Change is never easy. But according to British journalist Katharine Whitehorn, "The winds of change blow most freely through an open mind." So when the marketing team at Property Solutions International Inc., led by the director of marketing Coby Rich, found itself neck deep in a make-or-break evolution in early 2015, Rich and his colleagues battened down the hatches and tried to stay open-minded.
Founded in Lehi, UT, in 2003, Property Solutions offers property management software for the condo and apartment industry. Primarily used by management firms responsible for 20,000 to 400,000 units, the software facilitates everything from marketing and management to utility-billing and rent-payment processing. The firm's initial suite of products was impressive, but its founders quickly began work on a comprehensive offering that would roll all its tools into one platform. Ultimately named Entrata, a name taken from the Italian word for "open" or "portal," the platform went through years of development and alpha testing before moving into beta testing around 2012, at which time a limited number of property-management firms began using the new offering.
By 2015, the company had chipped away enough market share to establish recurring annual revenues of more than $100 million. And as Entrata neared the end of its beta-testing
phase and was poised to launch, CEO Dave Bateman felt that the new software was the true future of the company. Since it was a single solution (as opposed to multiple answers, as
the plural Property Solutions name suggested), in June 2015 he decided that Property Solutions would become Entrata Inc., and the formal announcements regarding the name change
and the launch of the Entrata platform would occur at the industry's largest trade show, the National Apartment Association Education Conference & Exposition, held June 24 - 27, 2015, in Las Vegas.
Entrata Inc.'s pre-show mailer was housed in a thick white envelope. When it was opened, a flat piece of red card stock sprang into a four-dimensional cube. The unique mailer achieved a 73-percent return rate, as 220 of the 300 recipients brought the mailer to Entrata's booth.
"NAA was the ideal event for the launch, as all the major industry influencers, clients, and prospects we wanted to reach would be in the same place and at the same time," Rich says. "It would also give us an opportunity to thank our beta-testing clients for their help over the last three years and to educate other customers and prospects. For the latter, our message was that they no longer needed to think outside the box to secure multiple management services. They could think inside the box with Entrata."
So how do you change your company name, announce a new product, and generate industry-wide awareness in one fell swoop? If you're Entrata's marketing team, you embrace the winds of change and employ a simple yet ingenious strategy featuring a big red box, the King of Pop, and 1,800 pairs of crimson-colored shoes.
Checking the Box
Naturally, Entrata's exhibit-marketing strategy was tightly linked to the company's rebranding initiative, including the firm's new logo – a red cube featuring the word "Entrata" in white – along with phrases such as "It's all right here" and "Think inside the box."
Entrata's pre-show mailer followed in this same vein. Sent to 300 VIP prospects and customers attending NAA, the mailer was housed in a relatively thick white envelope. However, when recipients flipped it open, a previously flat piece of red card stock literally sprang into a four-dimensional cube, much to the surprise of recipients. The Entrata name appeared in white on four sides; however, each also featured a different word representing one of the product suites within the Entrata platform, i.e., leasing, residents, management, and marketing.
To thank its beta testers and generate visibility at the National Apartment Association Education Conference and Exposition, Entrata invited 1,800 attendees to a pre-show event featuring the King of Pop and a brand-building surprise giveaway.
The 1,800 invitees (which included past clients, key prospects, and industry influencers) were treated to a special screening of the "Michael Jackson One Cirque Du Soleil" show at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Entrata's emailed invitation to the event asked recipients to provide their shoe size. As guests arrived at Mandalay Bay, they were presented with a pair of Entrata's signature red Vans sneakers.
In keeping with the Cirque du Soleil show, Entrata CEO Dave Bateman moonwalked across the stage before announcing the official launch of the Entrata software suite as well as the company's name change.
The red sneakers were a huge hit with attendees – many of whom chose to don them then and there in the theater's lobby – and generated considerable social-media buzz.
The envelope's exterior offered the words "Think Inside the Box" and another message: "Here's a revolutionary idea: All of the technology you need for leasing, operations, marketing, resident, and facilities management in one place. Look no further – it's all inside." A call to action urged recipients to "Find out what's inside the box at NAA booth #1757," where VIPs would be presented with a special gift.
To drive additional traffic to the booth, thank its beta testers, and generate show-wide visibility, the marketing team crafted a second pre-show tactic for 20 percent of the show's estimated 9,000 attendees. Roughly 45 days before the show, Entrata sent 1,800 NAA attendees (including past clients, key prospects, and industry influencers) an email invitation to a special screening of the "Michael Jackson One Cirque Du Soleil" show at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, which would be held the night before NAA opened. "The email directed recipients to a special event website with Cirque-style branding to fill out a registration form," Rich says. "We didn't reveal much with the invite, except that we hinted there would be some kind of big reveal at the event; plus, we asked recipients for their shoe size. The draw of the Cirque show and the curiosity generated via the shoe-size request meant that we filled all 1,800 seats a month prior to the show."
The night before NAA opened, registered guests filed into the theater area at Mandalay Bay, where they discovered a lobby bursting with boxes housing red Vans shoes. Staffers quickly helped guests locate the shoe size they'd previously selected and either aided them in donning the shoes right then and there or slipped the shoe box into a white bag bearing the words "Think Inside the Box."
"At this point, attendees were starting to make a clear connection between the event and Property Solutions due to the shoes," Rich says. "Roughly eight years ago, exhibit staff started wearing red Vans at NAA as part of a marketing theme. However, given their popularity with the staff and the fact that attendees began to recognize us as 'the software company with the red shoes,' we continued the tactic every year thereafter. So when attendees got their own shoes, they felt a little like they had just joined our exclusive club of insiders."
In reality, however, attendees had inadvertently become a part of a guerilla-marketing tactic. For enclosed within each shoe box was a card explaining the Entrata Prize Patrol. At various times and locations throughout the show, the Prize Patrol (i.e., a group of roving Entrata employees) would reward anyone spotted wearing their red shoes with $50 cash on the spot. The card further explained that if recipients posted photos of themselves wearing their shoes on social media, along with the hashtags #NAAEduConf and #RedShoeClub, and then tagged @EntrataSoftware, the Prize Patrol would double their winnings.
"To generate massive awareness, we wanted to blanket the show with red shoes," says Entrata's public relations manager Michelle Perroni. "But we also hoped to own the social-media airwaves, so we specifically employed the show's hashtag. This way, the Entrata name (and images of the shoes) reached way beyond the 1,800 people at our event. In fact, when I ran the numbers after the show, 20 percent of all #NAAEduConf posts somehow related to the red-shoes promotion."
Shoes in hand or on feet, attendees eventually made their way to their seats. As the theater lights fell and the stage lights rose, the company's CEO stepped into the spotlight – and literally moonwalked across the stage. After a wild round of applause, the CEO welcomed everyone to the event and then launched into a succinct but suspenseful announcement. "Bateman first explained that Entrata the product was out of beta testing and available to all – which was news that brought hearty applause in and of itself," Rich says. "But he also announced that Property Solutions would now be known as Entrata Inc., and that our customers could think inside the box and find everything in one place."
Lastly, Bateman invited people to visit the booth the next day to learn more, and then directed attendees' attention to a video that sprang to life on a suspended screen. The video featured a broad explanation of the name change along with client testimonials regarding the Entrata platform. All told, from the point that Bateman glided across the stage until the Cirque performance began was only 15 minutes. "We wanted people to receive a memorable message, experience an unforgettable show, and walk away with something to remember us by," Rich says. "We didn't want to pour a hard sales pitch down their throats. Plus, we were confident the shoes, the product announcement, and the show-floor plans would deliver all the traffic and buzz we'd need."
A 22-by-40-foot LED screen, which ran the entire length of one of the booth's exterior walls, alternated between displaying moving imagery, client testimonials, and the company's new logo.
Staffers presented booth visitors with a brochure describing Entrata's new software and their choice of branded swag, such as cube-shaped stress balls, red sunglasses, and wristbands.
Entrata's show sponsorship allowed the company to attach red vinyl footprints to the venue's carpet that led from the registration area straight to its booth.
Exhibit Design Squared
Those show-floor plans started with a highly visible sponsorship activity. As attendees funneled through the event's main entrance, they couldn't help but notice red vinyl graphics shaped like footprints leading from the registration area straight to Entrata's booth. "The footprints were part of a three-part sponsorship package," Rich says. "It included branded signage at a sort of chill-out lounge on the show floor; signage, messaging, and distribution of branded red T-shirts at a key educational session; and these carpet-attached vinyl footprints."
In reality, the vinyl probably wasn't even necessary, as anyone within 30 yards of Entrata's booth was lured toward it like a moth to a giant bug zapper. Sitting atop the company's 40-by-50-foot space was a 22-foot-tall, 40-foot-square red box with the company's logo emblazoned across three sides and cutout doorways in each wall. Designed and crafted by the experiential marketing agency Impact XM under the direction of its senior creative director Bill Smith, the entire exhibit was stunning; however, its couldn't-miss focal point was a 22-by-40-foot LED screen that comprised one of the four exterior walls.
Entrata's 40-by-50-foot booth boasted high-tech features and a bevy of branded giveaways that attracted attendees and effectively communicated the company's recent name change.
At times, the screen glowed with a retina-scorching crimson background and the white Entrata logo. At other times, it featured dramatic moving
imagery or static client testimonials. "The LED screen was the star of the show floor," Rich says. "It was dynamic, it added a sense of motion to the space, and it drew people from aisles around. Admittedly, the brightness almost gave you a sunburn sometimes, but it absolutely made people stop and stare – and then wander inside. This in turn allowed us to have one-on-one conversations to announce the name change and to introduce or recap the new product platform."
The exhibit interior, however, bore a stark contrast to the outside. "We specifically created a very warm, welcoming environment inside to tempt people to sit down, talk with the staff, and explore the software," Smith says. "Warm, wood-toned vinyl flooring was paired with comfortable white couches, and myriad monitors scattered throughout provided product demos."
In addition, four desks (two inside the space and two outside) served as giveaway-distribution stations. VIPs who'd received the red mailer cubes could collect their choice of three items: an Amazon Fire TV Stick, a Tile Bluetooth object tracker, or a portable high-density battery charger. "Of the 300 people who received the cube mailer, 220 actually visited the booth and collected their gift," Rich says.
Attendees who hadn't received a cube mailer didn't leave the booth empty-handed, however. Staffers offered them a brochure outlining the new platform, as well as their choice of additional branded swag, which included cube-shaped stress balls, wristbands, and red sunglasses.
If Entrata's roving Prize Patrol spotted attendees wearing their red Vans sneakers on the show floor, they would award them with $50 on the spot. The prize was doubled if the attendee posted a photo of the shoes on social media.
VIP attendees who received the red cube mailer collected their choice of three items: an Amazon Fire TV Stick, a Tile Bluetooth object tracker, or a portable high-density battery charger.
Branded T-shirts highlighting Entrata's new red cube icon were distributed during the show's key education session.
Final Box Score
Admittedly, Entrata's individual tactics weren't razor's-edge innovative or way-out wacky. However, the collective impact of the booth, mailer, Michael Jackson event, red shoes, and more created an unmistakable – and memorable – show-wide presence for the new brand and product. "There were massive companies exhibiting at this show that I know for a fact had marketing budgets 30 to 40 times the size of ours," Rich says. "Still, our collection of tactics outshined every one of them, creating enormous buzz, priceless industry recognition, and no doubt some serious exhibit envy."
Competitors might also be envious of Entrata's metrics. Prior to the show, salespeople arranged 115 in-booth meetings with hot prospects. But as any show-floor salesperson will tell you, many of those meetings never happen, as attendees somehow lose interest in transit, or they're lured away by other vendors, off-floor activities, or simply the siren's call of the Las Vegas Strip. However, 98 percent of the scheduled meetings actually took place. "People wanted to be a part of our experience," Rich says. "So they were eager to get in the booth, keep their appointments, and learn more about the software."
In addition, Entrata collected 121 sales opportunities, which it defines as either new leads or specific opportunities to upsell existing customers. That's a roughly 102-percent increase over the number of sales opportunities the firm has averaged at past NAA shows. What's more, the strategy ticked all the boxes when it came to social-media awareness. "By my estimates, the number of likes and direct 'shout outs' via our social-media avenues increased by roughly 70 percent compared to the previous year's show," Perroni says.
But perhaps the biggest testament to the program's success is the exposure it generated for the new brand and product. "Going into the show, Entrata was an unknown, a sort of nonentity," Rich says. "But throughout NAA, we established ourselves, made a big splash, and created a memorable impression – so much so that today, a little more than a year after the show, Property Solutions isn't even in the rear-view mirror anymore. The industry has made the mental switch to Entrata, and more and more prospects are making the actual switch to our product. We wouldn't be where we are today without the great success of our NAA campaign."
So apparently there's something to be said for inside-the-box thinking, particularly when it comes to a major rebranding initiative. After all, with some tried-and-true strategies and killer execution, Entrata made a name – and a bright future – for itself. E