The phrase "As Seen on TV" conjures mental images of Chia Pets and Shake Weights. But Vernon Hills, IL-based CDW LLC took a little "As Seen on TV" inspiration and turned it into a multiyear event series that fostered face time with nearly 17,000 of its clients and prospects. However, instead of ShamWows and Snuggies, CDW needed to hawk its integrated information-technology solutions.
In 2012, Ogilvy & Mather Chicago, CDW's advertising agency, developed a commercial featuring Charles Barkley that aired during basketball season. In the ad, a fictional company, Gordon & Taylor, won at everything – except basketball. The company's team was so bad, in fact, that it needed a "ringer," and that's where Barkley came in. Gordon & Taylor gave the star athlete a job in its IT department so he could play on its team. While it seems unlikely that Barkley would be suited for an IT position, that was the point: CDW wanted to convey that its products make IT easy. Barkley soon became a fixture in CDW's ads, including a humorous 30-second spot in which a Gordon & Taylor staff meeting takes place inside a mobile office. Though the ads offered entertainment value, they didn't do enough to resonate with CDW's target and drive home key messages.
Just as the commercials had their limitations, so too did CDW's existing event-marketing campaign. The IT firm has a long track record of using events to reach its target audience, and averages about 10,000 events annually. In the past, those events were mostly trade shows and various tech-industry functions. But CDW realized IT decision makers were absent from those events. What's more, long sales cycles coupled with rapidly evolving technology meant that product education could become obsolete by the time a purchasing decision was made. So Neal Campbell, CDW's chief marketing officer and senior vice president, sought an immersive marketing strategy that would reach that important target audience. And, as luck would have it, his inspiration came directly from Gordon & Taylor's office on wheels: CDW would bring the fictional mobile office to life, take it directly to IT decision makers, and use it to demonstrate the breadth and depth of CDW's various capabilities.
CDW LLC's annual March Madness ad campaign featured a fictional company and its star employee – Charles Barkley. Taking place in various settings, the ads told the story of Gordon & Taylor, a firm that gave Barkley a job as an IT expert so he could play on its basketball team.
Move That Bus
In order for the campaign to hit the road, CDW needed a vehicle that would attract attention. Campbell had heard of Burbank, CA-based West Coast Customs Inc. through the TV shows that made it a household name, and thought the shop would be the perfect partner for making the fictional office on wheels a reality.
Christened the Technoliner, the bus would carry the latest technology and serve as an interactive showroom. Furthermore, the vehicle's exterior would look nearly as cool as the cutting-edge hardware that would be housed inside.
CDW and West Coast Customs derived inspiration from the Futureliners of the '40s and '50s. In those decades, General Motors Co. built 12 red and silver buses that traversed the United States for the company's World Progress Tour. In that same vein, the Technoliner would bear an identical crimson paint job (which happens to match CDW's corporate hue), have its front end overhauled to resemble buses of a bygone era, and be adorned with retro-inspired chrome trim. West Coast Customs acquired a 2008 Motor Coach Industries International Inc. bus, stripped the 48-foot-long monstrosity down to its framing, and got to work rebuilding it as the ultimate IT vehicle.
While the exterior of the Technoliner paid homage to the General Motors Co. Futureliners of the '40s and '50s, the interior of the bus was packed with 21st-century technology. The Technoliner showcased Cisco StadiumVision, which had never before been installed on a vehicle.
Mapping the Customer Journey
Midway through the planning process, CDW brought in another partner for the Technoliner Tour to coordinate on-the-ground event logistics: Norcross, GA-based Next Marketing. While tentative tour plans were already in the works, CDW and Next Marketing cemented the itinerary and planned the activations for each event site.
Since the campaign had spun out of TV ads starring Charles Barkley, and because CDW had a history of launching its ad campaigns to coincide with March Madness, Next Marketing decided the Technoliner should make its debut at the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four weekend. The event was a natural fit because it lent a face-to-face element to CDW's annual media-based March Madness marketing campaign, and aligned with the company's history of sports sponsorships and activations, including its reign as the official technology provider for the PGA Tour.
From its March Madness debut, the Technoliner would crisscross North America, stopping at a variety of public and private events. But the bus would serve different functions depending on the type of event. At football games and golf tournaments, for example, the vehicle would be a hospitality suite, complete with built-in grills, gaming consoles, and more. During office visits, the Technoliner would facilitate hands-on demos for targeted clients and prospects. And at trade shows and other events e.g., Adobe Max, VMworld, and Cisco Live), the bus would be a veritable lead-generation magnet.
The West Coast Customs Inc. crew completed the Technoliner just in time for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of its California headquarters before the bus's debut in Atlanta.
Still, taking the Technoliner directly to clients' and prospects' backyards wasn't enough to ensure they'd take the time to step inside. So to ensure that the IT pros trekked to the stadium sites during sporting events, CDW worked with original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners, including tech-industry heavyweights Cisco Systems Inc., Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and VMWare Inc. CDW tapped the OEMs' marketing databases as well as its own database to establish a list of clients and prospects to invite via eblasts. And with that, the tour was ready to roll.
Basketball legend Charles Barkley not only starred in the ads that inspired the Technoliner tour, but also attended some of the events.
Tech on Tour
After a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Charles Barkley outside West Coast Customs' California headquarters, a team of drivers navigated the Technoliner to Atlanta for the tour's debut on April 6, 2013, at the NCAA Final Four weekend. IT professionals flocked to the crimson-red bus parked in front of the stadium, and discovered that the Technoliner wasn't just a data center on wheels; it was also the ultimate tailgating venue.
On one side of the bus was Cisco StadiumVision, a state-of-the-art system that aggregates video streams and allows guests to view them in high definition on their personal mobile devices. That same video coverage was also displayed on a wall comprising six Planar HX-60 displays that covered the right side of the bus. The opposing side of the Technoliner held two Microsoft Xbox 360 consoles and accompanying 55-inch Samsung flatscreen monitors – perfect for a round of "Call of Duty" during halftime. And the bus had a rolling 802.11 Wi-Fi hotspot, fed by a 4G connection.
In addition to stopping at sporting events, the Technoliner made appearances at trade shows and industry events where it took the place of traditional exhibitry.
CDW ensured that there was plenty of food to go along with the fun and games as well. The menu varied from stop to stop since CDW and Next Marketing worked with local caterers, but fare included everything from pizzas to carrot cake and beer to root-beer floats. Much of the cuisine was prepared on board, courtesy of a full-size grill, pizza oven, and draft beer dispenser built right into the bus.
All of the partying outside the Technoliner didn't negate the business focus inside. IT pros signed up for tour times, when a CDW staffer would take them through the space. As they stepped aboard, visitors saw two server racks encased in glass on either side of an aisle. A third, virtual server rack called a V-Osk allowed staffers to digitally demonstrate larger components that couldn't fit or be powered on the bus.
While stadium stops and client visits were the bread and butter of the Technoliner Tour, the bus became CDW's exhibit and de facto lead magnet at information-technology shows and various industry functions.
Using one of four iPads, CDW reps delved into the firm's Explore IT Solutions learning app to compare product specifications and create a "digital white board" to plan infrastructure upgrades. After each stop, tour participants received emails outlining their personalized configurations, providing an important post-event touchpoint and plan of attack.
Because the Technoliner was so successful in 2013, CDW decided to keep it rolling through 2014. "The beauty of the Technoliner events is that they evolve and adapt to the situation at hand," Duffy says. Some of those adaptations have included a photo activity, where guests could pose as if they were driving the bus, and a social-media feed on monitors around the bus for its stop at the 2014 Final Four weekend. Those changes have helped keep the campaign rolling for more than two years and 52,000 miles.
At Technoliner tailgating events, CDW encouraged attendees to relax, play games, and grab a bite to eat.
Miles, Smiles, and Sales
Since its 2013 debut, the Technoliner has racked up some impressive statistics. The vehicle stopped at 31 events and hosted more than 9,340 IT professionals. The following year, CDW staged another 28 events with a total attendance figure upwards of 7,100. The bus continues to log miles on North American highways, and has appeared at 65 events and counting, hosting more than 16,900 guests to date.
The data center on wheels also meant that the company could reach clients and prospects in more places. For instance, in 2014, the first full year that the Technoliner was on the road, the bus stopped at seven trade shows and tech-industry conferences, eight sporting events, 10 open houses, and a handful of other locales. Corporate Event Awards judges lauded the tour's ability to reach the people who use its products every day. "CDW had a killer travel schedule, and that allowed the firm to have one-on-one engagement with more than 9,000 IT pros in its first year alone," one judge said. "That's huge for the tech industry."
Staffers took guests on group tours of the Technoliner, but also made time for one-on-one conversations about their information-technology needs.
All of that's well and good, of course, but did the Technoliner drive sales? In 2013, sales in CDW's IT Solutions division rose by 10 percent, nearly twice the predicted increase of 5.7 percent. The bus-in-a-booth approach has also increased lead generation at industry events. For instance, CDW collected 119 leads at Cisco Live and 180 leads at VMworld in 2012. In 2013, the company left those events with lead counts of 2,910 and 3,352, respectively.
What's more, a brand-perception study conducted internally found that compared to a control group, those who had toured the Technoliner were 13.3 percent more likely to tout CDW as "a leading national IT solutions provider." Those attendees accounted for 95 percent more revenue, 87 percent more profit, and 75 percent more orders than the control group. Plus, Fox Sports aired an episode of West Coast Customs featuring the production of the Technoliner on July 14, 2013, generating additional exposure for the campaign.
In the end, CDW took what was originally a 30-second commercial and turned it into a multiyear road show that extended the company's reach, attracted thousands of decision makers, and drove sales and lead generation faster than a speeding Futureliner. It just goes to show, sometimes "As Seen on TV" is less of a scarlet letter and more of a road map to success. E
The Technoliner hopscotched across North America during its two-plus years on the road, stopping at stadiums, client offices, and tech-industry events.