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Ingredients for Engagement
Kelly Noonan transforms a dine-and-dash scenario into an educational tasting tour at the Institute of Food Technologists show. In doing so, she helps food-ingredient manufacturer Tate & Lyle PLC increase leads by nearly 400 percent in the program's first year. By Claire Walling
Kelly Noonan, brings more than 10 years of professional marketing, mobile marketing, and trade show experience to her current position as regional marketing support manager at Tate & Lyle PLC, a global food-ingredient company.
Taking over an exhibiting program isn't easy. When Kelly Noonan joined food-ingredient giant Tate & Lyle PLC as its regional marketing support manager for North America in 2010, the company's exhibit at the Institute of Food Technologists show had fallen victim to a few too many cooks in the kitchen. "We were showing 13 different foods in the booth, and because we split our focus in so many different directions, our message became muddled, and we weren't able to communicate who we were and what we had to offer in a clear and effective way," Noonan says.

In years past, Tate & Lyle simply splayed out samples containing nearly every one of its products. According to Noonan, internal discord had thwarted any attempts at paring down the sampling menu to feature a handful of key ingredients, so the company brought its entire pantry to IFT. Staffers stood guard over the aisle-side buffet and were available to answer questions, but were rarely proactive about initiating conversation with attendees. "Our strategy was very passive – 'cracker on a napkin' is what I called it. Even worse, it almost encouraged a sort of grab-and-go interaction with attendees, which provided little to no opportunity to engage with and educate clients and prospects." Instead of working the aisles, Tate & Lyle hoped that its oodles of samples would do the heavy lifting and draw qualified attendees to the exhibit. And while the platters and serving dishes may have been empty at the end of each show, Tate & Lyle didn't exactly have a stack of leads to show for its efforts.

Noonan realized that she had to devise a new strategy, but before she could implement sweeping changes, she needed to take a step back and see what was and wasn't working. So for the 2012 edition of IFT, her first at the helm of Tate & Lyle's trade show program, she took careful note of where exhibiting efforts were hitting the mark, and where they were falling woefully short of expectations. Armed with those observations, Noonan enlisted Live Marketing Inc., a Chicago-based experiential-marketing firm, to help her adjust Tate & Lyle's exhibiting recipe.

Noonan wanted to revamp Tate & Lyle's "cracker on a napkin" strategy into an immersive, engaging, educational experience.
Crafting the Recipe
Almost immediately, Noonan knew exactly what was missing: education and engagement. "This is a very interactive audience. They're used to sampling, being approached, and initiating conversation with exhibitors," says Anne Trompeter, principal and chief creative strategist at Live Marketing. Moreover, attendees had been clamoring to not just taste Tate & Lyle's products, but also learn more about their unique properties and nutritional characteristics. And any new trade show strategy would need to address that issue as well.

That strategy, Noonan and Trompeter determined, included a revamped approach to booth staffing. Noonan wanted to foster meaningful interactions with attendees the moment they stepped in the booth, as well as deliver consistent, on-point education that paired perfectly with the firm's products. The in-house product experts who staffed the company's previous exhibits could talk for hours about the technical specifications of Tate & Lyle's sucralose or starch ingredients, but they stuttered when they tried to interact with attendees who walked up to grab a sample of gelato. Rather than reform internal staffers' personalities, however, Noonan enlisted professional staffers to complement the strong suits of Tate & Lyle staffers.

To further ensure that attendees wouldn't dine and dash, Noonan moved the sampling stations from the booth perimeter to the interior. To taste the samples, attendees would have to go through a qualification process facilitated by crowd gatherers and take a guided tour led by a professional presenter. During the culinary journey, attendees would learn the ins and outs of Tate & Lyle's featured products – and snack on samples. After the tour, qualified prospects would be invited to a VIP area for conversations with senior Tate & Lyle reps. This staffing shuffle would free up internal sales staff and product experts for in-depth discussions, instead of wasting precious show-floor minutes talking with dead leads just looking for free snacks.

A Winning Recipe
Kelly Noonan, regional marketing support manager for North America at Tate & Lyle PLC, searched for a strategy that would rejuvenate her company's passive presence at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists Expo.
Even the sample menu would undergo some revisions. Noonan pared down the spread from 13-plus foods to five. Only one or two ingredients from each category – sweeteners, starches, and fiber and protein supplements – would be included on the menu. Instead of having attendees taste sweeteners and leaving it up to them to discern the subtle differences, Tate & Lyle would feature ingredients that best represented its entire portfolio, and education would be tailored to these select products.

Part of Noonan's strategy also called for brushing up internal staffers' booth skills. Thus, Noonan invited staff-training experts from Live Marketing to conduct a pair of two-hour training sessions, wherein they would teach industry best practices, icebreaking techniques, and strategies for working with the professional staffers. Tate & Lyle employees at remote offices around the world would join the session via a live-streamed Webcast.

Prep Work
To make sure there wouldn't be any last-minute shenanigans related to her exhibiting about-face, Noonan secured buy-in early and in writing. A one-page document, referred to internally as the project charter, outlined objectives, stakeholders, deliverables, and risks associated with the new IFT plan.

Noonan also formed a core team that included representatives from each of the stakeholder departments: culinary, applications, tech services, product management, marketing, and sales. Representatives from Live Marketing and Renze Display Inc., Tate & Lyle's exhibit house, rounded out the pool of decision makers. In addition to outlining who was responsible for making decisions about the IFT exhibit, the project charter also set in stone what products would be featured and served, eliminating the unfocused feeding frenzy that had occurred when Tate & Lyle's entire product portfolio was splayed out on a sampling counter.

Only attendees who received earbuds could hear the presenter, which prevented him from having to loudly project his voice and disrupting in-booth activities.
Pre-Show Appetizers
To engage attendees before they even arrived in Chicago for the show, Noonan initiated a two-pronged approach. A few weeks before IFT, Tate & Lyle mailed preregistered attendees 5.5-by-8.5-inch postcards, which included personalized URLs (PURLs).

Recipients who visited their personalized landing pages were presented with an overview of the featured ingredients at IFT. A brief survey asked visitors about their job functions, as well as their companies' industry sectors and product interests. The last two questions asked attendees if they'd like to meet with a Tate & Lyle rep during or immediately after IFT, and if so, how they would like to be contacted for followup.

"We wanted to learn as much as possible from attendees, while making it a personalized interaction," Noonan says. "Because of the pre-show campaign, we understood what visitors wanted to learn prior to the show, and were able to set up meetings based on their individual interests." Thus, Tate & Lyle would arrive at IFT with a full slate of prescheduled one-on-one meetings.

Tate & Lyle served gourmet foods crafted with the company's featured ingredients.
The Main Course
Attendees flocked to Tate & Lyle's 40-by-50-foot booth expecting to dine and dash on a barrage of bite-sized samples, but they found an educational experience instead. Three crowd gatherers greeted attendees at the edge of the aisle and invited them to participate in a tasting tour. Participants were then outfitted with earbuds and a receiver, and were invited to fill out a lead form detailing their company's products and upcoming food-ingredient needs. Staffers were looking for attendees who not only possessed decision-making authority, but also had definitive buying plans related to a food prototype their company was developing. Individuals who met both criteria were identified as VIPs and had a blue sticker affixed to their index cards, while others were given a yellow sticker.

After a brief musical overture, a presenter equipped with a headset stepped onto a platform. He began the presentation by introducing himself and Tate & Lyle, but only attendees who were wearing the earbuds could hear his message. "It was a very busy booth, and there were intense conversations happening every moment of every day," Trompeter says. "So we didn't want to interrupt business that was being conducted."

Once introductions had been completed, he launched into a two- to three-minute spiel about the company and what its family of food ingredients could offer attendees. After the orientation at the outskirts of the exhibit, the group of roughly a dozen attendees penetrated the booth to where a buffet of samples (truffle-oil-flavored popcorn, twice-baked fruit-and-nut crackers, and mojito mocktails) was waiting. As the tour approached each station, the presenter introduced the product group and explained how the company's ingredients enhanced the flavor, texture, or nutritional content of the dish. Then, he invited attendees to taste the difference.

Tate & Lyle sent postcards to preregistered attendees that included a personalized URL (PURL) that directed them to a custom landing page. The pre-show campaign let attendees schedule in-booth meetings and gave company reps insight into what attendees were most interested in learning about at the show.
At the conclusion of the 10-minute tour, Tate & Lyle staffers sifted through attendees to identify the color sticker each person had on their index card. Those with yellow dots were thanked for their time, while attendees who had blue dots on their cards were invited into a VIP room for a product-focused meeting with company reps.

The cordoned-off space had posh accoutrements and its own menu of culinary-inspired samples. "We educated everyone on our products, but in the VIP room we were able to have intimate conversations," Noonan says. "That space afforded us the opportunity to listen to customers about what their pain points were and how we could best follow up with them."

Compliments to the Chef
The final results proved that the new strategy worked. Tate & Lyle racked up 337 percent more leads than it had at IFT 2012. And according to Noonan, that would not have been possible without the auxiliary staffers.

"Our salespeople weren't wasting time with conversations that weren't going anywhere," she says. Those anecdotes – and the results to back them up – convinced once-skeptical execs that they had landed on the perfect recipe for engaging with the IFT audience.

"We educated everyone on our products, but in the VIP room we were able to have in-timate conversations. That space afforded us the opportunity to listen to customers about what their pain points were and how we could best follow up with them."
That increase in leads prompted Noonan and the other stakeholders to deploy the revised strategy for IFT 2014 as well. The challenge, however, would be in getting attendees – many of whom visited the booth the previous year – excited to learn more about Tate & Lyle. So Noonan initiated a number of changes, including eliminating earbuds for the tour, making adjustments to the number of crowd gatherers and the booth's traffic flow, and employing a multimedia display to attract attention from the aisle. Despite the tweaks, the core principle remained: Educate booth visitors and free up internal staffers for high-level conversations. The program was resurrected a third time for IFT 2015, with more subtle tweaks.

Sweet Success
Noonan has continued to refine her strategy – and has even modified certain components for smaller shows. All-Star Awards judges took notice, and praised Noonan for her ability to recognize what wasn't working and make changes accordingly. "Kelly took a bite out of the dine-and-dash approach by providing on-point engagement," one judge said. "And as a byproduct of that, her success reads like a menu at your favorite restaurant."
The Taste of Victory
Noonan's continual tweaks have bolstered the success of the IFT exhibiting program, including a 337-percent increase in leads in its first year.
Those continual tweaks have clearly worked. At IFT 2013, Tate & Lyle increased leads by 337 percent over the previous year's lead count, educated 400 food-industry professionals about its products via booth tours, and hosted 94 VIP meetings. It was also ranked by attendees as the second-most remembered booth at the show – up from its 12th-place ranking the previous year.

At the 2014 edition of the show, year-over-year lead counts shot up an additional 48 percent, while 696 attendees partook in a booth tour. Moreover, Tate & Lyle clinched the title of Most Remembered Booth, as ranked by attendees in a post-show survey. Most recently, at IFT 2015, the company recorded another 10-percent uptick in leads, along with 885 booth tours and 109 VIP sessions.

Noonan added a pinch of engagement and a dash of education without completely doing away with the sample buffet that IFT attendees crave. And in doing so, she developed an exhibit-marketing recipe that Tate & Lyle can continue to savor for years to come. E

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