PHOTOS: MG Design Associates Inc., Exposures Ltd. Photography
There is nothing quite as universally appealing as coffee. Whether it's taken black, with cream, over ice, with a shot of Bailey's, or any other number of ways, the caffeinated beverage has been discoloring teeth and mucking up breath for centuries – and we love every drop of it. According to a 2013 study by the National Coffee Association, 83 percent of the U.S. adult population drinks java, with 63 percent imbibing every day.
For better or worse, the sheer abundance of coffee has turned it into a commodity in the same category as toilet paper and skim milk. Still, from coffee carts to Starbucks gift cards, exhibit managers often employ the promise of liquid energy to entice attendees to their booths faster than a shot of espresso elicits jitters. That's great for consumers, but not so great for experience marketers.
While a cup of inexpensive coffee is a treat for tired attendees, it does little in terms of increasing awareness, changing brand perception, sharing key messages, or generating leads and ultimately sales.
Clearly, you need a much more immersive experience to accomplish those objectives, like the very coffee shops people patronize for hours on end networking, hanging out with friends, listening to music, and soaking up the ambience. In fact, it's the very idea of the "coffee shop" that has transformed the unassuming beverage into a full-bodied experience. After all, why stop at a gas station to pick up a 99-cent cup of Joe when you can linger in a comfortable environment, sipping on your $5 mocha latte and reading the newspaper?
But how do you recreate that relatively intimate coffee culture on a bustling trade show floor without coming off as disingenuous or gimmicky? Simply put, you have to go all in, which is what MG Design Associates Inc. did when it crafted The MuG exhibit and integrated program for EXHIBITORLIVE.
In the months leading up to EXHIBITORLIVE, an educational conference and trade show for exhibit and event marketers, the MG Design team had some ideas brewing for an integrated marketing program, but nothing really stuck. The Pleasant Prairie, WI-based exhibit house has a history of creating and executing award-winning campaigns for the annual show, and in fact had several components from previous years that it wanted to reuse for the 2015 build in order to showcase its rental inventory and ingenuity. In addition, it had to overcome a less-than-ideal booth space toward the back of the hall, meaning it not only needed to come up with a successful pre-show marketing initiative to drive traffic, but also had to make sure the exhibit was worth the trek for attendees. And that's when things started percolating.
"Our goal was to create a truly immersive experience that hadn't been seen on the show floor before," says Ben Olson, vice president of marketing at MG Design. "We started thinking about places that provide those types of experiences, and coffeehouses came to mind. They offer a number of parallels to what MG Design offers its clients. Ordering coffee is completely personalized to create a custom experience for the consumer. And that's exactly what we do."
But designers knew they had to create a coffeehouse on the show floor to be successful, complete with a neighborhood-hangout atmosphere, live music, and most importantly, subtle on-brand messaging at nearly every turn. "We wanted to create a place where meaningful conversations happened, and we could discuss strategy, innovation, and results," Olson says. That desire could be summed up in one phrase: "MG puts you at the center of everything we do." That tenet was further condensed to The MuG, the name given to MG Design's coffee-shop inspired exhibit.
Welcome to The MuG
MG Design Associates Inc.'s charming 20-by-30-foot booth for EXHIBITORLIVE was dubbed The MuG. Resembling a coffee shop complete with industrial-chic touches and infused with on-brand messaging throughout, the exhibit provided an immersive experience for attendees.
With plans for the exhibit in the works, the MG Design team developed a pre-show marketing campaign that would convince attendees to beeline to The MuG. The initiative comprised direct mail, eblasts, a microsite, and social-media posts, all geared toward spilling the beans about the ultimate coffeehouse experience.
First, MG Design sent dimensional mailers to 100 VIP prospects and clients that had registered for the show. The outside of the 2.5-by-5-inch box was covered in a crimson-red label featuring the MG Design logo and booth number, along with the text "What a great experience!" Inside, recipients discovered personalized invites to visit The MuG, along with small packages of ground coffee bearing labels that read "A Robust Blend of Services." The MG Design creative team included a pamphlet of exhibit photos, The MuG details, and key messages. Copy on one page touted the coffee experience: "Enjoy a great conversation over a great cup of coffee. Additional text explained that coffee service would be provided by Lemonjello's.
Second, MG Design launched a microsite (www.mgdesign.com/ex15) with a landing page containing all The MuG details as well as the company's booth number. It also featured the "What a Great Experience!" text and images from the VIP mailers. Other elements included a section promoting one of MG Design's own exhibit designers, Marc Schulte (who would be serving as resident coffeehouse musician); an online shopping area where attendees could order MG Design-branded coffee mugs, tumblers, and T-shirts; and a link for free exhibit-hall passes.
The purpose of the microsite was twofold: The company wanted to not only promote its presence at EXHIBITORLIVE, but also encourage at least five preregistered attendees to sign up for in-booth meetings with reps at the show. Therefore, the site boasted an appointment-scheduling service that allowed users to see all available slots and pick a time that worked best for them. As an added incentive, MG Design promised to reward those that scheduled meetings with $25 American Express gift cards when they showed up for their appointments.
Finally, to drive traffic to the site and spread the word about The MuG, MG Design included the microsite URL in its pre-show emails, which it sent to 856 recipients. The list comprised clients and prospects, leads from the previous year's show, and a smattering of preregistered attendees. The personalized eblasts contained copy promoting the Lemonjello's baristas, a giveaway to win a $500 American Express gift card, the meetings with MG Design account reps, and links to the complimentary exhibit-hall passes and appointment scheduler.
MG Design also handcrafted a social-media campaign to drench attendees in The MuG messaging. About three weeks prior to the show, the company posted invitations to visit The MuG on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the official EXHIBITORLIVE event app. For example, it tweeted, "MG Invites #EXHIBITOR LIVE attendees to visit The MuG [Booth 1837] for a great cup of coffee and a great experience." Another message read, "Schedule an appointment with an MG Associate for a chance to win at #EXHIBITORLIVE mgdesign.com/ex15."
What's more, MG Design devised a tool kit of sorts that it gave booth staffers to add a mom-and-pop-style authenticity to the social-media communication. The kit included on-brand messaging and tips for posting on social-media sites so staffers could get in on the conversation using their own Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and more to spread the MG Design love – without watering down The MuG's marketing potency.
To keep the buzz going, MG Design would employ the same social-media tactics while at the show, with its staffers posting daily photos and messages across all platforms, encouraging people to stop by The MuG for a latte on the house. It would also encourage people to post photos of themselves visiting The MuG, using the hashtag #mugmg.
Given the extensive pre-show marketing campaign, MG Design hoped attendees would be steeped in The MuG messaging. But as any exhibit marketer worth his or her cream and sugar knows, receiving a message is one thing; acting on it is quite another.
For added coffee-shop ambience, a musician (who also happened to be an MG Design employee) strummed away on his guitar and sang custom lyrics touting the company's various exhibit-design and -marketing services.
Brewed to Perfection
Brand ambassadors in red shirts invited attendees to The MuG, where two award-winning baristas from Lemonjello's Coffee in Holland, MI, served more than 600 cups of coffee.
When the show opened on March 2, attendees followed the aroma of freshly brewed coffee to the 20-by-30-foot exhibit, an industrial-chic structure that stood two stories tall. Looking as though it was ripped from the streets of Seattle and carted cross-country to the show floor at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, The MuG was an authentic coffeehouse, complete with quirky décor, space for lounging, and of course, a full-service coffee bar. Those carefully chosen touches impressed Sizzle Awards judges, one of whom said, "I expected a cheap-looking rendition of a coffee shop. But this booth was a café with a beautiful, authentic design."
Not surprisingly, that authenticity was achieved through extensive research. "Our designers visited numerous coffee shops and found that many cafés have an eclectic art collection that tells an origin story," Olson says. Fortunately for the designers, they had a veritable playground at their fingertips by way of the MG Design Attic (the name given to the company's inventory warehouse). "So we pulled together existing elements from the Design Attic that told our story," Olson says.
In addition to the decorative accessories, which included vintage-inspired suitcases, picture frames, clocks, and more, The MuG featured components sourced from MG Design's previous projects. For example, green slats from its 2010 EXHIBITORLIVE booth were mounted to an exterior wall, and accessories from the 2012 iteration were scattered throughout the space. The result was an oddly familiar booth that attendees couldn't resist exploring. Brand ambassadors clad in red branded T-shirts and positioned on one corner of the exhibit invited passersby into The MuG, breaking the ice with an offer of coffee. After placing their orders at the bar, interested guests could make their way to the nearby demonstration area. Here, MG Design staff used two 46-inch touchscreen monitors to flip through the firm's portfolio. The upper level of the exhibit contained a second set of touchscreen monitors for in-depth presentations with VIPs, along with lounge seating and conversation areas for prescheduled meetings.
While guests sipped their free cups of frothy goodness, they made their way to the entertainment area, where Schulte strummed a guitar and sang songs he wrote that reflected the company's character and key messages. The MuG also subtly conveyed the key messages communicated to attendees in the pre- and at-show marketing campaign via promotional-style posters near the performance area. From the exhibit design, décor, and custom tunes to the beverages crafted by award-winning baristas, one thing was clear: This was no bean there, done that, coffee-themed booth.
To keep the experience going even after attendees left The MuG, MG Design sent thank-you emails to visitors, and mailed care packages featuring branded mugs and coffee grounds to VIPs. It also sent The MG Coffee Table Book, containing beauty shots of The MuG and past projects, to members of the press.
Read all About It
VIP targets received pre- and post-show mailers that included branded mugs and packages of ground coffee, while journalists were sent high-gloss coffee-table books that featured full-bleed images of MG Design's projects, including The MuG.
Odds and Ends
Good to the Last Drop
Designers went "shopping" in the MG Design Attic to find items to furnish The MuG, pulling eclectic decorative accessories and other items from the firm's own inventory.
By the time the last Americano was served, baristas had doled out more than 600 cups of java. Indeed, the lure of coffee proved irresistible to attendees, helping the company surpass 2014 lead counts by 24 percent, and conduct 25 one-on-one meetings in the booth, all of which were arranged before the show using the online appointment scheduler. What's more, 64 percent of those clients and prospects that met with MG Design's account reps had projects currently in development and were actively looking for an exhibit house. In fact, reps fielded eight requests for proposals within just one month after the show.
The aforementioned results are undeniably due, at least in part, to the extensive pre- and at-show social-media campaign, which not only increased brand awareness but also helped raise the firm's Klout score (a figure that represents a user's social-media influence on a scale of 1 to 100). Prior to The MuG campaign, the MG Design had a Klout score of 37. But following the show, its score topped out at 56. The company attributes that jump to a nearly 100-percent increase in the total number of posts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Furthermore, MG Design arranged five interviews with members of the press during the trade show, generating extensive media coverage in industry news outlets. And to top it all off, four companies have expressed interest in renting The MuG for their own exhibit programs.
By crafting an unforgettable experience for attendees and infusing its booth with authenticity, MG Design successfully executed the perfect exhibit-marketing concoction – from the grounds up. E