would represent Gilson's customization capabilities.

"An image of a fresh, tasty sandwich would certainly catch merchandisers' eyes at GlobalShop and in various marketing pieces for the company as a whole," Augustyn says. "And it would be a conversation starter in the booth. But more importantly, the sandwich was the ideal metaphor for our new positioning. Like a sandwich, every marketing program is unique, and each company uses different ingredients and various preparation methods to create it. Gilson helps people build their marketing 'sandwich' using our nine ingredients. Customers can choose a dab of this or slather on lots of that, and we then assemble the finished product however they choose. In the end, everyone is satisfied."

"The images and messages people saw in the booth,
on the mailers, and
on our website were
almost identical,
which would help
generate memora-
bility and drive
home our nine-
point service
Pre-Show Sliders
Gilson's satisfying – not to mention Sizzle Award-winning – strategy started with a four-part pre-show marketing blitz. The first projectile was a mailer distributed to 1,000 visual-merchandising professionals and print- and creative-services buyers roughly four weeks before the show. By this time Gilson's creative team had fleshed out the sandwich metaphor and redesigned not only its website but also various pieces of literature to reflect the new positioning. Thus, the 9-by-4-inch, die-cut mailer featured an image of a sub sandwich on the front. And since it was housed in a clear (rather than opaque) No. 10 envelope, it drew recipients' eyes like foodies to a Trader Joe's.

Popping open the Z-fold mailer (printed using Gilson's technology), recipients discovered personalized messaging. Text promoted the company's nine service offerings and GlobalShop presence, while directing recipients to visit their own personalized URL (aka PURL) and request "chips" to go with the sandwich. Each PURL spoke to both GlobalShop attendees and those not attending the 2014 show. "Most registration lists – like the one we purchased from show management – comprise addresses from the past show's attendees, which means that not everyone on the list will attend the current show," Hasenbank says. "So our messaging addressed both audiences." At their PURL, all recipients could request snack chips, but show attendees could also reserve a $5 casino chip (or two $5 chips if they scheduled an in-booth meeting). The PURL instructed people to visit Gilson's booth to pick up their casino chips.

Meanwhile, the snack chips for all PURL visitors were housed in an 8-by-10.5-by-1.5-inch box that looked like a brown-cardboard lunchbox. Its exterior featured the recipient's name and mailing address, along with the Gilson logo and a circular seal with the message "Hundreds of combinations ... Always made to order!" Additional text targeted each type of recipient, either inviting him or her to the booth (for attendees) or simply encouraging the recipient to learn more about Gilson (for nonattendees).

Inside the kit, recipients found a bag of snack chips and what appeared to be a sandwich tucked into a Gilson-branded paper sleeve. Upon further inspection, however, the sandwich was actually 11 pieces of die-cut paper, which had been printed, cut, and assembled (by Gilson of course) to resemble a sandwich. Between two pieces of what looked like wheat bread, ingredients included: lettuce, cheddar cheese, turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, bacon, tomatoes, onions, and pickles. On the back of each of these nine cards, attendees discovered Gilson's logo and URL, along with a description of one of the firm's nine services. For example, the following text appeared on the back of the card with the bacon image: "Large Format – Direct to substrate printing, CNC routering capabilities, custom indoor and outdoor pieces, rapid prototyping."

The service-related text was accompanied by a symbolic icon, which also corresponded to navigation tools on the company's newly designed website. For instance, a flag icon represented Gilson's large-format capabilities, and a shopping cart signified fulfillment services. "Everything was crafted so that all images and icons remained consistent throughout the campaign," Hasenbank says. "The images and messages people saw in the booth, on the mailers, and on our website were almost identical, which would help generate memorability and drive home our nine-point service message."

Two weeks before GlobalShop, Gilson doled out its third mailer – a 9-by-6-inch sandwich-themed piece enclosed in a clear envelope for easy ogling – to only those people from the original list of 1,000 that hadn't visited their PURL to request chips. This die-cut, Z-fold piece, which featured Gilson's variable-data printing and spot UV-coating techniques, included information on Gilson, an explanation of how to request chips (both casino and snack), messages such as "All the fixings for the perfect marketing recipe," and a sandwich image seemingly speared with nine tiny flags, each one of which bore the name and icon for one of the firm's services.

To encourage attendees to schedule meetings with its sales staff, the last element in Gilson's pre-show campaign was an email blast sent roughly one week before the show that targeted people who'd already reserved a casino chip. Each personalized missive, which was sent from a Gilson sales rep via an automated system, invited the recipient to schedule an in-booth meeting in order to double the chip value waiting for them at the exhibit. "Since this message came from a salesperson's email rather than a generic company address, recipients could reply directly to a real human," Augustyn says. "So even though this was automated, the tactic fostered personal connections long before GlobalShop even started."

Holy Hoagie
That personal connection continued on the trade show floor, where Gilson's sandwich-themed exhibit generated curiosity and buttered the wheels of communication between attendees and staff. Primed by the ubiquitous sandwich images on the pre-show mailers, attendees couldn't help but recognize the 19-by-6-foot sandwich graphics that comprised the back wall of the company's 10-by-20-foot in-line exhibit.

Punctuated by LED lighting, the wall also offered the Gilson name and logo across the top with the authentic – not to mention mouth-watering – sandwich image underneath. Nine orange flags protruding from the top of the sandwich graphics each sported a different service icon. Attached to a rented aluminum-extrusion frame from Grand Rapids-based Exhibit Design Consultants, the graphics comprised Falconboard, Coroplast, Sintra, and Ultraboard, and demonstrated Gilson's ability to create signage and point-of-purchase displays out of a variety of substrates – a key point of interest for many retailers.

Meanwhile, the front-left corner of the space offered a freestanding menu board with white text on a blackboard-like surface. On one side, the words "Choose Your Ingredients" ran across the top and a list of Gilson's services appeared underneath. Text on the back promoted the casino-chip giveaway and added, "Ask us about our Secret Recipe! We're serving up fresh retail marketing solutions every day, all across the country! Let us whip up something special just for you!"

More often than not, the back-wall graphics and menu board were enough to stop attendees in their tracks. "If people had received mailers, they usually paused to comment on the campaign and request their casino chip," Hasenbank says. "But even those that hadn't seen a mailer stopped to eye the graphics with a quizzical look. This was the perfect opening for sales reps to say something like, 'Hi! We're an integrated-marketing company, and just like when you pick the toppings for your sandwich, we tailor our nine services to your needs.'" Bam! Gilson's marketing message was delivered.

"Throughout all
aspects of this
campaign, we used
our own creative
and services to craft
each one, which
ultimately demon-
strated our offerings
in a tangible way.
Paired with the
metaphor, the
strategy helped to
jumpstart campaign

For attendees who wanted to learn more and those that had reserved a casino chip, staff swooped in and moved the conversation to a desk on the front-right corner of the space. Prior to the show, Gilson reproduced the same sandwich from the lunchbox (featuring die-cut ingredients with service descriptions), but printed it on 0.25-inch acrylic to create an in-booth conversation tool. "Salespeople laid out the sandwich pieces in front of attendees and asked them which ingredients represented their unique needs," Augustyn says. "They then explained how we can tailor our services to meet their requirements and helped them assemble a sandwich with the proper ingredients. The tangible talking point gave attendees and staff a visual representation of the metaphor and created a memorable, one-on-one experience."

Next, staffers scanned each attendee's badge and gave him or her a casino chip. "Even if they hadn't reserved one prior to the show, we gave them one in exchange for their time and a badge scan," Hasenbank says. Staff also distributed two pieces of collateral to qualified attendees. One was a tri-fold "takeout menu" describing Gilson's nine services, and the second was a brown paper bag with the same paper sandwich found in the lunchbox.

Spot on with the company's integrated campaign, the giveaway was a hit with attendees and judges alike. "Gilson's takeaway sandwich was a memorable, one-of-a-kind giveaway," judges said. "This one tidy package, whose clever design would have kept it out of most garbage cans, gave attendees a visual aid to recall Gilson's nine services after the show. And, if they visited the company's website, which contained the same sandwich image and service icons, they'd immediately make the connection between the company and the booth."

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
Following the show, Gilson continued to support attendee connections with two post-show mailers. The first was a 6.25-by-6.25-inch, Z-fold thank-you card, which was personalized based on lead-qualifying information captured via badge scan. For example, if scan data indicated the attendee should be contacted within two to three weeks, the mailer (which was signed by a specific sales rep) read, "I'll follow up with you the week of ..." and included a specific date. The mailer also reminded people of Gilson's nine services, and a bold header proclaiming "Hundreds of combinations ... always made to order!" appeared above the main thank-you text.

Finally, Gilson wrapped up its campaign with a lunchbox sent to any booth visitor who hadn't already received it, i.e., those who didn't visit a PURL but had their badge scanned in the booth. Once again, personalized communication in the mailer demonstrated Gilson's capabilities.

"Throughout all aspects of this campaign, we used our own creative and services to craft each one, which ultimately demonstrated our offerings in a tangible way," Augustyn says. "Paired with the sandwich metaphor, the strategy helped to jumpstart campaign effectiveness."

That jumpstart, then, seemed to have a profound effect on Gilson's leads, which stacked up taller than a Dagwood. While the company hoped to increase leads by 25 percent over its 2013 show, leads actually leapt a whopping 137 percent. The company also tasked each salesperson with setting 10-minute meetings with three key accounts. Not only did reps hit that mark, but also these key attendees stayed for upwards of 15 minutes each.

In addition, Gilson wanted to secure three major quote opportunities after the show. That may not sound like much, but according to Hasenbank, "If Gilson gets someone to the quote stage, they've already decided we're a potential fit for their business, and past experience shows that it's very likely they will make a purchase." In reality, then, Gilson actually scored seven quote opportunities within one week of GlobalShop – exceeding its pre-show goal by 133 percent.

So for Gilson, diversification might have included a few hiccups straight out of the gate. But thanks to an ingenious metaphor and a tightly integrated campaign focused on attendees' needs, the company crafted what judges called "A simply delicious little campaign that was spot on in terms of creative and execution."

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